From Gods and Radicals by Rhyd Wildermuth | September 7, 2021
(A critique of American Antifa)
I. An Unfortunate Coincidence
In August of last year, I received a terrifying email from a journalist:
I’m reaching out to you because Mr. Michael Reinoehl, who is a person of interest in the shooting Saturday night, is registered to vote at XXXXXXX (1)—and nonprofit records show that address was, at least at one point, associated with Gods&Radicals.
In case you do not know, Michael Reinoehl was an anarchist and Antifa activist who gunned down Aaron Danielson a little more than a year ago (2) in Portland, Oregon, USA. The man he killed was associated with the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, and though according to Reinoehl’s statements he had killed Danielson in “self-defense,” Reinoelhl’s social media posts had proclaimed an intention to use violence.
“We truly have an opportunity right now to fix everything. But it will be a fight like no other! It will be a war and like all wars there will be casualties.” (3)
Reinoehl was the first anarchist involved in Antifa to kill someone during a protest during the Trump years, and his subsequent death by police soon after was unsurprising. So, too, were the outpourings of support for him by anarchists and from Antifa-branded media accounts, with almost no public statements suggesting such an act had gone too far.
What did surprise me was that email, though. I had never met the man, nor do I know anyone personally who did. I remember what I was doing at that time, how suddenly quite terrified I had become, and then subsequently quite angry.
It turned out that Reinohl once lived at the same address previous to someone I knew, a person who had been involved in setting up the non-profit board for the publisher I co-founded. They never knew each other, either. There was no connection between them, nor any connection between him and Gods&Radicals. It was just a dumb stroke of coincidence.
I was terrified regardless, and also angry. That anger came slower, however, and lasted much longer than the fear. I had quickly contacted quite a few of my anarchist friends in the US to find out what was up, how I should respond, how worried I should be. In all cases they told me I was not only over-reacting but should also be completely proud to be associated with such a ‘hero.’
I’ve been politically active now for more than 20 years, though I should probably define what that means.
The WTO meetings and protests in Seattle radicalized me, as I think they did for many others my age. I was 22, just turning 23. Before then, though I’d had some exposure to leftist political thinking and a vague understanding of capitalism—by which I mean I didn’t like it because I was poor—I hadn’t yet connected anything I had thought to anything actually happening in the world.
At the end of 1999, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) held a meeting in Seattle which was met with massive protests. The protestors who showed up were generally what we would call “leftist,” but not all of them. Many were just union members, out because their leadership had called them to do so. Some were die-hard anarchists (the famed “Eugene Anarchists”), others were part of more organized socialist groups like the now-defunct ISO and smaller groups like the Freedom Socialist Party and Socialist Alternative. Some were there because they were environmentalists, drawn there by NGO organizers. Others came out because they believed there was a conspiracy by the UN and other international groups to take away individual rights and local sovereignty. And some just came out of curiosity, as 40,000 people shutting down the city center of an otherwise sleepy city was something to see.
While there had been earlier and much smaller protests, the event in Seattle marked the full beginning of the anti-globalization movement, a mass politics in response to a larger political and economic shift which eventually succeeded in reshaping our world. It also meant a kind of renaissance for anarchist thought, a sudden relevance for a sub-cultural political movement few had taken seriously in the United States since the beginning of World War II.
To understand what we were all on about during that time, you need to consider what the world looked like at the end of the 1990’s. Francis Fukuyama had declared “the end of history,” a moment of triumph for Liberal Democracy and capitalism over communism and national isolationism. Before the end of the second millennium, the Berlin Wall had fallen, the Soviet Union and allied client states (like Yugoslavia) had collapsed, and the Third World was now open for pillaging.
The term “Third World” is now considered quite pejorative, but only because no one seems to remember what it actually meant. Most probably don’t even know there was also a “Second World” in the equation. In that particular geo-political framing, the world was seen as being divided into three parts: the First World (western capitalist democracies), the Second World (the Soviet bloc and allied communist states), and the Third World (unaligned nations, primarily in what we now call the Global South) over which the First and Second worlds fought.
