Editor's note: This is Part II of a series on the history of the global Antifa movement. Part I described Antifa and explored the ideological origins of the group. Part II examines the history, tactics and goals of the movement in the United States.
Antifa in the United States is highly networked, well-funded and has a clear ideological agenda: to subvert, often with extreme violence, the American political system, with the ultimate aim of replacing capitalism with communism. Pictured: An Antifa demonstration on November 16, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump recently announced that the American government would designate Antifa — a militant "anti-fascist" movement — as a terrorist organization due to the violence that erupted at George Floyd protests across the United States.
The Code of Federal Regulations (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85) defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."
American media outlets sympathetic to Antifa have jumped to its defense. They argue that the group cannot be classified as a terrorist organization because, they claim, it is a vaguely-defined protest movement that lacks a centralized structure.
As the following report shows, Antifa is, in fact, highly networked, well-funded and has a clear ideological agenda: to subvert, often with extreme violence, the American political system, with the ultimate aim of replacing capitalism with communism. In the United States, Antifa's immediate aim is to remove President Trump from office.
Gatestone Institute has identified Antifa groups in all 50 U.S. states, with the possible exception of West Virginia. Some states, including California, Texas and Washington, appear to have dozens of sub-regional Antifa organizations.
It is difficult precisely to determine the size of the Antifa movement in the United States. The so-called "Anti-Fascists of Reddit," the "premier anti-fascist community" on the social media platform Reddit, has approximately 60,000 members. The oldest Antifa group in America, the Portland, Oregon-based "Rose City Antifa," has more than 30,000 Twitter followers and 20,000 Facebook followers, not all of whom are necessarily supporters. "It's Going Down," a media platform for anarchists, anti-fascists and autonomous anti-capitalists, has 85,000 Twitter followers and 30,000 Facebook followers.
Germany, which has roughly one-quarter of the population of the United States, is home to 33,000 extreme leftists, of whom 9,000 are believed to be extremely dangerous, according to the domestic intelligence agency (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV). Violent left-wing agitators are predominantly male, between 21 and 24 years of age, usually unemployed, and, according to BfV, 92% still live with their parents. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most Antifa members in the United States have a similar socio-economic profile.
In America, national Antifa groups, including "Torch Antifa Network," "Refuse Fascism" and "World Can't Wait" are being financed — often generously, as shown below — by individual donors as well as by large philanthropic organizations, including the Open Society Foundations founded by George Soros.
To evade detection by law enforcement, Antifa groups in the United States often use encrypted social media platforms, such as Signal and Telegram Messenger, to communicate and coordinate their activities, sometimes across state lines. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Department of Justice is currently investigating individuals linked to Antifa as a step to unmasking the broader organization.
Historical Origins of American Antifa
In the United States, Antifa's ideology, tactics and goals, far from being novel, are borrowed almost entirely from Antifa groups in Europe, where so-called anti-fascist groups, in one form or another, have been active, almost without interruption, for a century.
As in Europe, the aims and objectives of the American Antifa movement can be traced back to a single, overarching century-long ideological war against the "fascist ideals" of capitalism and Christianity, which the Antifa movement wants to replace with a "revolutionary socialist alternative."
The first so-called anti-fascist group in the United States was the American League Against War and Fascism, established in 1933 by the Communist Party USA. The League, which claimed to oppose fascism in Europe, was actually dedicated to subverting and overthrowing the U.S. government.
In testimony to the U.S. Congress in 1953, CPUSA leader Manning Johnson revealed that the American party had been instructed by the Communist International in the 1930s to set up the American League Against War and Fascism:
"as a cover to attack our government, our social system, our leaders... used as a cover to attack our law-enforcement agencies and to build up mass hate against them... used as a cover to undermine national security... used as a cover to defend Communists, the sworn enemies of our great heritage... used as a cover for preparing millions of people ideologically and organizationally for the overthrow of the United States Government."
A precursor to the modern Antifa movement was the Black Panthers, a revolutionary political organization established in October 1966 by Marxist college students in Oakland, California. The group advocated the use of violence and guerilla tactics to overthrow the U.S. government.
Historian Robyn C. Spencer noted that Black Panther leaders were deeply influenced by "The United Front of the Working Class Against Fascism," a report by Georgi Dimitroff delivered at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International in July and August 1935:
"By 1969, the Panthers began to use fascism as a theoretical framework to critique the U.S. political economy. They defined fascism as 'the power of finance capital' which 'manifests itself not only as banks, trusts and monopolies but also as the human property of FINANCE CAPITAL — the avaricious businessman, the demagogic politician, and the racist pig cop.'"
