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Antifa: Back In The Spotlight

Faye Lax, Wendy Maxwell; Extremism

Week of: January 18


On January 20th, Inauguration Day in the United States, as people were anticipating a repeat of the January 6 events where Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, a threat from the left presented itself. Antifa (anti-fascist) rioters in Portland, OR, Denver, CO, and Seattle, WA, took to the streets in protest of Biden’s presidency. Using Black Bloc tactics, they burned flags, looted, and spray-painted graffiti on store-front windows. In Oregon, rioters were carrying banners such as the one to the right, stating 'WE DON'T WANT BIDEN—WE WANT REVENGE!’ and ‘WE ARE UNGOVERNABLE.’[1]

Despite the existing and continuing threat of right-wing extremists, Antifa is likely to continue rioting and protesting within the first few months of the Biden administration. The Antifa riots across multiple states on January 20 may encourage and recruit others to join their cause.


Antifa is a far-left, anti-fascist movement that started in Europe in the 1960s and became prevalent in the US in the 1970s. Antifa is a leaderless, non-centralized movement, whose participants attempt to counter fascism, nationalism, far-right ideologies, white supremacy, authoritarianism, racism, etc. Mark Bray argues in his book, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, that the majority of Antifa tactics are not violent but instead focus on conducting research, doxing, and infiltrating far-right groups.[2] Doxing occurs when private information of an individual, such as home address, work address, phone number, etc. are collected and released online without the individual’s consent.[3] While not all Antifa members are violent, the ones that do act violently use Black Bloc tactics that focus on causing chaos, such as setting fires, breaking windows, trashing public properties, vandalism, burning flags, and looting. Antifa is not the only movement that uses Black Bloc tactics, but they are best known for their use of it. During the Trump administration, a scrutinizing focus was put on the use of Black Bloc tactics, although the administration did not differentiate between those who used the tactic and those who did not.


During his administration, President Trump increased blame toward Antifa as a tactic to distract the public from alt-right extremism. The 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Rally” is one such example where Trump focused on the alt-left and questioned, “What about the alt-left that came charging at, what you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact they're charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do."[4] In 2019, Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Bill Cassidy introduced a bill to label Antifa a terrorist organization,[5] while the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI viewed white supremacy as the leading threat instead.[6]


Over the last few months, the mainstream media’s focus on the far-right and violent right-wing protests, as opposed to focusing on left-wing violence, was perceived to be biased against right-wing activities due to several factors, including the CNN effect, algorithms on social media, and search engines like Google, and disinformation campaigns by domestic and foreign entities. The CNN effect occurs when footage is repeatedly broadcasted 24 hours a day by news channels all around the world. This led to a consistent focus on right-wing protests and violence leading up to the Capitol Siege. Local, national, and international news networks started broadcasting news stories regarding the January 6 protest as early as December 22, 2020, warning that the protest could follow the same pattern of destruction and violence that was seen on November 14 and December 12.[7]


Social media and search engine algorithms likely buried news articles that showed a focus other than the user’s political leanings and preferred sources of information, further emphasizing the perceived idea of a mainstream media-focused bias. Depending on what patterns of interest each individual might have displayed in previous searches or on social media networks and forums, the algorithms would change the site experience.[8] An individual who generally only follows far-right social media accounts, pages, and sites might see mostly right-wing news sources, like Breitbart, Fox News, and One America News Network (OANN), which they would likely perceive as true in comparison to sources like CNN, MSNBC, or a far-left news outlet like Alternet. Many on the far-right perceive news companies like CNN and MSNBC to be ‘fake media’ and would not be exposed to a constant feed from these news networks but might read articles in their feeds when it relates to a topic they are interested in or if someone they are connected with shares it. The individual might not see an article talking about left-wing violence due to the article mentioning the group by a specific name that the individual does not recognize. For instance, many far-right individuals identify left-wing violence as always being the fault of Antifa, and may not be aware that there are a variety of left-wing activist groups, such as Anarcho Capitalists, that are not related to the Antifa movement but may commit acts of violence. If the article mentions one of these groups by name and the individual has not already expressed an interest in this group in the past, then the article may be missed by the person. As a result, they may get very few articles in their feed related to left-wing violence, other than what is broadcasted by their preferred network of choice, leading them to believe that mainstream media is ignoring left-wing violence.