By the end of the 1990’s, the Second World collapsed completely. This meant there was no longer any competition for the capitalists in the First World for the resources of the Third. Before this collapse, international investment and military policy had been crafted with a constant eye towards competing with and limiting the influence of the U.S.S.R., and now all those policies were ready to be re-written.
It’s hard to imagine this, maybe, but for decades the competitive pressure from the Second (state communist) world had managed to keep First World capitalists from becoming too extreme in their exploitation of their own laborers and the resources of other nations. As long as the USSR existed and was offering an alternative model of organizing society, Western capitalists had to at least make pretense of giving their own people and the people in the Third World a good deal.
With the Communists gone, there was no longer such a need because there was no longer any alternative.
Thus, in the late 1990’s, governments, capitalists, and a new breed of technocrat theorist scrambled to create new policies and frameworks that would allow them to take as much advantage as possible of this political void. Importantly, they also needed a new moral framework to justify these policies: “fighting communism” was no longer a believable excuse since there were no more communists to fight.
That’s how globalization was born. Globalization meant many things, depending on who you asked, but ultimately it meant the globalization of western capitalist modes of production, financing, development, and the western capitalist worldview itself.
Now that there was no alternative, the missionaries of the enlightened capitalist order could spread across the globe, teaching the previously “primitive” and “backwards” peoples how to live in the brave new present. We were all connected now in an universal fellowship of consumers and producers: we could all have strawberries in wintertime, a Starbucks in every town center, a representative democracy, and access to a global network of information called the internet that would bring us all closer together.
In those early days, the propaganda was intoxicating. Even for those of us who opposed this new global ordering of the world based on Anglo-American capitalist values, we still all had the sense some new world was being born. That’s why, while in English the opposition to this new political formation was called anti-globalization, in Europe and the Global South the movement was called Altermondialisme: “other world-ism.”
Derived from the popular rallying cry, “Another World Is Possible,” the idea of altermondialism was that all these new technologies and the cessation of geo-political strife after the death of state communism could usher in a more democratic and less capitalist world. The WTO protests, for instance, had seen the birth of several new decentralized and non-hierarchical communications technologies and organizing structures (for example, the IndyMedia collectives and infoshops, or the Direct Action Networks). Also, the astounding diversity of political interests and ethnic concerns that had come together for that protest and many subsequent protests was seen as a model of what a new resistance movement could look like. First Nations tribal leaders marching alongside union leaders and migrant farm workers, listening to speakers from India and Brazil and reading texts from African activists and Italian anarchists: this looked to many as a true other world being born.
Of course it didn’t happen that way. What we got instead was the globalization of capital and a new form of state and corporate repression that has proven itself far more efficient than the political repression in the failed communist states, as well as an acceleration of capitalist destruction in the Global South and human-caused climate change.
The anti-globalization movement saw the rebirth of anarchism as a serious political ideology. Before then, though there were always small groups and various individuals who described themselves as anarchists, anarchism as a political force had largely disappeared in the previous decades except in a few European countries (especially Italy, Greece, and Germany).
In the lead up to the WTO protests, anarchist political tactics and beliefs found a new popularity. Especially because of the Direct Action Network, which played a significant part in causing the disruption in Seattle that shifted the event from a protest march to a city siege, anarchist ideas such as non-hierarchical organization and masked actions suddenly were taken seriously again.
In particular, politicians and the media focused heavily on the “Black Bloc” anarchists who were responsible for the vast majority of property damage in Seattle during the WTO. Of course, Black Bloc isn’t the name of an ideological tendency or even a group (there is technically no such thing as a Black Bloc Anarchist), but rather a tactic. In a Black Bloc, people don masks and wear black in order to disguise their own identities and make themselves indistinguishable from others in a group. The point of doing so is to make it difficult for police or others to identify individuals, while also emboldening those individuals to take more aggressive actions.