In July 1969, the Black Panthers organized an "anti-fascist" conference called "United Front Against Fascism," attended by nearly 5,000 activists:
"The Panthers hoped to create a 'national force' with a 'common revolutionary ideology and political program which answers the basic desires and needs of all people in fascist, capitalist, racist America.'"
The last day of the conference was devoted to a detailed plan by the Black Panthers to decentralize police forces nationwide. Spencer wrote:
"They proposed amending city charters to establish autonomous community-based police departments for every city which would be accountable to local neighborhood police control councils comprised of 15 elected community members. They launched the National Committees to Combat Fascism (NCCF), a multiracial nationwide network, to organize for community control of the police."
In 1970, members of the Black Panthers created a terrorist group called the Black Liberation Army, whose stated goal was to "weaken the enemy capitalist state."
BLA member Assata Shakur described the group's organizational structure, which is similar to the one used by today's Antifa movement:
"The Black Liberation Army was not a centralized, organized group with a common leadership and chain of command. Instead there were various organizations and collectives working together out of various cities, and in some larger cities there were often several groups working independently of each other."
Other ideological anchors of the modern Antifa movement in the United States include a left-wing terrorist group known as the Weather Underground Organization, the American equivalent to Germany's Red Army Faction. The Weather Underground, responsible for bombings and riots throughout the 1970s, sought to achieve "the destruction of U.S. imperialism and form a classless communist world."
Former FBI Counterterrorism Director Terry Turchie has noted the similarities between Black Lives Matter today and the Black Panther Party and Weather Underground groups of the 1960s and 1970s:
"The Black Panther Party was a Marxist Maoist Leninist organization and that came from Huey Newton, one of the co-founders, who said we're standing for nothing more than the total transformation of the United States government.
"He went on to explain that they wanted to take the tension that already existed in black communities and exacerbate it where they can. To take those situations where there is a tinderbox and light the country on fire.
"Today we're seeing the third revolution and they think they can make this happen. The only thing that is different are the names of the groups."
The roots of the modern Antifa movement in the United States can be traced back to the 1980s, with the establishment of Anti-Racist Action, a network of anarchist punk rock aficionados dedicated to fist-fighting neo-Nazi skinheads.
Mark Bray, author of "The Antifa Handbook," explained:
"In many cases, the North American modern Antifa movement grew up as a way to defend the punk scene from the neo-Nazi skinhead movement, and the founders of the original Anti-Racist Action network in North America were anti-racist skinheads. The fascist/anti-fascist struggle was essentially a fight for control of the punk scene during the 1980s, and that was true across of much of north America and in parts of Europe in this era.
"There's a huge overlap between radical left politics and the punk scene, and there's a stereotype about dirty anarchists and punks, which is an oversimplification but grounded in a certain amount of truth."
Anti-Racist Action was inspired by Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), a militant anti-fascist group founded in Britain in the late 1970s. The American group shared the British group's penchant for violently attacking political opponents. ARA was eventually renamed the Torch Network, which currently brings together nine militant Antifa groups.
In November 1999, mobs of masked anarchists, predecessors to today's Antifa movement, laid waste to downtown Seattle, Washington, during violent demonstrations that disrupted a ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization. The Seattle WTO protests birthed the anti-globalization movement.
In April 2001, an estimated 50,000 anti-capitalists gathered in Quebec to oppose the Third Summit of the Americas, a meeting of North and South American leaders who were negotiating a deal to create a free trade area that would encompass the Western Hemisphere.
In February 2003, hundreds of thousands of anti-war protesters demonstrated against the Iraq War. After the war went ahead anyway, some parts of the so-called progressive movement became more radicalized and birthed the current Antifa movement.
The Rose City Antifa (RCA), founded in Portland, Oregon, in 2007, is the oldest American group to use "Antifa" in its name. Antifa is derived from a group called Antifaschistische Aktion, founded in May 1932 by Stalinist leaders of the Communist Party of Germany. Antifa's logo, with two flags representing anarchism (black flag) and communism (red flag), are derived from the German Antifa movement.
