Why I Refuse To Identify As “Antifa” – Fighting Zero Sum Rhetoric
A now popular refrain amongst some, mainly those identifying as politically left-wing (in an American context), is to proudly proclaim their alignment with "Antifa", claiming the term refers to nothing more than an idea, to those who oppose fascism. Such individuals claim that the term refers exclusively to the concept of being opposed to fascism, and that if you are unwilling to identify with the label then you must be a fascist. This comes up most often when individuals such as Andy Ngo or various political figures mention "Antifa" in the reporting of some event or as a boogeyman figure to stir controversy. Regardless, the aforementioned way in which the term is used ignores the historical context from which it is inseparable, and the very real groups with which it is most commonly associated.
What I ultimately want to address here is the zero sum game created by pressuring someone to identify with the Antifa label while claiming that Antifa is “just an idea”, and that said idea is exclusively about defeating fascism. First, Antifa is not merely a representation of the idea that you stand against fascism. While it is true that there is no singular group labeled “Antifa”, many violent left-wing groups – mainly identifying as Marxists or other revolutionary Communists – have operated and co-operated under the label for many years, as illustrated here by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a bipartisan thinktank. These groups’ ideologies do not center strictly around stopping fascism – they are all some flavor of anarchist and/or pro-communist activist first and foremost, with any claims they make in regards to standing against fascism merely being an accessory to their primary political ideologies. These are the groups that have popularized the term in our modern political lexicon and with whom it is most commonly associated, indeed with whom it is now inseparable from. Point being that by identifying with the Antifa moniker you are by extension identifying with the groups that operate under that banner, and many of these groups regularly participate in criminal activity which can include assaulting peaceful protesters or rally goers. To identify with Antifa is far from being as simple of a matter as identifying as an anti-fascist, and is more akin to identifying with Salafism (a particular branch of Sunni Islam) as an overarching ideology while not choosing a particular Salafi group to join. Point being that Antifa is not so much a nebulous "idea" whose only meaningful characteristic is resistance to fascism, and is more like a decentralized organization or loosely affiliated network of ideologues of a particular political stripe.
That said, to force someone to take on the label of Antifa or otherwise be accused of being a fascist is to make someone identify with these groups and individuals with whom they may have no affiliation or other beliefs held in common. It is to force someone to identify with left-wing revolutionary groups or be labeled a fascist. Even common Democrats or less militant leftists thus cannot escape the fascist label should they choose not to hoist the banner of Antifa. Indeed, I’d go as far as to say that many who openly label themselves Antifa and march through the streets in black, waving banners with anarchy symbols and “ANTIFA” printed in big bold letters are often not true leftists or other ideologues. All too often they prove to be little more than opportunists who hold no principles or genuine beliefs at all. They are common criminals such as petty thieves and vandals who hide behind the veil of political ideology to justify their activity, all while actually standing for nothing at all but their “right” to destroy property and harass random persons. This is the reality of “Antifa”, regardless of how vehemently a few disingenuous liberals might claim otherwise.
To be absolutely clear, this is not a screed against leftist ideology. I am not an anti-Communist, Conservative, Republican, or any other form of “right winger”. What I am is someone who will not allow myself to be subject to some petty zero sum game wherein I must lock arms with generally detestable people, lest I be thought a fascist. I am not a fascist, but I will not identify as “Antifa”.
Thanks for reading, and I can be found on Twitter @SocialActuality for more.
Update 8/8/2021 - Intro updated for clarity.
Update 6/12/2022 - Significant rewrite, new link to Washington Post article added.