Basically you become—at least during the action—anonymous and practically invisible. This means you can get away with a lot more. You can break windows and smash cars and steal whatever you like even in plain sight, because all anyone can actually report is that they saw someone wearing all black doing those things. Thus, anything you do gets attributed instead to a group identity rather than to an individual identity, and as long as you stay disguised you can leave the action at the end of the day with no repercussions.
Not only is this tactic not new, but it’s also a politically neutral tactic. Disguising yourself for political actions is what the Boston Tea Party was all about. The white robes and hoods of the Ku Klux Klan are also the same tactic, as was the cross-dressing of the anti-enclosure actions in England, Wales, and Ireland. In all cases, the goal of the disguise is to allow you to act with impunity, which also emboldens you to take actions you might not otherwise take because of fear of getting caught.
I was part of several Black Bloc actions in the first few years of the 2000’s, and witnessed many more of them. I can attest that it’s all quite a rush: you feel invulnerable in a way you never get to feel in your everyday life. Also, there is a profoundly spiritual dimension to all of this. Masking and disguising has always been part of indigenous and pagan rituals: changing the way you look for a ritual allows you to “channel” something else than what you are. (4)
In a Black Bloc, then, your own identity isn’t just disguised: you take on a new one.
The other anarchists I knew were an interesting lot. Many, many of them fit the mainstream stereotype of what an anarchist is: young angry straight men, not always but very often middle class. Several of them I knew turned out to be extremely abusive to their partners, women who also participated in the actions with them but then later left because the violence didn’t just stop with shop windows.
Others were more like me, though. People who had become newly radicalized and really wanted to change things and had just been given a copy of Ward Churchhill’s Pacifism as Pathology (5) or had picked up a copy of Adbusters. However, people like me were often suspect. Because we were new to all this, we hadn’t yet adopted all the cultural signifiers of true anarchism (being vegan, for instance, or loudly bemoaning Kronstadt) and so were often seen as potential infiltrators.
I remember there were three signs we were taught to look for, clear giveaways that someone might actually be a cop rather than a true believer. The first was the age of their black Carhartt (6) jeans, because it takes a long time for them to look worn. New ones meant they were “new” anarchists and thus probably cops. Secondly, their body weight was super important. Especially if a man looked well-fed, he was obviously a pig because anarchy meant looking hungry.
The third telltale sign is the most interesting though, as it has a lot of bearing on how Antifa later developed.
That sign? Being critical of any action, expressing doubt in its efficacy, and suggesting other actions instead. That is, if at any point you wondered aloud if breaking shop windows might not be as effective as the less glamorous work of organizing the workers against those shop owners, you were at best a hopeless liberal or a communist but more likely a police saboteur.
I don’t know how to make clear how thoroughly paranoid my anarchist friends were in the early part of the 2000’s, even before the organized police infiltration of our groups. Everyone was certain there were saboteurs, though at that time there probably were not. They did soon arrive, of course, and en force, and they came in a way that anarchists had made themselves too blind to counter.
While everyone was on guard against doubters, omnivores, and people with healthy body weights, the government infiltrated with people whose apparent belief in the cause of anarchy was even stronger than theirs. Suddenly, there was a new breed of anarchist who was urging even more spectacular actions, questioning the real commitment of the previous “non-leader” leaders. (7)
This all led to several high-profile entrapment schemes that destroyed what was left of any real organized political movement. (8) (9) In these schemes, FBI and police actors would join groups and urge on towards more extreme actions, very similar to the way many “Islamic terrorist” stings have occurred.
This tactic works damn well, because it exploits the core weakness of any true believer: their self-doubt. For a person who believes fully in any political or religious dogma, the one thing they cannot countenance is their own misgivings. Are they being faithful enough? Are they doing all they can to serve their cause? And are there cracks appearing in the foundation of their belief?