The American Antifa movement gained momentum in 2016, after Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described Socialist, lost the Democratic Party's nomination to Hillary Clinton. Grassroots supporters of Sanders vowed to continue his "political revolution" to establish socialism in America.
Meanwhile, immigration became a new flashpoint in American politics after Donald Trump campaigned on a pledge to reduce illegal migration. In June 2016, protestors violently attacked supporters of Donald Trump outside a rally in San Jose, California. In January 2017, hundreds of Antifa rioters tried to disrupt President Trump's inauguration ceremony in Washington, DC.
In February 2017, Antifa rioters employing so-called black bloc tactics — they wear black clothing, masks or other face-concealing items so that they cannot be identified by police — shut down a speech by Milos Yiannopoulos, a far-right activist who was slated to speak at the University of California at Berkeley, the birthplace of the 1964 Free Speech Movement. Antifa radicals claimed that Yiannopoulos was planning to "out" undocumented students at Berkeley for the purpose of having them arrested. Masked Antifa vandals armed with Molotov cocktails, bricks and a host of other makeshift weapons fought police and caused more than $100,000 in property damage.
In June 2018, Republican Representative Dan Donovan of New York introduced Bill HR 6054 — "Unmasking Antifa Act of 2018" — that calls for prison sentences of up to 15 years for anyone who, while wearing a mask or disguise, "injures, oppresses, threatens, or intimidates" someone else who is exercising any right or privilege guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. The bill remains stalled in the House of Representatives.
In July 2019, Antifa radical Willem Van Spronsen attempted to firebomb the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Tacoma, Washington. He was killed in a confrontation with police.
"Whereas members of Antifa, because they believe that free speech is equivalent to violence, have used threats of violence in the pursuit of suppressing opposing political ideologies; Whereas Antifa represents opposition to the democratic ideals of peaceful assembly and free speech for all; Whereas members of Antifa have physically assaulted journalists and other individuals during protests and riots in Berkeley, California;
"Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Senate ... calls for the groups and organizations across the country who act under the banner of Antifa to be designated as domestic terrorist organizations."
"Antifa are terrorists, violent masked bullies who 'fight fascism' with actual fascism, protected by Liberal privilege," said Cassidy. "Bullies get their way until someone says no. Elected officials must have courage, not cowardice, to prevent terror."
Antifa Exploits Death of George Floyd
Antifa radicals increasingly are using incendiary events such as the death of George Floyd in Minnesota as springboards to achieve their broader aims, one of which includes removing President Trump from office.
Veteran national security correspondent Bill Gertz recently reported that the Antifa movement began planning to foment a nationwide anti-government insurgency as early as November 2019, when the U.S. presidential campaign season kicked off in earnest. Former National Security Council staff member Rich Higgins said:
"Antifa's actions represent a hard break with the long tradition of a peaceful political process in the United States. Their Marxist ideology seeks not only to influence elections in the short term but to destroy the use of elections as the determining factor in political legitimacy.
"Antifa's goal is nothing less than fomenting revolution, civil war and silencing America's anti-communists. Their labeling of Trump supporters and patriots as Nazis and racists is standard fare for left-wing communist groups.
"Antifa is currently functioning as the command and control of the riots, which are themselves the overt utilization of targeted violence against targets such as stores — capitalism; monuments — history; and churches — God."
Joe Myers, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official and counterinsurgency expert, added:
"President Trump's election and revitalization of America are a threat to Antifa's nihilist goals. They are fomenting this violence to create havoc, despair and to target the Trump campaign for defeat in 2020. It is employing organized violence for political ends: destruction of the constitutional order."
New York's top terrorism officer, Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller, explained why the George Floyd protests in New York City became so violent and destructive:
"No. 1, before the protests began, organizers of certain anarchist groups set out to raise bail money and people who would be responsible to be raising bail money, they set out to recruit medics and medical teams with gear to deploy in anticipation of violent interactions with police.
"They prepared to commit property damage and directed people who were following them that this should be done selectively and only in wealthier areas or at high-end stores run by corporate entities.
"And they developed a complex network of bicycle scouts to move ahead of demonstrators in different directions of where police were and where police were not for purposes of being able to direct groups from the larger group to places where they could commit acts of vandalism including the torching of police vehicles and Molotov cocktails where they thought officers would not be.
