What is Antifa?
The topic of Antifa arose this week during a panel discussion in Wilmington on the resurgence of hate groups in the U.S.
It’s a term that leaves many confused, perhaps justifiably so.
Conservative news outlets such as Fox News have equated the Antifa movement to a terrorist organization, often describing Antifa as a group of violent extremists who instigate clashes with those who espouse far-right ideologies. Antifa members clad in black and wearing masks or bandanas on their faces are largely the only portrayals of the movement depicted in the news.
The term “Antifa” became more widespread after the “Unite the Right” rally in August of last year, an event in which hundreds of white nationalists descended upon Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of Confederate monuments.
The protest was met with a counter-protest and ultimately erupted into violence. Here, white nationalist James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring others.
President Donald Trump responded to the violence by stating that there was “blame on both sides,” igniting outrage from many on the political left while intensifying the right’s anxieties concerning Antifa.
Daryle Lamont Jenkins, who participated in the counter-protest at Charlottesville, addressed misconceptions about Antifa during a panel discussion titled “How to Challenge Resurgent Hate Groups.” The event, which was organized by Matthew Pillischer of YWCA Delaware, was held in Wilmington on Jan. 30. Pillischer moderated the discussion.
Jenkins spoke of how Antifa, which means “anti-fascist,” is a broad categorization.
“Each and every one of y’all in this room, if you are against fascism, you are anti-fascist. You are Antifa,” Jenkins told the 50 or so people in attendance. “Martin Luther King was Antifa, okay?”
Jenkins is the Executive Director of One People’s Project, a group founded in 2000 that researches and reports on the activities of right-wing hate groups and individuals. Through the project, Jenkins works to expose white nationalists, often confronting and debating them in person.
Jenkins and his group have also assisted people in leaving the world of white hate. His efforts to help reformed white supremacist Bryon Widner have racist tattoos removed from his face through a series of painful procedures was documented in the 2011 film “Erasing Hate.”
Jenkins rejects the assertion that Antifa is a movement that promotes violence.
“Antifa is a lot more disciplined than what you hear in the media," Jenkins said. "I can tell you that for sure.”
As someone who has followed white supremacists for years, Jenkins said he knew before the Charlottesville rally that many white nationalists attended the event with the intention of causing violence. He contended that they did exactly that, putting people on the Antifa side in a situation where they needed to defend themselves and protect others.
“Always use your speech as the first resort,” Jenkins said. “Throwing down should be the last, and it was the last in Charlottesville.”
Free speech and how it applies to hate was another topic of the panel discussion, which also included Rabbi Malkah Binah Klein, Claire Rasmussen of the University of Delaware’s Political Science Department and Erin Daly, a law professor and co-founder of the Dignity Rights Project at Delaware Law School.
Daly noted that other countries, including Canada and nations in Europe, have placed restrictions on hate speech, but a misconception exists that the U.S. has done the same. While the U.S. has restricted certain forms of speech, such as perjury, defamation and treason, Daly said hate speech remains protected under the First Amendment.
She offered the following explanation for the misconception.
“I think for a lot of people, that’s the world we’d like to live in,” Daly said. “We’d like to live in a world where you don’t have hate speech.”
Daly argued that the U.S. is so protective of free speech for this reason: “Overall, when all is said and done, we prefer it to be us—or the counter-protesters or any group of private individuals—to say, ‘you can’t say that,’ rather than a government,” she said.
“The best way to fight hate speech, or speech that you disagree with, is with more speech, is with a response,” Jenkins said.
In conducting the work of One People’s Project, Jenkins has often encountered the argument that the First Amendment somehow protects people from being challenged on their beliefs. He said the concept of free speech has been “routinely used as a cop out,” a means for people to justify cutting a discussion short or to “defend the indefensible.”
For Jenkins, this logic betrays the entire idea of free speech. He emphasized how crucial it is for people to vocalize their disagreement with white supremacist ideas, especially now that white nationalists believe they have a champion in the Oval Office.
“Here’s the thing that everyone has to remember: you have the right to respond,” he said. “And you must, when it comes to this.”