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Disinformation — What Attacks on “Anti-Fascist” and “Antifa” Really Are

Words have power. In this highly contentious election season, understanding the real meaning of words is important. There is not just misinformation circulating on social media, there is outright disinformation being disseminated by both domestic entities and foreign influencers.

The Aug. 17  “Election Year Words and Meanings Part I”  focused on “Fascism”, and how the slow and steady creep of authoritarianism can erode the tenets of democracy. Part II considers the opposite words.

There are three-fold goals behind this trashing of “anti-fascist” and “Antifa”: not just to cause chaos and confusion. Not just to spout a twisted victimhood philosophy, but to divide us, using words to which they ascribe new meanings.

What Anti-fascist Momentum and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) have in common

The end of World War II was a brief 75 years ago. It’s worth remembering that those opposing the fascist authoritarianism of Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Benito Mussolini’s Italy were people we knew and loved.

A World War II poster supporting the scrap drives that collected metals for the war effort.

They were our parents, our grandparents, our aunts, our uncles, our great grandparents. They held rubber drives and scrap metal drives, they enforced blackout rules and endured gasoline and sugar rationing. They and their children volunteered and were drafted to war. They put up service stars, and they prayed, and they worked, and they bought war bonds to support the war effort.

They fought their way across Africa and up the boot of Italy, landed on Omaha Beach,  liberated Paris, slogged their way across Europe to Berlin to beat back the Nazis.  They liberated the concentration camps. They fought and they died for democracy. Then they created the Marshall Plan to rebuild European democracies and created NATO to preserve the peace.

By definition, those who fought the good fight to defeat Hitler were anti-fascist. So the recent efforts of the far-right — and even moderates of a particular political party — to vilify the term “anti-fascist” are not just misguided; these slurs are un-American. They run counter to our democratic ideals.

Those who warn of the creep of fascism now — in our time — appear to be right to do so. But here, another ugly truth emerges.

Fascism has a particularly long reach into the fabric of America, and it isn’t just recent.

The Ku Klux Klan marching in Washington D.C.1926urng the height of the Jim Crow era. Even the mayor of Denver, Ben Stapleton, was a member for a time.

By definition those who opposed the Ku Klux Klan and now oppose the white supremacist agenda, are anti-fascist. Those who fought the Jim-Crow laws of the 1920s that legalized racial segregation were anti-fascist.

Being anti-fascist places you in company with those who value liberty, who believe in the actual protections and rights afforded by our constitution; reinforced by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, subsequent civil rights legislation, supported by recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

“Fascism is about targeting minorities, it’s anti-global, it’s anti-science,” says author Jason Stanley who is the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. He adds, “When you want to think of fascism in the United States, think about the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and white supremacists.” He adds “fascism is revolutionary nationalism motivated by fear and loyalty.”

As reported in earlier Ark Valley Voice stories on militant white supremacists groups, armed right-wing militia groups are growing.

The author of five books, including “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them,” Stanley cautions: “[Facism]’s a use of an institution for a particular brand of politics. That shouldn’t happen in a democratic society.”

Stanley says that President Donald Trump’s typical campaign messaging, “targeting immigrants and the left, peddles in fascist ideals”. Images of the torchlight march and chants of the Nazi slogan ‘blood and soil’ in the streets of Charlottesville, Va. come to mind. “Trump is unquestionably doing that. He’s using fascist tactics to win elections,” asserts Stanley. He says President Trump isn’t an enigma, rather an outgrowth of the contemporary Republican party.

“Trump is a symptom and not a cause,” said Stanley. “You can’t have a political party in a democracy that values loyalty to a party over loyalty to a two-party system.”

Then there is the Antifa Label

The label “Antifa” — given by supporters of the Republican party, Trump supporters, and those advocating victimhood to those they perceive to be their adversaries — has its roots in Germany.

According to Wikkipedia, “the English word Antifa is a loanword from the German Antifa, taken as a shortened form of the word antifaschistisch (“anti-fascist”) and a nickname of Antifaschistische Aktion (1932–1933), a short-lived group which inspired the wider Antifa movement in Germany.

In other words – it was a German nickname for those who opposed Hitler – before he crushed all opposition.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term was first proposed to its dictionary in 1955  but didn’t have enough usage. They trace the roots of the word to Italy: the “fa” of Antifa has its roots in the Italian word fascio (plural fasci), a word that means literally “bundle,” and figuratively “group”. Italians were using a derivative “fascisti” in 1914, to refer to members of a political fascio. By 1919, the word fascisti had as its reference the hated black-shirted members of Benito Mussolini’s “combat groups.”

Trump began spouting the word in 2017. During the George Floyd protests in May and June 2020, the president and Attorney General William Barr popularized the term, blaming Antifa for orchestrating the mass protests. But observers say that these protests that were largely peaceful.

Federal arrests show no sign that any singular Antifa-affiliated group has plotted protests. In fact, much of the violence occurring during protests appears to have come from other directions: documented from armed, right-wing militia groups that have infiltrated the marches, and from the police and federal agencies confronting largely peaceful protestors.

That has not stopped those who would direct blame towards anti-fascist activists for a range of ills. Conspiracy theories about Antifa, particularly among right-wing activists, politicians, and Trump himself, have tended to inaccurately portray Antifa as a single organization with leaders and secret sources of funding.

There is no evidence of this. But there have been multiple efforts to discredit Antifa groups via hoaxes on social media,

The parallels between then and now sound a cautionary tale. History can repeat itself if we allow it.