An infiltrator only needs to act more faithful and more devoted than all the others, and those others will soon fall in line. Why? Because it is ultimately only faith and commitment to the cause which provides cohesion for the group. Even in the absence of infiltrators, the group is constantly challenging each other and themselves over any signs of doubt or apostasy. Add in a saboteur who understands this dynamic, and this faith-mechanism becomes their downfall.
During the middle and later part of the 2000’s, I had multiple people I considered friends just “disappear” out of my life. Some of them turned out likely to have been saboteurs. Others fled to Canada during grand jury hearings about environmental terrorism. Some of them just left all political action altogether out of disgust and fear for what they had seen, both from fellow activists and government repression.
I don’t know how to describe the deep depression that came over myself and many of my friends during that time. We had gone from feeling like we were on the front lines of an international movement against global capitalism to the sense that we were being hunted. Worse, the fascination with and acceptance of anarchist ideas in the wider public had suddenly disappeared. To be an anarchist now meant just to be violent, and this wasn’t just the perception of the everyday person but also of others on the left.
Two events stand out in my memory that pointed to this shift, both protest marches. One was an event against police brutality, organized by several black community groups and churches. At the beginning, the organizers had made several impassioned pleas to the crowd to stay non-violent, and had specifically singled out Black Bloc as an unwanted presence.
By this point, I no longer engaged in Black Bloc tactics, but was standing near friends I knew intended to mask up once the police arrive. “Fuck that,” I heard one of them say, and the others with her agreed. Then, probably about fifteen minutes into the march they indeed put on their masks and pelted the police with stones, leading to the cops using pepper spray on the unwitting crowd.
Another event, a year or two later, started with even more stern words towards any anarchists in the crowd who intended to be violent. That event was a vigil for a homeless First Nations man killed by a police officer, and the tribal elders who led it made clear that Black Bloc was not only not welcome but would be considered no better than the police who shot their tribesman.
For the anarchists I talked to about this, their response was similar to how I would have responded years before. “Non-violence is a tool of the state” was usually how we said it, but I wasn’t really sure I believed that any more. Violence had become the proverbial hammer to which everything was a nail, and especially for those two events it seemed more and more obvious the anarchists in the crowd desperately wanted to be hammers.
Around this same time a new idea had started to circulate among the anarchist groups and individuals I knew: “anti-oppression.” That was the new “work,” fighting oppression on personal levels rather than in large scale protests and actions. This often meant anti-racism, but also anti-sexism and anti-speciesm, all ideas which had become increasingly popular on college campuses. Also, all of a sudden people were talking about gender in new ways, citing Judith Butler and others whose writings were much more esoteric and obtuse than the political texts that previously circulated through anarchist spaces.
Anti-oppression soon came to replace direct action as the core anarchist “work,” and this made a lot of sense. After all, direct action tactics were not only becoming less effective, they were expressly no longer tolerated by other leftists. Also, this new work provided a kind of moral framework that anarchism severely lacked, and also helped anarchists have something to say again to others after years of being written off as angry kids.
There was some push back, but mostly from older anarchist theorists and writers who saw this shift from physical action to moral questioning as a defanging of anarchist ideals. Some rightly saw in the anti-oppression framework a reproduction of Christian morality and an abandonment of individual liberty for a false notion of group identity.
Unfortunately, very few of these critiques were taken seriously.
This shift from direct action to internal reflection cannot be seen any other way except as a search for relevance, especially after anarchism’s last gasp (Occupy) failed so spectacularly. Both the government repression of anarchists and the justifiable frustration with anarchist tactics by community groups—primarily from minority groups—caused a massive identity crisis for many anarchists.
This all came at a time when socialist organizations were seeing increasing support instead, especially because of their focus on teaching, community support, and their skills at organizing over longer time periods. Anarchism by nature fully precludes such longer term organizing because of its anti-institutionalism and anti-hierarchical arrangements; Marxists, on the other hand, tend to be very good at such organizing.
So, starting around 2009, anarchists had not only become generally irrelevant but also paralyzed by a new ideology. Shifting to moral soul-searching about their own oppressive behaviors in everyday personal interactions gave them new meaning and access to wider liberal discussion, but it also paralyzed them into a state of constant inaction. How can you act when every act might be problematic or oppressive to someone?
