Most Americans only know of Antifa from its frightening appearance in the mainstream media: from the organized occupations of government buildings, to the violent destruction of private property, to the intimidation and harassment of elected officials. But it is more complex than meets the eye.
Because of its organizational structure and its use of political violence and intimidation to incite fear, Antifa is worthy of a designation as a domestic terrorist network.
Contrary to popular portrayal, Antifa (or the anti-fascist movement) is a conglomerate network of local and regional organizations united in similar principles of anti-racism, anti-capitalism, and anti-imperialism. While there is no hierarchical organization structure, there are national-level organizing entities which link the various decentralized Antifa groups. Of specific interest is the Torch Network, which actively provides monetary support and ideological solidarity to both official chapter organizations and unofficial supporters of the anarcho-communist cause. As they say, “An attack on one is an attack on all.”
The benefits of this decentralization tactic are two-fold. Firstly, smaller, localized groups are easier to organize and sustain than larger groups with diverse, nationalized aspirations. Supported by collective action theory, the effort of organizing a broad-scale movement detracts from the group’s ability to effect meaningful action. Antifa avoids this problem by relying upon grassroots protesters to pack a punch where it counts, only turning to the national network for more significant issues.
Secondly, ensuring the primacy of the localized organizations ultimately makes the identities of individual organizers and participants themselves more complicated to discover and scrutinize. A national hierarchy is more difficult to conceal than the leadership of various loosely-affiliated organizations with no formal membership system. This, in essence, makes Antifa more effective by drawing greater attention to the acts they collectively perpetrate rather than the perpetrators themselves.
Although Antifa’s success in its goal of changing American politics and culture is questionable, the organizing strategies of this grass roots movement have been effective in mobilizing supporters and drawing attention to their cause.
While some critics argue that classifying Antifa as a domestic terrorist network will give the federal government too much power to suppress all political organizing, Antifa’s tactics rest squarely on public displays of power to intimidate and incite fear in the hopes of inspiring political and social change. This is the core characteristic of all terrorist activity.
There is a clear difference between the peaceful protests of the early Civil Rights Movement, which never intended to frighten the public into submission, and Antifa members celebrating in their destruction and cheering when their targets flee from harassment.
The stumbling blocks in classifying Antifa as a domestic terrorist network are numerous. From not having a standardized definition of terrorism in general, to questions of whether or not violence originating from an organization must be orchestrated from the top down to be classified as terrorism – Antifa does not fit with convention. On the whole, Antifa is a unique beast that we, the humble villagers it terrorizes, are unprepared to defeat.
Antifa’s organizational strategy gives strength to the movement’s legitimization of political violence in a way which is different from other episodes of domestic terror in U.S. history. Classifying Antifa-affiliated organizations as part of a domestic terror network may seem extreme, but taking a strong, nation-wide step in condemning fear-inciting political violence and intimidation tactics is necessary to avoid a much darker future.