"We believe that a significant amount of people who came here from out of the area, who have come here as well as the advance preparation, having advance scouts, the use of encrypted information, having resupply routes for things such as gasoline and accelerants as well as rocks and bottles, the raising of bail, the placing of medics. Taken together, this is a strong indicator that they planned to act with disorder, property damage, violence, and violent encounters with police before the first demonstration and/or before the first arrest."
In an interview with The Epoch Times, Bernard B. Kerik, former police commissioner of the New York City Police Department, said that Antifa "100 percent exploited" the George Floyd protests:
"It's in 40 different states and 60 cities; it would be impossible for somebody outside of Antifa to fund this. It's a radical, leftist, socialist attempt at revolution.
"They're coming from other cities. That cost money. They didn't do this on their own. Somebody's paying for this.
"What Antifa is doing is they're basically hijacking the black community as their army. They instigate, they antagonize, they get these young black men and women to go out there and do stupid things, and then they disappear off into the sunset."
After photos appeared to show protesters with military-grade communications radios and earpieces, Kerik noted: "They have to be talking to somebody at a central command center with a repeater. Where do those radios go to?"
Across the country, in Bellevue, Washington, which was also hit by looting and violence, Police Chief Steve Mylett confirmed that the people responsible were organized, from out of town, and being paid:
"There are groups paying these looters money to come in and they're getting paid by the broken window. This is something totally different we are dealing with that we have never seen as a profession before. We did have officers that were in different areas that were chasing these groups. When we make contact, they just disperse."
The coordinated violence raises questions about how Antifa is financed. The Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ) is an organizing group that serves as a fiscal sponsor to numerous radical left-wing initiatives, according to Influence Watch, a research group that collects data on advocacy organizations, foundations and donors.
AFGJ, which describes itself as "anti-capitalist" and opposed to the principles of liberal democracy, provides "fiscal sponsorship" to groups advocating numerous foreign and domestic far-left and extreme-left causes, including eliminating the State of Israel.
The Tucson, Arizona-based AFGJ, and people associated with it, have advocated for socialist and communist authoritarian regimes, including in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. In the 2000s, AFGJ was involved in anti-globalization demonstrations. In the 2010s, AFGJ was a financial sponsor of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
AFGJ has received substantial funding from organizations often claiming to be the mainstream of the center-left. The Open Society Foundations, Tides Foundation, Arca Foundation, Surdna Foundation, Public Welfare Foundation, the Ben & Jerry Foundation and the Brightwater Fund have all made contributions to AFGJ, according to Influence Watch.
One of the groups funded by AFGJ is called Refuse Fascism, a radical left-wing organization devoted to promoting nationwide action to remove from office President Donald Trump, and all officials associated with his administration, on the grounds that they constitute a "fascist regime." The group has been present at many Antifa radical-left demonstrations, also according to Influence Watch. The group is an offshoot of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP).
In July 2017, the RCP bragged that it took part in violent riots against the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. The RCP has argued that capitalism is synonymous with fascism and that the election of President Trump would lead the U.S. government to "bludgeon and eliminate whole groups of people."
In June 2020, Refuse Fascism took advantage of the death of George Floyd to raise money for a "National Revolution Tour" evidently aimed at subverting the U.S. government. The group's slogan states: "This System Cannot Be Reformed, It Must Be Overthrown!"
Meanwhile, in Seattle, Washington, Antifa radicals, protesters from Black Lives Matter, and members of the anti-capitalist John Brown Gun Club seized control of the East Precinct neighborhood and established a six-square-block "autonomous zone" called the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, "CHAZ," recently renamed "CHOP," the Capitol Hill Organized (or Occupied) Protest. A cardboard sign at the barricades declares: "You are now leaving the USA." The group issued a list of 30 demands, including the "abolition" of the Seattle Police Department and court system.
Christopher F. Rufo, a contributing editor of City Journal, observed:
"The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone has set a dangerous precedent: armed left-wing activists have asserted their dominance of the streets and established an alternative political authority over a large section of a neighborhood. They have claimed de facto police power over thousands of residents and dozens of businesses — completely outside of the democratic process. In a matter of days, Antifa-affiliated paramilitaries have created a hardened border, established a rudimentary form of government based on principles of intersectional representation, and forcibly removed unfriendly media from the territory.
"The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone is an occupation and taking of hostages: none of the neighborhood's residents voted for Antifa as their representative government. Rather than enforce the law, Seattle's progressive political class capitulated to the mob and will likely make massive concessions over the next few months. This will embolden the Antifa coalition — and further undermine the rule of law in American cities."