Of course there is another aspect to this, one that is crucial to understand when we look at what has become of anarchism now: the election of Barack Obama. Anarchism in American had its rise to fame and relevancy during the early years of George W. Bush. A right-wing rich white man as president is a lot easier to oppose than a rich Black liberal president, especially when so many people saw his election as a sign that Liberal Democracy was finally fulfilling its false promises of eventual equality.
From 2009 to 2015, anarchists became largely irrelevant. That isn’t to say there were no anarchist actions; in fact, mutual aid organizing based largely on anarchist principles occurred multiple times, including in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 (but it was nowhere near as significant as the mutual aid response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005). And of course anarchists were present in many early Black Lives Matter protests, but quite a few stories of anarchists causing escalations of violence in those events did little for their reputation.
What changed in 2015 was the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy and the rise of the “alt-right.” Suddenly, anarchism was back in vogue, but it had a new name: Antifa.
Antifa has quite a lot of similarities to Black Bloc. Antifa doesn’t really exist anymore than you can say that Black Bloc anarchists really exist, yet neither of these statements are fully true. Anyone can be Black Bloc just as anyone can be Antifa, but I can assure you that the anarchists who were forming a Black Bloc in the protests I participated in were very often the same ones each time. We also knew who were the “leaders” of those groups, the ones who were always directing the general movements of the Bloc and making the tactical decisions on when to mask up and when to unmask and blend back in to the crowd.
Antifa is the same way. Antifa has leaders who will of course disavow until the end of their days that they are leaders. Regardless, it is the same groups and same people making the same calls to action, and those groups are headed by the same small group of people each time. Each Antifa Twitter account calls itself a collective, but in each case it’s just two or three people (and often just one person) issuing the proclamations.
Here it’s also worth noting that the infamous article published by Quillette two years ago, as well as Andy Ngo’s work “exposing” Antifa isn’t as false as many Antifa-associated people would have you think. Antifa operates on many series of personal relationships and associations between “nodes.” Those nodes—or really just people— are often working as journalists and self-avowed researchers, while also working closely with Antifa organizers and sometimes as organizers themselves (for instance, running Antifa social media accounts or websites). (10)
It’s also worth noting that Antifa is hardly the first kind of anti-fascist organizing in the United States, but rather a kind of rebranding and co-option of earlier modes of organization. Every Marxist group in the United States (including the Revolutionary Workers Party, The International Socialist Organization, the Socialist Alternative, and the Freedom Socialist Party) organized actions against Nazis and white supremacist groups well before Antifa arose, and often their community calls brought in anarchists such as myself. Antifa, on the other hand, organized less against such larger threats and more against bands like Death In June, using threats and property damage to scare business owners and promoters rather than drawing from organizational strength (because they had none).
The point here is that Antifa is a specifically anarchist organizing tactic, rather than a general leftist one. While other leftist groups saw opposition to fascism as a natural outgrowth of their opposition to capitalism, Antifa’s only purpose is in its name: anti-fascism.
This, of course, leads to all kinds of ideological problems. Socialist groups identify fascism as an immune response of the capitalist order, and have concrete ways of determining whether a movement is fascist or just reactionary. Antifa, lacking a larger political framework, can draw only from its core anarchist ideology for such identification. And of course by the time Antifa fully arose in the middle of the last decade, anarchism had become so intertwined with liberal “anti-oppression” ideology that fascism and oppression became synonymous.
The rise of Trump and the alt-right tied this ideological knot for them, while simultaneously giving anarchists something to make them relevant again. The sudden popularity of alt-right thinkers Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos—themselves riding the coattails of Trump’s nationalist rhetoric—provided exactly the kind of heroic crisis anarchists desperately wanted. Suddenly, there were “fascists” to fight, just like in Catalonia.
