When President Donald Trump insisted that there should be blame placed upon the "Alt-Left" for the violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend, he spoke using a relatively new term. His use of the term "Alt-Left" appeared to be to an attempt to group together two factions: the white supremacist groups who identify themselves among the alt-right and the groups that were there to oppose the white supremacists groups, among which was Antifa. The grouping begs the question, what is the meaning of "Antifa"?
After all, answering that question goes a long way in figuring out if the grouping is justified in the first place.
What does Antifa mean?
The name of the group can be considered a literal shortening of the term anti fascist. As Peter Beinart describes in the cover story of The Atlantic's September issue, Antifa traces its roots to groups of anti fascists radicals who fought against the rise of fascists groups that served a precursor to World War II.
Antifa purports itself to be reactive group. In other words, its stated mission is to defend against fascism and racism by any means necessary.
Some of those means are considered extreme. For instance, Antifa will sometimes engage in "doxxing" a term which refers to releasing a person's private information in order to shame them.
As one anonymous Antifa activist told BBC in February,
Antifascists absolutely do engage in doxxing active members of hate groups. To ensure the safety of those who they would victimize from the shadows, we must bring them into the light.
On other occasions, like the arson-inducing protests that occurred at University of California, Berkley earlier this year, those means can include violence.
That's because Antifa members believe an anarchism, which demands taking actions into one's own hands, especially when the government is deemed unwilling to do so.
What is the danger of antifa some fear?
The protests in Charlottesville, Virginia serve as a perfect example of what Antifa activists aim to do. White supremacists gathered in Charlottesville for a "Unite The Right" rally. All the while, they made no mistake about what their views on race were as they marched to the tune of anti-Jewish chants.
Predictably, Antifa activist showed up looking for a fight, because that's what they do. Fight against fascism and racism. The fact that Antifa opposed such a clearly despised enemy on the day has seemingly made it easier for people to absolve them for the violence that erupted.
In some cases, Antifa even earned praise. Dr. Cornel West, professor emeritus at Princeton University, said of the protests in Charlottesville,
If it hadn't been for the antifascists protecting us from the neo-fascists, we would have been crushed like cockroaches.
But there's a clear danger that comes with Antifa and the measures it practices. Besides the obvious fact that violence will seldom be an admirable practice, there's the question of who Antifa decides to target.
When the group fights against white supremacists, people might find it easier to be forgiving of Antifa activists, particularly because openly championing white supremacy is largely seen as an irredeemable cause.
However, there is a question to be asked of whether endorsing Antifa means encouraging extreme measures against every single group it deems racist and fascist. Then there's a question beyond that: how can one be exactly sure that what Antifa deems worth taking extreme measures against will actually be worth taking extreme measures against.
It's the proverbial slippery slope, one which everyone who defends Antifa has to confront.
In the meantime, it's clear what President Trump thinks: the "anti racist" group is just as reprehensible as the racists themselves.