Disinformation spread by domestic entities, like Breitbart, or by foreign entities, like the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA), further spread the idea that mainstream media is not focussing on left-wing violence. Russia has repeatedly targeted the Western mainstream media across a variety of channels, including on social media, in an attempt to portray it as untrustworthy. In 2016, Russia used fake Twitter profiles like the account “Ten_GOP” to convince both the general population of the US and mainstream media that a GOP senator was making inflammatory statements during the 2016 election cycle.[9] More recently, Russia’s IRA used fake accounts on Parler, like one named “Leo,” to spread disinformation that included attempting to convince conservative users that mainstream media was untrustworthy and that liberals were targeting them. Another conservative network, Gab, is also dealing with Russian state-sponsored trolls that are targeting mainstream media.[10]


As a result of reading the same news sources, left-wing news has been overshadowed, especially in the few months prior to the inauguration. Antifa, however, has been and continues to be active and pose a threat. The events that took place on January 20 signify this, as Antifa rioters took to the streets to clarify that despite President Joe Biden taking office, they are still fighting racial justice, abolishing ICE, and defunding the police. In Denver, rioters burned American flags at the Colorado State Capitol building and carried communist flags. In Portland, the Democratic Party headquarters was vandalized with graffiti, and windows were broken. In Seattle, American flags were burned and windows at the William Kenzo Nakamura courthouse were broken, and the windows of Starbucks were smashed.[11] One Antifa member who protested in Oregon explained, “We wanted to symbolize that both parties are the oppressor. We've all experienced firsthand that police violence is police violence regardless (of which political party holds power) ... It doesn't make a difference to the person being beaten."[12] When another protester was asked why President Biden taking over the presidency does not change anything for him, he responded, “because it’s president, it’s still government…It’s still the same political system.”[13] For instance, Vice President Kamala Harris, with her history as a prosecutor, is viewed by Antifa as an enemy, despite her political affiliation to the Democratic Party.


These events raise the concern that Antifa rioters will not stop fighting, some via violent methods, until the entire American government system is changed, regardless of who is in office. One rioter explained that “destruction of property is a fundamentally American form of protesting…”[14] On January 20th, Antifa rioters vandalized the Democratic Party headquarters, confirming their fight is against the system and not individual parties. After the events on January 20th, the Denver AntiFascist League tweeted, “Big victory today Denver! Thanks for coming out to stand against fascism and in solidarity with Black and Indigenous activists. We’re doing good things out here Denver. Stay strong, stay united. And stay tuned for more antifascist action.”[15] It is likely that such acts of vandalism and other violent tactics will continue and may inspire others to join their cause and use violence.


It is also of concern that the riots were scheduled in advance on public platforms such as Twitter and were not stopped. Antifa Sacramento shared a flyer on Twitter (see right)[16] with the time, location, and purpose of the march. The Denver AntiFascist league also Tweeted, a BLM-Antifa #J20 flyer, captioning it “Today! See you there comrades!”[17] While Twitter has recently been cracking down on Antifa and has suspended Antifa accounts, it was done in a reactive manner, rather than proactively.


Throughout the Trump administration, thousands of QAnon and far-right Twitter accounts, including Donald Trump’s personal Twitter account, were suspended. Only after President Joe Biden took office, and Antifa members declared Biden’s political system just as problematic as Trump’s, did Twitter proceed to suspend prominent Antifa accounts such as @TheBasebk, @RevAbolition, and other accounts that had thousands of followers and dated back to 2012.[18] Remarks on Twitter regarding these actions tend to be met with skepticism and curiosity as to why Twitter only proceeded to remove Antifa accounts after Biden became president. Twitter’s actions are perceived as highly political. Comments include: “Now That They have attacked Democrat Headquarters, Twitter Decides To Shut Down Popular Antifa Accounts," and “With such great timing like this they would make a killing in the markets!!”[19] With Twitter removing left-wing accounts, backlash may now derive from all political spectrums. The right might be angered that this is only a focus now because Antifa is harming the Democratic Party while their extremist accounts have been removed in bulk over the last few years, and the left may be displeased that they are being shut down,