Except of course Trump was never a fascist, and neither really were any but a very small handful of the Alt-Right luminaries. What they were was something else entirely, an illiberal force which rejected the anti-oppression framework that anarchists had for years internalized. That same anti-oppression framework now had a new name: intersectionality, or social justice, or what we now call “wokeness.”
Trump and the Alt-Right both rode upon a wave of populist opposition to the cultural and social effects of anti-oppression moralization. This cannot be understated: despite how much we might generally agree with the goals of social justice and anti-oppression work, it was all becoming really fucking ridiculous. (11) The extreme and unhinged nature of anti-oppression work provided exactly what both Trump and the Alt-Right needed for their popularity as well, becoming a kind of shadow twin of the social justice absurdities for which Antifa became the ultimate champion.
The first show of force Antifa affected was the “deplatforming” of Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California, Berkeley in 2017. 1,500 people showed up, and anarchists using Black Bloc tactics managed to not only cause $100,000 worth of damage but also convince the university to cancel his appearance. Other events soon occurred, culminating in the mass mobilization of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia for the Unite The Right rally which resulted in the death of a counter-protester, Heather Heyer.
After that event, Antifa suddenly became a media darling. Anarchists had managed to effectively re-brand themselves as the vanguard of opposition both to Trump and to the “deplorables” that mainstream liberals had begun to fear, and Antifa actions became increasingly bolder and more violent, especially in the Pacific Northwest (where Antifa officially started and where several primary organizers live).
This also led to a significant accumulation of influence and power for a handful of mostly anonymous Antifa organizers and related organizations. Several books were published during this period which led to increased fame (and profit) for Antifa-aligned writers, while others found themselves highly sought-after as experts for mainstream news articles and even columnist positions in foreign newspapers. Anarchists were suddenly being quoted in the The New York Times as if they were respectable political actors, rather than violent thugs who just wanted to burn down the world.
Power has its own logic and its own demands, and one of those is ensuring you get to hold on to it no matter what. That’s why that, at the same time many Antifa organizers were accumulating influence and social capital, they often turned it against rival anarchists.
It was a distributed campaign to smear and de-platform a long-time anarchist publisher and organizer who had been critical of this new moral turn that first made me aware of what was happening. Aragorn!, the founder of Little Black Cart, Anarchist News, and The Anarchist Library, as well as the internet administrator for many local anarchist websites, who had been a mainstay of anarchist thought for decades, was suddenly “a fascist” according to many Antifa organizers.
This happened as well to many lesser-known anarchists increasingly in the final years of the Trump presidency. Here I’ll mention myself briefly, an anarchist for two decades, suddenly smeared as a crypto-fascist by many anonymous Antifa social media accounts. My “obvious” crime was the same unpardonable sin I learned in my early days as an anarchist to avoid at all costs: questioning tactics. Of particular note were reactions to my assertion that publishing the home address of alleged fascists—including fellow anarchists—was a really bad idea. Also, I had become increasingly worried about the tendency to use de-platforming as a weapon against groups on social media platforms and Patreon, accurately predicting that empowering corporations to police speech would backfire on anarchists as well. (12)
Most of all, I had become critical of the way identity politics—the “woke” ideology or what we earlier called anti-oppression work—seemed to align the left more and more with the capitalist order and the Democratic Party’s platforms. These criticisms resulted in ejections from anarchist organizing groups and private networks, as well as repeated social media crusades and a few other terrifying events that I cannot publicly disclose yet.
While what I experienced was bad, what others experienced was far worse. Aragorn!, the aforementioned anarchist publisher, had his tires slashed in front of his home. Other anarchist writers were doxxed and received repeated death threats on untraceable blogs, leading some of them to completely stop writing and delete all social media presence.
I survived all this mostly because I no longer live in the United States. I left in 2017 and haven’t been back since, and in order to slash my bicycle tires they’d have to travel quite a long way. Of course, this says nothing about the fear their actions engendered, leading me to hide any photos of my family on social media profiles while they were still in the United States (my sister lives in Europe now as well). For awhile I lived in France on an expired visa, a “cool anarchist” thing to have done which I disclosed to no Antifa-aligned people lest they attempt to doxx me to the French government.
