Antifa — short for "anti-fascist" — is the name for loosely affiliated, left-leaning anti-racist groups that monitor and track the activities of local neo-Nazis. The movement has no unified structure or national leadership but has emerged in the form of local bodies nationwide, particularly on the West Coast.
Some of the groups, such as the 10-year-old Rose City Antifa in Portland, the oldest antifa group in the U.S., are particularly well-organized and active online and on Facebook, while its members are individually anonymous.
President Trump has singled out antifa as part of what he calls the alt-left in his initial claim that "many sides" were to blame for violence in Charlottesville the weekend of Aug. 12, not just the neo-Nazis, KKK and white nationalists.
How is it pronounced?
"AN-tifa" with the emphasis on the first syllable, which sounds more like "on" in English than "an."
When did it start?
Anti-fascist groups, particularly in Europe, have been around for many decades, notably in Italy, against Mussolini, and in Germany, against Hitler. In the postwar period, antifa groups resurged to fight neo-Nazi groups, particularly in Germany. In the U.S., the anti-fascist movements grew out of leftist politics of the late '80s, primarily under the umbrella of Anti-Racist Action.
What does the movement want?
The primary goal is to stop neo-Nazis and white supremacists from gaining a platform rather than to promote a specific antifa agenda. The antifa groups are decidedly anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobia, but also by and large socially leftist and anti-capitalist.
How do the groups operate?
Mark Bray, a lecturer and Dartmouth and author of the new book Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook, says the groups "organize educational campaigns, build community coalitions, monitor fascists, pressure venues to cancel their events, organize self-defense trainings and physically confront the far right when necessary."
A main goal is to try to deny fascists a public forum, which is why they turn out in numbers to physically confront neo-Nazis, the KKK and white supremacists at public demonstrations. They also step in to protect counter-protesters at such events.
In addition, antifa is particularly active in "doxxing," or identifying neo-Nazis and like-minded individuals and disseminating that private information to the public and employers to discourage people from joining their ranks.
Is antifa violent?
Members pointedly do not eschew violence but rather see themselves as engaging in "self-defense," protecting other protesters and primarily confronting neo-Nazis and white supremacists to deny them a platform to publicly spread their views.
"We are unapologetic about the reality that fighting fascism at points requires physical militancy,” Rose City Antifa’s Facebook page reads. “Anti-fascism is, by nature, a form of self-defense: the goal of fascism is to exterminate the vast majority of human beings.”
Political activist and author Cornel West, speaking to Amy Goodman on the program Democracy Now about the clashes in Charlottesville, said antifa intervened when the "neofascists" move against his group of protesters. "We would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists," he said.
Bray says the rise of fascism in the 1930s demonstrates that it was a mistake to allow such groups to air their views in hopes that public opinion would blunt their growth. "We should be wary of those who are more distressed about alleged violations of the speech of fascists than the actual violence they perpetrate," he says.
Where has the movement demonstrated?
In addition to Charlottesville, antifa forces, who often dress in black and wear masks, have confronted or clashed with far-right groups in such places as the University of California at Berkeley, where protests by West Coast antifa forces, some of whom smashed windows and set fires, forced the cancellation of a speech by alt-right activist Milo Yiannopoulos in February and another by conservative commentator Ann Coulter in April.
In June, antifa forces turned out to protest a pro-Trump free-speech in Portland. Some antifa counterprotesters began throwing objects at police, who responded with flash grenades and pepper balls, according to the The Oregonian.
Antifa was also out in force in June to confront Patriot Prayer, a free speech group protesting “political correctness and hatred” at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.