What’s Left: Alt-Right and Antifa – Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11, 2017. The white nationalist rally was a response to the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a public park. However, this hatred of religious and racial minorities does not stem from the removal of statues; rather, it is a hatred shared by members of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) and neo-Nazi groups. In the wake of violent white nationalist protests and a terror attack in Charlottesville, President Donald Trump condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” This statement equivocated neo-Nazi hate groups and the KKK with Antifa. However, there is a distinction between these polarized groups. Neo-Nazi groups and the KKK encourage dehumanization and subordination of religious and ethnic minorities; they target and attack vulnerable groups simply because they belong to those minority groups.

The KKK was formed in 1865. Among their tactics was lynching, aimed to maintain white supremacy after the emancipation of slaves following the Civil War. The practice of lynching was made a federal crime in 1947. Yet, the KKK maintains between 5,000 and 8,000 members in 2017 according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Additionally, the Nazi party formed during the 1920s under Adolf Hitler. Hitler blamed Jews, Communists and other so-called outcasts for Germany’s crippled economy, unemployment, inflation, hunger and lack of national unity. The Nazi party advocated for state-sponsored cleansing of racial and religious minorities. In briefly reviewing the origins of the Nazi Party and the KKK, it is clear that violence is a central tenet of the doctrine of the respective groups. 

In contrast, Antifa was formed in the mid 1920s in response to the rise of

fascism in Germany, Italy and Spain. Militant leftists have often resorted to violence in order to spread the group’s doctrine. According to The New York Times, Antifa also strives to “confront, expose, shame – and sometimes convert – white supremacists.” However, the Southern Poverty Law Center does not consider Antifa a hate group because “adherents do not discriminate against people on the basis of race, sexual orientation or other classes protected by antidiscrimination laws, such as religion.” Unlike neo-Nazi groups and the KKK, Antifa’s values are not rooted in racial and religious discrimination. While Antifa believes that violent action may be employed to quell fascists and white supremacists, it is not a central tenet of the group’s history, in contrast to neo-Nazi groups and the KKK.

On August 12, James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio drove his car into a crowd and killed Heather Heyer. Fields was a member of Vanguard America and was charged with second-degree murder. J.J. MacNab, a fellow in the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, stated that, while Antifa’s engagement in street brawls and property damage is unacceptable, it “is not domestic terrorism.” Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, stated that, “Using the fact that some counter-protesters were, in fact, violent, creates a structural and moral false equivalency that is seriously undermining the legitimacy of this president.” The respective doctrines of the KKK and Nazi Party are rooted in religious and racial prejudice. Both groups encourage violence as a means of ultimate racial and ethnic cleansing. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, however, Antifa’s adherents do not discriminate against people on the basis of race, sexual orientation, or religion. Trump’s so-called “violence on many sides” incorrectly equivocated neo-Nazi groups and the KKK with Antifa. Brutality in all forms is unacceptable; however, not all violence is created equal.

Contact JJ Citron at [email protected].