By Peter Galuszka
Get ready. The names of all kinds of leftist organizations are going to be kicked around as the masterminds behind violent, cop-beating looters, especially the so-called ANTIFA movement in Virginia and across the country..
But what is reality? I don’t have clear answers but I have some ideas to share since I have been dealing with activist groups since I was in high school in the late 1960s. I hope they help this blog’s discussion.
First, there’s plenty of research available about ANTIFA and there are already plenty of reports about it. It is not a single group but a very loose collection of autonomous activist groups, most of which do not advocate violence. For reference, see yesterday’s Daily Beast piece with the blunt headline, “Trump’s ‘ANTIFA Threat Is Total Bullshit – And Totally Dangerous.”
That article and plenty of others note that ANTIFA, or whatever it is, has no clear chain of command and uses ultra-fast social media to alert other activists about rallies and protests but has no control over them. If you are thinking about the tightly-controlled and secretive Communist cells of the past century, you are not getting it.
As the Beast piece points out, there is a large danger that anyone who opposes fascism or criticizes capitalism will be deemed a terrorist. Donald Trump says that he will be “Designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization’” although there is no such designation for domestic groups. No surprise about his inaccuracy.
Some researchers believe the anti-fascist movement dates back to the Spanish Civil War. It supported Spanish Republicans against the far-right, dictatorial Nationalists.
Others say it stems from the punk rock movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s when pro-fascist skinheads infiltrated and sparked opposition groups. What the movement has morphed into is very complicated.
A few more thoughts:
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s comprised competing interests and views. The real heroes were a loose network of African-American lawyers who filed lawsuits that lead to integration. Their movement changed into the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which advocated non-violent civil disobedience, led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The movement evolved into more forceful groups such as Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that raised the game by pushing voter registration, which white leaders in states like Virginia tried to prevent. It featured such charismatic leaders as Julian Bond and Stokely Carmichael.
Later came the Black Panthers and others, some of whom did want to use violence as a weapon. For years, of course, law enforcement led by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI tried to infiltrate and discredit disparate members of the movement.
There was lots of internal strife in the overall civil rights movement as well. In one personal example, in August 1974, I was at my first journalism job at a little newspaper in Washington, N.C. when Clarence Alligood, a local jailer, was found stabbed with an icepick in the Beaufort County Jail. He was lying on the bed of Joan Little, a young African-American who had escaped. Little was young and had a criminal record for petty crimes.
I covered the story from the start. At first the Sheriff’s Department left out important details such as the fact that Alligood was found wearing only a T-shirt and had semen on his body. Those bits of information were leaked to me and I had to sneak them into print because the publisher was an old-fashioned Southerner who refused to print them. Little turned herself in and claimed that Alligood had raped her and she was defending herself.
Suddenly, the story became international news. It had everything – sex in a jail cell on a steamy Southern night, a young black woman, a crude white jailer and so on. It was very upsetting for the leaders of North Carolina who were trying to reposition the image of the state as progressive and lucrative for business.
Then activist groups struggled to control the message. The SCLC tried hard to use its venerable ways, but Little’s Raleigh lawyers thought them to be old fogies and brought in the Black Panthers. They staged a march in the town that involved the church that Little’s mother attended. The mother strongly disapproved of what had become of her daughter and despised the Panthers. I watched as the elders surrounded the church, locked arms and refused to admit protesters. Anyway, Washington N,.C. was trashed in the global media. Little was acquitted of murder.
Another personal experience with activism took place in the Boston area where I attended college from 1970 to 1974. I was working on the student paper where I covered Vietnam War protests in the city. At one, I nearly got clubbed by a member of the Tactical Police Force (TPF), which the Boston PD used to suppress demonstrations.
These guys were big, mostly Irish brutes who acted without mercy. My earlier experience with anti-war protests had been in the D.C. area where the Park Police used a more sophisticated and lighter touch.
In college, I also covered plenty of meetings of leftist activists. It was very boring to be sitting in a smoke-filled room at 1 a.m. listening to a bunch of rich kids from Scarsdale argue whether the Students for a Democratic Society or the Young Socialist Alliance was more Trotskyite. It was sort of like Bacon’s Rebellion in reverse.
A few more examples of the danger of labeling:
In the 1990s after Communism fell in Russia, true elections were finally held. It was a true mess because there were literally hundreds of new political parties. There were some scary moments because hard-right, very violent and heavily armed groups evolved.
One was “Pamyat” or “Memory” which dreamed of bringing back the old Soviet Union at the barrels of Kalashnikovs. Others were dubbed the “red-browns” because they advocated combining the strong arm policies of Stalin and Hitler in a two for one deal.
Years later, in October 2010, I was covering the Virginia Tea Party PATRIOTS CONVENTION at the Richmond Convention Center. It was a very weird assortment of serious Libertarians concerned about fiscal excess and limiting government, Patrick Henry impersonators and armed gun nuts of every stripe. They were not “angry white men” as another blogger said they were called in error. It was much more complicated than that.
That’s my point about ANTIFA, which was involved at the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017. Some which called themselves ANTIFA did battle the white supremacists who staged the event.
Now, what is going to happen is that anyone who wants to exercise his or her right to protest police killings of African-Americans will be dubbed dangerous and violent elements who need to be taken out. With someone as chaotic as Donald Trump in power, that’s truly a scary prospect.