The dust is still settling on Saturday’s clashes between right and left-wing demonstrators in the US city of Portland, but President Donald Trump has already decided who’s responsible.
Even before the two sides came to blows, in fact, Trump had renewed his threat to label the Antifa (anti-fascist) movement a terror organization. As if the message wasn’t clear enough, he then retweeted a message describing Antifa as a “violent, anti-civil liberties, group of thugs.” There was no mention of the Proud Boys or any other far-right group that stood against them.
Trump’s position on Antifa is enthusiastically endorsed by the American right. Two of his fellow Republicans are already pushing their own Congressional resolution to proscribe Antifa; conservative broadcast networks routinely regurgitate footage of the group’s clashes, and have jumped on reports that Antifa activists vandalized vehicles in Portland.
But if Trump and his followers really want to stop Antifa, they’ve got a problem. To shut down a movement, you have to collar its leaders. And Antifa doesn’t really do leaders.
The movement isn’t really an organization at all, but rather an amorphous collection of local groups, orchestrated by activists who rarely reveal their identity. While the right-wing has easily recognizable figureheads like Joe Biggs, the Proud Boys organizer who rushed to address the media after Saturday’s clashes, Antifa’s organizers prefer to shield themselves with balaclavas and black uniforms.
What the movement does have, however, is ideologues – a group of writers and broadcasters who provide both its conscience and terms of engagement. None of them are directly involved in organizing Antifa events, yet their articles have laid out Antifa’s core principles and provided a set of causes to fight for.
As the clashes between left and right continue, each person profiled here is gaining prominence, as well as criticism from conservative circles. Trump may soon decide to pick a Twitter fight with them, to appease his right-wing base. But, if he does so, they’re unlikely to back down.
Formerly a key member of Occupy Wall Street, Bray has spoken at several Antifa events and is arguably the movement’s most important thinker, thanks to his bestselling Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook. In the book, Bray charts the rise of anti-fascism from the 1920s and provides advice from antifa members past and present.
One of Bray’s core concepts is “pre-emptive self-defence” – the idea that fascists need to be stopped as soon as they emerge to avoid further harm down the line. He believes that, in certain situations, violence and destruction of property is ethically justifiable – and uses the shutdown of controversial speaker Milo Yiannopoulous as a case in point.
Bray has also argued for a fundamental change in America’s economic and political establishment, writing that “capitalism stokes the far-right” and that “Trumpism is merely the latest wrinkle on [a] longer history of white supremacy in the US”, which can only be ended with a fundamental, root-and-branch rethink.
In addition to his media work, Bray is a history professor at Dartmouth College, a private university in New Hampshire, specializing in modern politics, terrorism and human rights.
An author and columnist for various titles including popular grassroots website The Intercept, Lennard is among the most popular commentators on Antifa. She’s also one of the most uncompromising.
In her own words, Lennard’s recent book Being Numerous: Essays on Non-Fascist Life makes “a philosophical defense of punching Nazis.” Her articles echo this belligerent tone, encouraging readers to “make Nazis afraid again” and “crush the racist far-right”. In her view, the history of anti-fascism “is not one of polite protest, nor failed appeals to reasoned debate with racists – but direct, aggressive confrontation.”
Lennard is a vehement critic of Trump’s immigration policies, suggesting they are nothing less than “mass murder,” and has written equally passionate columns about topics such as gender equality and the treatment of sex workers. Echoing Bray, she believes that fascism was “baked into” capitalism and is an inevitable offshoot from it.
Daryle Lamont Jenkins
Much of the coverage of Antifa stems from the tactic of ‘doxxing’, the naming and shaming of far-right activists on social media. If there is a ‘doxxer in chief’, it’s Daryle Lamont Jenkins.
Jenkins is the founder of the One People’s Project website, which purports to unmask right-wing individuals and has assembled a ‘rogue’s gallery’ of alleged neo-Nazis. The movement has unearthed far-right activists from towns across America, but vows that it will only ‘dox’ someone after vigorous research.
Jenkins, 51, says he got interested in activism by hunting Ku Klux Klansmen as a child, and sharpened his snooper skills while serving as a police officer in the US Air Force. He’s been monitoring and documenting white supremacists since the late 1980s.
A journalist and broadcaster, Arel is a regular contributor to several titles including the progressive website Truthout, and hosts the Danthropology podcast which has featured commentators such as Bray.
Arel has written on a range of subjects, from the evils of gentrification to the dangers of religion. He has openly accused Trump of being a fascist and believes that conservative criticism of Antifa is simply a “right-wing conspiracy theory to make the public afraid of the left.”
Never afraid to court controversy, Arel has been criticized by right-wing opponents for calling conservative commentator Dave Rubin – who is of Jewish descent – a Nazi on Twitter. He also caused heated debate on the same platform by writing “I believe victims of rape”, a comment taken by some to mean that all rape accusers should be believed unconditionally.
Anderson is an editor of and spokesperson for the anarchist website ItsGoingDown, which spreads news of Antifa doxxings and, in its own words, “promotes revolutionary theory and action”.
The site is one of the most popular left-wing news platforms on social media, and was reportedly receiving up to 20,000 hits a day in the months after Trump’s election. Its collective of authors publish links to far-left demonstrations and brings reports of repression around the world, as well as encouraging support for anarchists in prison.
Anderson has given several interviews condemning the subculture around Trump and suggesting that several members of his administration are only “one circle removed” from Richard Spencer, one of America’s most infamous white nationalists.