It took me awhile to fully comprehend how much more afraid I had become of Antifa-aligned anarchists than I had once been of the far right, a perverse reality that only truly dawned on me when I received that email. What had once meant to me a beautiful kind of resistance to capitalism and the state had now become a reckless, violent movement eager to fight an enemy that never really existed.
Yes, of course there are fascists in the world, maybe even a thousand of them spread across the globe. But what arose in the United States wasn’t fascism but rather plain old racism and nationalism, a different kind of reaction to the same globalization of capital that anarchists fought in 1999. More than any other group, the “white middle class” in the United States has seen the largest changes in their standards of living on account of neo-liberal policies first put into place by Bill Clinton and increasing implemented by Bush and Obama after him, and Trump was the only person speaking to their situation.
Trump and the alt-right were tragic idiots holding a mirror up to the absurd and narcissistic ideology of “anti-oppression.” To initiate into the Proud Boys, all you need to do is say aloud that you think Western Civilization is great and nothing to apologize for, and their ideology pretty much boils down to one of their catch phrases, “it’s okay to be white.” The ideology of another “fascist” group, Patriot Prayer (to which Aaron Michelson, the man killed by Michael Reinoehl, belonged) can be summarized as conservative libertarianism with an erotic lust for Trump.
Worse, the few groups associated with extreme violence and fascist ideology (such as Atomwaffen/OA9) have been shown to be headed by FBI informants. Add to this the bizarre fact that one of the major nodes of Antifa organizing in the United States also works alongside ex-CIA and other “deep state” officials at an anti-extremism think tank, and suddenly the question of fascism and Antifa really starts to look much more like the infiltration and entrapment schemes that broke the anti-globalization movement than anything recognizable as anarchism.
Needless to say, though I’m absolutely against fascism, I support nothing about Antifa in the United States. Regardless, I still maintain a few friendships with anarchists who still associate with them. On the other hand, quite a few anarchist friends of mine, many of them now living in Europe, quietly disassociated themselves from Antifa over the last few years as well.
Of course, they are also against fascism. From what I have seen, the difference for them is that their opposition to fascism springs from their opposition to capitalism and totalitarianism, rather than as an ends in itself. Those of them still in the United States are heavily active in anti-police brutality actions and community work and waste little time on social media policing the beliefs of others.
I myself am no longer an anarchist. If I have to describe my political ideology, I would say I am an autonomous Marxist, similar to the political tendency of Silvia Federici. I used to describe myself jokingly as a “Chestertonian Leninist,” and the absurdity of that label probably just as accurately defines my politics as anything else.
Watching from afar, I’m both unsurprised and somewhat amused at the recent turn of Antifa now that Trump is gone. They seem to be again in the same position anarchists were in during the presidency of Barack Obama: desperately seeking relevancy.
Recent Antifa events have particularly made this clear, and I suspect not just to me. For example: the Antifa event in Portland that resulted in the assault of a female photographer, the Wi Spa protests in defense of a person who turned out to be a convicted serial sex offender, the Antifa stabbing of an anti-mask mandate protester in Los Angeles, and of course last weekend’s shooting of a Proud Boys member, likely by an Antifa activist, in Olympia, Washington.
In the absence of Trump, it starts to look as if Antifa now gains all of its meaning from the existence of the Proud Boys, who (again in the absence of Trump) now gain most of their meaning from the existence of Antifa. Both are desperately searching for relevance to a public who has grown exhausted with their antics, and this is a dangerous situation for everyone.
This loss of relevance is why I think also that many Antifa luminaries have begun to fall hard for new conspiracies about international Russian-led “red-brown” networks and to obsess over anti-imperialist writers such as Glenn Greenwald, Aaron Maté, and over the many other leftists who have left traditional media in order to write on more independent platforms such as Substack. The prophesied fascist menace never materialised, but they seem still certain there’s a little Hitler hiding behind any leftist writer who refuses to fully embrace American Antifa.
