A good GVP friend sent me a message today asking what I thought about the antifa movement, in particular, the group’s professed interest in violence and guns. The good news about being 73 years old is that it does give me some perspective on current events, and the perspective which comes to mind as I think about antifa is what I recall when I was a graduate student in Chicago following the Democratic convention in 1968.
We demonstrated outside the Convention because we believed that the Viet Nam war could be brought to an end by putting pressure on the more progressive elements of the Democratic Party, a belief that turned out to be both naïve and wrong. The following year I attended a national meeting of the Students for Democratic Society to plan a more aggressive anti-war strategy and I can basically sum up the mood of the meeting in two words: pissed off.
The anti-war movement couldn’t achieve its goals as long as it continued to operate within the structure of the political system because what we considered to be ‘reasonable,’ i.e., America out of Southeast Asia, was simply too extreme for the mainstream to accept. This changed when the government abolished student deferments, and all of a sudden the children of comfortable, middle-class parents might be headed off to war. But merging a ‘radical’ end-the-war demand with the more ‘moderate’ negotiated peace simply did not appear possible in 1969.
In the middle of our SDS meeting, a small group of activists stood up, announced they were breaking away from the convention and forming a new, more radical group known as the Weathermen, who believe that ending the war meant bringing down the whole government by using, if necessary, violent means. The Weathermen briefly reappeared as a bit of media interest when it turned out that one of the original members, Bill Ayers, had some kind of connection to Barak Obama, basically the fact that they both live in the academic ‘ghetto’ which surrounds the University of Chicago campus on the city’s South Side.
The Weathermen became known as a ‘terrorist’ organization because a group of them went to Cuba and met with the leaders of various Communist regimes; they also blew up a few bombs here and there but their most spectacular act of violence occurred when a bomb they were making in Greenwich exploded, bringing down the whole brownstone and killing two Weathermen members who were trapped inside. By the mid-1970s with the war having come to an end, the anti-War movement disappeared and so did the Weathermen group.
My two cents is that the antifa movement is something along the lines of the Weathermen, reflecting the frustration and anger of some progressive elements because the Democratic Party was unable to mount a successful response against the Presidential campaign of Donald Trump. I’m not comfortable calling Trump a fascist just yet because historically, fascism has always come into power on the back of political party, and for all his whining about the do-nothing Republicans in Congress, he’s not about to break with the GOP.
On the other hand, notwithstanding antifa’s calls to violence and their sponsorship of some silly, social media make-believe known as the John Brown Gun Club, the fact is that the only terrorist organization which this country ever experienced on a sustained basis was the Klan. And in many parts of the South, particularly the more rural areas, the Klan often exercised extra-governmental authority and certainly took the law into their own hands.
I just don’t see that 40 kids who showed up in Phoenix back in March as a counter-demonstration to a march numbering 100 MAGA supporters represents any kind of serious threat, even if several members of the antifa group were carrying guns. Now that there’s no Democrat in the White House who can be targeted with abuse, if antifa didn’t exist the alt-right/white would have to invent them, and they probably would do exactly that.