The Antifa Bogeyman

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

In an unparalleled assault on the Constitution recently, federal agents descended on Portland, Oregon. They behaved like storm troopers. They snatched people off the street, tossed them into unmarked vans and detained them without charge. This is what happens in a police state. Mindful of that, the governor and mayor implored the agents to leave. The Trump regime refused, threatening to send its Gestapo to other Democratic-run cities. Trump cited, of course, anarchists and antifa.

Now, anti-fascism is a virtue. This, for the simple reason that fascism is a form of evil. The antifascist Red Army defeated the Nazis. The antifascist American soldiers who landed at Normandy helped defeat Nazi fascism. Antifascist partisans harried Nazi troops behind the lines throughout World War II.

But by that war’s end, the CIA’s precursor, the OSS, had grown weary of antifascists. They were communists, Jews, leftists of all stripes. And so, under Allen Dulles, the newly created CIA began to hunt their erstwhile allies, the antifascist partisans, in the forests of Europe, just as the U.S., alarmed at the dizzying popularity of European communist parties, moved to suppress them. The new enemy, of course, was the U.S.S.R. Antifascism was forgotten.

But not by everybody. People continued to resist fascism, as this poisonous political plant took root in Latin America and thrived under Franco in Spain. Many leftists who fought these fascists did not call themselves antifa – but that’s what they were. Antifascism was and remains a frame of mind and a determination to act morally – against fascism.

So it was something of a surprise in the early twenty-first century to see antifascists smeared as dangerous, violent thugs. This reactionary recasting of an old struggle reached its zenith in 2020, when Donald Trump, a demagogue with fascist leanings, announced that he would designate antifa a domestic terror organization. No matter that doing so is probably illegal. No matter that antifa is not an organization. These people who fight fascism must be put down by the police, Trump said. And then, in Portland, Oregon, he proceeded, probably illegally, to do so.

Perhaps as part of its anti-anti-fascism, the Trump reelection campaign posted a Nazi symbol on Facebook, removed by FB in mid-June. The red inverted triangle was used “by the Nazis to designate political prisoners in concentration camps,” the Washington Post reported. It was used as “a salvo against antifa and ‘far-left’ groups.” The symbol marked the Nazi’s political enemies. It is very telling that the Trump campaign deployed it; just as Trump issued a tweet attacking Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign, which featured a yellow star of David of the sort Nazis compelled Jews to wear. Trump and his followers just can’t seem to conceal their ideological roots. They just can’t seem to resist posting fascist and Nazi symbols. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.

Right-wing radio and TV egg on these crypto-fascists. That means Fox News. This reactionary news outlet was caught doctoring photos and footage from Seattle almost two months ago, where an anarchist collective – oh heavens! – had set up shop. Fox deployed footage from Minneapolis of violent protests and presented it as what was occurring Seattle. It also falsely added a photo of a heavily armed somebody, presumably an antifa fanatic. No matter that unlike their enemies – the right-wing militias who are armed to the teeth with semi-automatic weapons – antifascists generally don’t carry guns. More commonly, they carry baseball bats, if anything. But that didn’t stop Fox from faking propaganda and sundry reactionaries from claiming vindication when violence really did erupt in Seattle.

People with power in the American empire are rabidly right-wing, and so, frequently throw temper tantrums about the left. Trump has denounced socialists and the radical left for months. Reactionary Senator Ted Cruz introduced an anti-antifa bill in the senate, some time back.

When these political dingbats tire of antifascists, they start screaming about Bolsheviks, as Congressmen Louie Gohmert and Andy Biggs did last month. Biggs saw fit to announce that “what we’re seeing today reminds me an awful lot of…the Bolshevik Revolution,” – if he can remember that revolution then he is one of the oldest men on earth – while Gohmert announced that “American history is being erased and rewritten in the manner of Stalin and Mao.”

What’s with these dimwitted congressmen and the red menace? Have workers’ committees stormed the white house? Imprisoned Trump? Has the military charged over to the workers’ side? Are Bolsheviks giving speeches in the Capitol? Or do we just have a group of unimaginative partisan hacks whose default setting is knee-jerk anti-communism?

Seventy-five years of Soviet rule in Russia clearly traumatized the capitalist empire’s elite. The rest of the world moved on, but Republican politicians and the Chamber of Commerce still peer under their beds in search of leftists. Too bad they won’t find any. The world would be better for billions of dispossessed people if they did.


Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Lizard People. She can be reached at her website.