Although Antifa riots on Inauguration Day were broadcasted, they did not make headlines like far-right extremist activities tend to. Twitter has begun removing prominent Antifa accounts, but it is a small percentage compared to the far-right accounts removed over the past few years. This may impact clashes between the far-right and Antifa, as they have opposing grievances and use violent tactics to accomplish their goals. Antifa riots are a continuous threat as they are not opposing one political party and they are not satisfied with President Biden in office. Rather, they want systematic change, to abolish ICE, end racism, police brutality, fascism, and nationalism. What makes Antifa dangerous is their justification for violence to accomplish their goals. When one rioter was asked about the vandalism and destruction of property, she said: “In comparison to the issues that we are protesting, those seem like very small problems to me.”[20]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) has created a specialized task force stemming from the breach of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, to assess and monitor security threats and upcoming protests and riots, and to identify Persons of Interest. CTG’s Extremism Team has been and will continue to be on high alert for new forms of extreme political violence from both the right and left. The Extremism team will utilize open-source intelligence (OSINT), Human Intelligence (HUMINT), and social media intelligence (SOCMINT) to surveil any threatening activity or social unrest.

__________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1] ‘We Don’t Want Biden-We Want Revenge’, Twitter, January 21, 2021, https://twitter.com/vhfiel/status/1352479825626337285

[2] What is antifa? Is it a group or an idea, and what do supporters want?, CBS News, October 2020, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/what-is-antifa/

[3] What is doxing? Weaponizing personal information, CSO Online, August 2020, https://www.csoonline.com/article/3572910/what-is-doxing-weaponizing-personal-information.html

[4] What is the "alt-left" Trump was talking about?, CBS News, August 2017, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/what-is-the-alt-left-trump-was-talking-about/

[5] Calling for the designation of Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization, Senate, n.d., https://www.cassidy.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/KAT19105.pdf

[6] DHS draft document: White supremacists are greatest terror threat, Politico, September 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/09/04/white-supremacists-terror-threat-dhs-409236

[7] Another MAGA Rally To Take Place In D.C. On The Day Congress Declares Election Results, WAMU, December 2020, https://wamu.org/story/20/12/22/dc-maga-trump-rally-women-for-america-first/

[8] How algorithms decide the news you see, Columbia Journalism Review, May 2014, https://archives.cjr.org/news_literacy/algorithms_filter_bubble.php

[9] Select Committee On Intelligence United States Senate On Russian Active Measures Campaigns And Interference In The 2016 US. Election, Senate, 2019, https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Report_Volume2.pdf

[10] Parler and Gab, two conservative social media sites, keep alleged Russian disinformation up, despite report, Washington Post, October 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/10/07/russian-trolls-graphika-parler-gab/

[11] Antifa Inauguration Events: Portland, Seattle, Denver, Heavy, January 2021, https://heavy.com/news/antifa-portland-seattle-denver-inauguration-violence-riots-protests/

[12] Portland protests: Here's why they're gathering, CNN, January 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/22/us/portland-riot-protesters-charged/index.html

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Denver AntiFascist League, Twitter, January 20, 2021, https://twitter.com/DenAntifa/status/1352079948995993600

[16] Antifa Sacramento, Twitter, January 19, 2021, https://twitter.com/AntifaSac_/status/1351740004855238657?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1351742147012284422%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es3_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fheavy.com%2Fnews%2Fantifa-portland-seattle-denver-inauguration-violence-riots-protests%2F

[17] Denver AntiFascist League, Twitter, January 20, 2021, https://twitter.com/DenAntifa/status/1351911884245536768?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1351911884245536768%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fheavy.com%2Fnews%2Fantifa-portland-seattle-denver-inauguration-violence-riots-protests%2F

[18] Twitter bans Antifa accounts after anti-Biden Seattle riots, Real Talk Time, January 2021, https://www.realtalktime.com/twitter-bans-antifa-accounts-after-anti-biden-seattle-riots/

[19] Now That Biden’s President, Twitter Decides To Shut Down Popular Antifa Accounts, Twitter, January 22, 2021, https://twitter.com/realDailyWire/status/1352662835889807360

[20] Portland protests: Here's why they're gathering, CNN, January 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/22/us/portland-riot-protesters-charged/index.html


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