Antifa Might Seem New, But Its Origins Stretch Back Further Than You May Think


With all the news about violent protests, counter-protests from extremist groups, it's no mystery why some might wonder where Antifa started. After all, Antifa has now become one of the most talked about movements over the the past few weeks, particularly since the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, where some Antifa members clashed with white supremacist demonstrators. One of the most recent examples of Antifa becoming the subject of headline news came on Friday, Sep. 1.

That's when a report from Politico -- citing interviews with law enforcement officials and having reviewing confidential documents -- revealed that officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has labelled Antifa a threat for "domestic terrorist violence."

Politico cited an unnamed senior law enforcement official, who spoke about how he and colleagues came to notice Antifa over the past two years. The official said,

It was in that period [as the Trump campaign emerged] that we really became aware of them. These antifa guys were showing up with weapons, shields and bike helmets and just beating the shit out of people. … They're using Molotov cocktails, they're starting fires, they're throwing bombs and smashing windows.

While the documents Politico cited were written in the recent past, and while Antifa may seem like a new movement, the group's history actually spans decades.

Where did Antifa start?

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As The Atlantic's Peter Beinart wrote for the magazine's September issue, Antifa's roots be traced back to Europe, when anti-fascists (hence the name "Antifa") violently battled the rise in fascism in countries like Germany and Italy.

Beinart notes that when fascism in Europe began to die down after the second world war, the anti-fascist movement receded with it. Furthermore, both Beinart and other experts on Antifa point out that post war rises of Antifa come after the reemergence of fascists or neo-nazi groups in different countries.

Eventually, the movement spread to the U.S., around the 80s and 90s, according to Mark Bray, a historian at Dartmouth College. Bray told,

Originally, it was known as the Anti-Racist Action Network. That kind of faded in the mid-2000s; the recent wave we're seeing in the US developed out of it, but has taken on more of the name and the kind of aesthetics of the European movement.

So while Antifa may be new to your ears, the actual movement is as old as many others.