Antifa in its Own Words
The American Antifa movement's long-term objectives are identical to those of the Antifa movement in Europe: replacing capitalism with a communist utopia. Mark Bray, one of the most vocal apologists for Antifa in the United States and author of "Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook," explained:
"The only long-term solution to the fascist menace is to undermine its pillars of strength in society grounded not only in white supremacy but also in ableism, heteronormativity, patriarchy, nationalism, transphobia, class rule, and many others. This long-term goal points to the tensions that exist in defining anti-fascism, because at a certain point destroying fascism is really about promoting a revolutionary socialist alternative."
Nikkita Oliver, former mayoral candidate of Seattle, Washington, added:
"We need to align ourselves with the global struggle that acknowledges that the United States plays a role in racialized capitalism. Racialized capitalism is built upon patriarchy, white supremacy, and classism."
Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, confirmed that the immediate goal is to remove President Trump from office:
"Trump not only needs to not be in office in November, but he should resign now. Trump needs to be out of office. He is not fit for office. And so, what we are going to push for is a move to get Trump out. While we're also going to continue to push and pressure Joe Biden around his policies and relationship to policing and criminalization. That's going to be important. But our goal is to get Trump out."
Rose City Antifa tweeted:
"As antifascists we know that our fight is not just against organized fascism, but also against the capitalist state, and the police that protect it. Another world is possible!"
Seattle Antifascists added:
"This is the revolution, this is our time and we will make no excuses for the terror."
A group called PNW Youth Liberation Front, Antifa's youth organization, tweeted:
"The only way to win a world without police, prisons, borders, etc. is to destroy the oppressive systems which we are currently caught in. We must continue the fight against the state, imperialism, capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and so on if we ever want to be free."
A pamphlet distributed in the Seattle "Autonomous Zone" stated:
"The idea that the working class can control our own lives, without states, governments or borders, is also called anarchism. But how do we get from our current capitalist society to a future anarchist-communist one? .... In order to destroy the current order, there will need to be a revolution, a time of great upheaval."
A poster in the Seattle "Autonomous Zone" stated:
"Oh, you thought I just wanted to defund the police? This whole system needs to go."
One of the leaders of the Seattle "Autonomous Zone" said:
"Every single day that I show up here I'm not here to peacefully protest. I'm here to disrupt until my demands are met. You cannot rebuild until you break it all the way down. Respond to the demands of the people or prepare to be met with any means necessary. By any means necessary. It's not a slogan or even a warning. I'm letting people know what comes next."
A group called the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement, which has nearly 15,000 Twitter followers, called for an insurrection:
"Revolutionary greetings from the insurrection sweeping throughout the occupied territories of the so-called United States of America.
"As the history of this miserable nation repeats itself once again, what has become clearly evident is that black people have been and will continue to be the only revolutionary force that is capable of toppling the oppressive status quo.
"Everywhere the pigs [a derogatory term for police] have lost their will to fight. Their eyes, which only yesterday were windows to empty hatred and contempt, now display stultifying self-doubt and cowardice. For once, their behavior portrays their weakness as every step they take back is marked by hesitation.
"Together, if we keep pushing, this land of chattel slavery, indigenous genocide, and foreign imperial aggression can finally be wiped out so that it will only be remembered as one of the more ugly chapters in human history."
An Antifa radical from Maryland tweeted:
"This isn't protest. This is rebellion. When rebellion gets organized we get revolution. We are seeing the beginnings of that and it's glorious."
An Antifa agitator from New York comments on the American flag:
"That sh*t is a fucking cloth with colors on it. It doesn't live or breathe and is nothing but a representation. Any Black, Latinx, or Native person looking at that thing being respected, should be offended at that flag that represents genocide, rape, slavery, and colonization."
An Antifa media platform, "It's Going Down," wrote:
"Looting is an effective means of wealth redistribution."
An Antifa activist from North Carolina on free speech:
"The idea that freedom of speech is the most important thing that we can protect can only be held by someone who thinks that life is analogous to a debate hall. In my opinion, 'no platforming' fascists often infringes (sic) upon their speech, but this infringement is justified for its role in the political struggle against fascism."
Torch Antifa Network, in response to President Trump's announced plans to designate Antifa as a terrorist group:
"Antifa will be designating the United States of America as a terrorist organization."