This loss of relevance is also why in the United States Antifa has increasingly taken the side of pro-mandate policies around masking and vaccines. This is particularly where they’ve abandoned any semblance of the core ideas which initially drew many of us to anarchism. Supporting government restrictions on human movement and state punishment of individuals who choose not to divulge their medical information cannot be squared with anarchism, no matter how much we might try to re-narrate these conflicts.
Of course, this is a continuation of the previous pro-corporate alliances many Antifa writers and organizers had been making even before Trump was out of office. Their support for Twitter, Facebook, and Google in their censoring of so-called “fascist” (but really just boringly libertarian) groups and speech already showed they were hardly serious about opposing capitalism or totalitarianism, only in looking like heroes in a fantasy war.
While no longer an anarchist and now highly critical of the terrifying—and increasingly violent—moral crusades of Antifa, I’m nevertheless optimistic something else might finally wake us from this nightmare. Hearing more and more fellow leftists publicly distance themselves from these tactics and especially from Antifa’s alliance with the state and the capitalist order gives me unlooked-for hope.
What can come instead would be a return to the initial days of the anti-globalization movement, an alchemical admixture of multiple ethnic and cultural groups fighting together for world no longer dominated by corporate and government power. The key then is the key we desperately need now, a pluralistic recognition of converging interests rather than a totalizing demand for moral conformity. For example, indigenous people losing land due to rising seas, farmers in the American midwest losing crops due to drought, and urban poor in slums throughout the Global South have such converging interests, and they are most of all material interests. Such interests cannot be addressed by self-reflection around oppression or identity, nor by policing of language or doctrinal purity, and definitely not by random and politically senseless street brawls, but only by organized, off-line, collective struggle.
Of course that’s not easy. It’s much easier to shoot or stab a so-called ‘fascist’ or to beat up a female reporter, to smash a few windows and proclaim social media crusades against the enemy of the week all in the name of fighting an enemy that doesn’t exist. Yet from what I have known of the best of the anarchists I counted as friends then and now, I suspect they all know these empty gestures are worthless, and they’re ready to return to the anarchism they first believed in.
About the author:
Rhyd is a druid, a theorist, and an autonomous Marxist. He is the co-founder and director of publishing of Gods&Radicals Press. He writes regularly at From The Forests of Arduinna, where you can subscribe for free.
He lives in the Ardennes, and spends his time equally gardening, hiking, biking, lifting weights, and staring at the moon. His upcoming book, Being Pagan, will be released in November 2021, and his upcoming course of the same name starts 2 October, 2021.
I’ve redacted the address and not included the name of the large media organization who contacted me.
29 August, 2020.
Whether that is just a sublimated aspect of your own personality, a ritualized identity, or something else entirely depends on what framework you use to try to understand this. Regardless, it happens.
That book was literally everywhere in Seattle, and was distributed like candy.
Carhartts were the official uniform of anarchy for many years, never mind their price.
Anarchists have leaders no matter how much they believe they don’t. It’s this denialism that allows them to be so easily manipulated by infiltrators and charismatic narcissists.
This story in particular, involving a friend of mine and others who were in my extended friend circle. In fact, at least half of my Seattle anarchist friends had been to the “speakeasies” mentioned in this article, and quite a few of them developed a cocaine habit on the SPD’s dime. Silly kids.
Eco-anarchists were particularly hit hard by these infiltration, as in this example.
This kind of arrangement isn’t strange to anyone who’s actually been involved in anarchist organizing. In the early 2000’s, we all knew which journalists at the alternative newspaper were “one of us,” because they were friends of ours, they came to our parties, we were sleeping with them and drinking with them.
Both Patreon and Facebook banned It’s Going Down and other anarchist websites at the same time that they banned far right groups, just as I had predicted would happen. The irony here is that many of those Antifa-identified groups had led the call for public pressure to get far right groups banned.