How America Got the Vapors…Over ANTIFA

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

It started last summer during the George Floyd Rebellion: alarming tales about left-wing terrorists, about hordes of antifa ready to invade dozy suburbs and burn down the local post office, Walmart and Starbucks. These wild fabrications percolated through right-wing media, causing a panicked spike in gun purchases, followed by announcements from red-blooded Amuricans in the Midwest and matrons from Florida that they were locked and loaded, ready to defend their real estate and SUVs from the battalions of communist terrorist antifa about to overrun their front lawns and trample azaleas, hydrangeas and any other beloved shrubs that stood between them and their demonic purposes.

The iconic figures of reaction here were the McCloskeys, the St. Louis couple who brandished guns at a passing throng of protestors. These two personal injury attorneys, previously occupied with fender benders and burns from defective toasters, were guests of honor at the Republican convention, for they had done what every patriotic Amurican longed to do: face down radical Marxists with their guns, whose possession is enshrined in the second amendment and whose use, if only just to menace, is swathed in a biblical aura. Use against whom? Black Lives Matter of course, but also antifa – nota bene, antifa is always cited by its nickname, not the longer, more proper term “antifascist,” because that term turns the whole fanatical right-wing formula on its head. If these proud Americans are waving their guns at antifascists, what does that mean? That they support fascists? Well, evidently so. It’s right there in the name.

Those on the left who coined the fashionable neologism, “antifa,” made a colossal blunder and did their cause an immense disservice by eschewing the older, longer “antifascist,” whose provenance, unlike “antifa,” is totally in your face. Antifascists fought Hitler. They fought Mussolini. Our World War II soldiers were antifascists. The over 20 million Russians slaughtered by Nazis were antifascists. They were not antifa; they were antifascists, heroes of humankind against a force of barbarity the world had never before quite seen, one that took violence and brutality to depths of depravity not previously witnessed. Twentieth century fascists made this increase in the quantity of bloodthirsty crimes a change in quality: something new and hideous under the sun. Those who opposed this wickedness, who oppose it ever happening again, were and are antifascists. Call them by their name.

In so doing, you will silence the mob of neo-fascists who Trump unleashed on the capitol on January 6. You will shut them up. They cannot stand their true name. They cannot abide it. And every time their opponents say yes, we are antifascist, the accusation is right there out in the open for all to hear. Trump and his followers are fascists. Maybe only aspirational ones so far, but that’s what they are.

The MAGA media can’t even own up to what its demented followers have done. After the January 6 riot at the capitol, there bubbled forth hysterical nonsense that “antifa did it!” We were supposed to believe this claim, wafting through right-wing circles, despite the Trump-supporting marauders who very proudly boasted of their attack on social media and to every reporter who asked. Nonetheless, we got a gallimaufry of chimerical claims and accusations, “it was a psyop! Antifa did it! No, Black Live matter did it! No, it was both,” and other such lies.

This blather lingers. Though Tucker Carlson may have moved on, as he did almost immediately after January 6, many of his adoring followers still credit the attack to antifa’s duplicitous incitement. And you may be sure these suspicions thrive in Trump country, where it is commonly believed that radical left-wing communist terrorists control the Democratic party and that the thoroughly pasteurized likes of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are in fact radical totalitarian antifa, if not outright pedophiliac cannibals, just waiting for a chance to steal American guns, close American churches and make reading the Communist Manifesto mandatory in the public schools. Oh, and antifa were responsible for the fires on the West Coast last year, didn’t you know? Not climate change, which roars ahead at a terrifying rate, no. It was those crafty leftists, trying to make it look like the climate catastrophe is out of control. But our all-Amurican gun owners were ready for them. They ignored evacuation orders at risk of life and limb to protect their property. But no antifascists showed up, disappointingly. You can be sure, however, the next time the west coast explodes into forest fires, these benighted rightists will be waiting.

So folks, we have a problem. Nearly perhaps one third of the country is pig-ignorant and believes any fantasy promoted on Fox or Newsmax – both of which right-wing propaganda outlets, like the GOP as a whole, appear to have learned from Trump that you can shriek any lie from the rooftops and get away with it. (Unless of course some angry, voting-machine ceo sues you, but that’s another story.) Trump thundered the fraud that the election was stolen ad nauseam. No less an eminence than his attorney general, Bill Barr called Trump’s claim “bullshit.” But Trump knows a good thing (and a money-maker) when he sees it, so he just kept repeating the lie, now taken as an article of faith by millions of American illiterati.

You see, reality for these MAGA millions is alien, dangerous territory, best labeled fake news and avoided. This is the Trump base, the agglomeration of dimwits for whom the likes of Senator Josh Hawley and Senator Ted Cruz so ferociously wrestle. These millions of ignoramuses proudly sport their preposterous beliefs, just like their AR-15s, when they storm state capitols to protest public health measures, or when they plot to kidnap Democratic governors, or when they attempt a coup at the national capitol, or when they show up at Black Lives Matter protests and shoot people. They are violent, they are neo-fascist and worst of all, they are the lunatic fringe that the GOP has the grotesque distinction of having embraced.

The QAnon delusion now belongs to the GOP, as do countless other reactionary idiocies (see the more recent and milder Dr. Seuss kerfuffle.) But the GOP represents about half the U.S. voting population, and there are few ways to educate this crowd, because they are reality-resistant, thanks to their steady, toxic diet of lies from Fox, Newsmax and social media. They crave anything other than truth. But one thing that could be done – start calling antifa, antifascists. So the imbeciles know at whom they’re pointing their semi-automatic weapons. Maybe then they’ll realize that two plus two equals four and if they’re bellowing about killing antifascists, that makes them fascists.

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