Photo: President Donald Trump with FBI Director Christopher Wray.
By Mike Talavera
Last Saturday, President Donald Trump tweeted that he was considering declaring “ANTIFA” a “major Organization of Terror” in an effort to “make it easier for police to do their job!” This post follows recent Republican actions in response to the Portland antifascist attack on reactionary journalist Andy Ngo last month, and if the Department of Justice adopts the definition it could mean leftwing groups could face greater repression from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
An editor at rightwing online magazine Quillette, Ngo has antagonized leftwing activists before, getting caught up in a brawl between the Patriot Prayer fascists and others at a Portland bar in May, as well as allegedly doxing masked protesters.
On June 29, Ngo went to cover a rally organized by fascist group the Proud Boys. Hundreds showed up to protest the event, and at some point Ngo was punched, kicked, and barraged with milkshakes.
Using his media connections, Ngo was able to propagate his version of the story, with many rightwing outlets reporting he had suffered a brain hemorrhage from the attack. Republicans Ted Cruz and Bill Cassidy immediately jumped to use the incident for their own purposes, and on July 21 they introduced a non-binding resolution in the Senate that would label “ANTIFA” as domestic terrorists.
Like other non-binding resolutions including the “Green New Deal” introduced by phony socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz and Cassidy’s resolution functions primarily as a publicity stunt and will not lead to any changes in the law on its own. However, its appearance coincides with the beginning of the 2020 presidential election cycle, and Trump has started to make more inflammatory and racist tweets than usual to rile up his reactionary base, like his recent description of the city of Baltimore as a “rat and rodent infested mess.”
Notably, Cruz and Cassidy’s resolution uses “ANTIFA” and “leftwing activist” interchangeably, showing that their target is not an organization but leftwing politics in general.
Imposing the “terrorist” designation would not be the equivalent of charging “ANTIFA” with a crime, but it would give the FBI broader investigative means under the Patriot Act. For example, if someone charged with an individual crime is suspected of being affiliated with a terrorist organization, the FBI could extend the investigation of that crime to any organization that person belongs to.
“ANTIFA” is not an actual organization but a broad label for the militants and activists who counter the fascist movement. The tactics of these efforts ranges from the well-organized, Maoist-led actions like the ones in Austin, which have physically stopped reactionary and fascist marches from taking place, to the spontaneous and sarcastic displays like those in Portland when Ngo was injured. The latter, which do not center around political objectives but the circulation of internet inside jokes like “milkshaking” are a less-than-serious response to a deadly serious situation.
The name “ANTIFA” derives from the Communist Party of Germany (KPD)-led mass organization Antifaschistische Aktion (Antifascist Action, in English), which was a well-organized paramilitary force that took the fight against fascism from parliament to the streets. This organization was banned by fascist laws in 1933, only to go underground and re-emerge in 1944 as a partisan guerrilla organization which carried out the antifascist war on German soil. Today, the term “ANTIFA” has been appropriated mostly by disorganized anarchists.
It’s unclear whether Trump’s threat will materialize into further persecution of leftwing and revolutionary organizations or if it will be another empty threat lost in his Twitter history, but what is certain is US imperialism’s reactionization, most clearly exemplified this year by the expansions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). These state agencies which systematically deport, imprison, and murder primarily undocumented immigrants will not be destroyed with a milkshake.
The civilian fascist movement in the US has diminished since its recent peak in 2017. Combative street actions in Portland, Berkeley, Austin, and other places have beaten it back, and there have also been offensive attacks on fascists’ homes like in St. Louis and Austin. The 2020 election, however, promises a resurgence of civilian fascists emboldened by Trump’s reelection campaign.
Trump’s tweet should serve as a wake-up call. There has already been a mass response to Trump’s threat in countries like Germany, which have called for solidarity with antifascists in the US. The antifascist movement here must outgrow the “ANTIFA” label and the corresponding lack of appropriate strategy and tactics.
The dream of reactionaries like Trump and Cruz is to label this political movement as “terrorism,” to crush all dissent, and to make it illegal to oppose fascism. Like the antifascists banned by Hitler in 1933, resistance to fascism will not go away with the changing of laws. It will only be forced to develop from militant street tactics to underground partisan armed resistance. History has already set the precedent. The fascists will again be crushed.
To meaningfully take on fascist threats, big and small, a militarized and centralized antifascism is needed. Anarchism, a petty bourgeois ideology, is incapable of providing the right foundation to confront and overcome fascism. Likewise, fascism should not be used as a distraction from the reactionization of the US bourgeois democratic state, the state of the world’s sole hegemonic imperialism, which can only trend in a regressive motion.