Antifa (an abbreviation of anti-fascism) is one of the most prominent far-left movements in the United States. Additionally, Antifa adherents in the United States are often associated with violent riots and confrontations with the far right, which has led U.S. officials to call for designating it a terrorist organization. The U.S. Antifa movement is rooted in anti-authoritarianism, which often pushes back against many symbols of authority, such as the police, that protesters perceive have exceeded their authority. Nonetheless, Antifa is not a coherent, centralized group but a broad ideology centered around the so-called opposition to fascism. While there are some formalized groups that call themselves Antifa, Antifa has no centralized and overarching leaders, membership rolls, or structure. Individual Antifa groups are thus unrelated to each other and, at times, promote differing tactics and ideologies.* In the United States, Antifa is largely made up of decentralized groups and individuals whose interests may or may not align with anarchism, socialism, communism, environmentalism, indigenous rights, gay rights, or other social justice causes. The lack of ideological cohesion also translates to the lack of a common enemy among Antifa groups and activists, who may at times find themselves opposing causes other Antifa adherents support.*
Antifa has its roots in Germany, where the Communist Party formed Antifaschistische Aktion (“Antifascist Action,” sometimes abbreviated as antifa) in 1932 as a response to fascism and the rising Nazi Party. The group engaged in direct action against the Nazis, including street brawls. After Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, the Nazi regime forcibly disbanded Antifaschistische Aktion.* The modern Antifa movement began in Europe in the 1960s and spread to the United States by the following decade. For years, U.S. Antifa activists largely remained a subset of anarchist and the punk rock movements, maintaining vigilance to keep far-right extremists from disrupting events.* U.S. anti-racists mobilized in the 1980s against the Ku Klux Klan, skinheads, and other racists.* Antifa groups began coalescing and gaining national attention in 2015 with the rise of U.S. populism and a reinvigorated far right.* Antifa rose to national prominence in the United States following the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when Antifa activists violently confronted far-right marchers. U.S. media has since reported on numerous Antifa protests that have turned violent. Antifa activists commonly consider the views of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and similar far-right extremists to be repugnant and dangerous and therefore justify violence as a means to silence and delegitimize them. Antifa has also attacked journalists and police who defend far-right protest activities.* In addition to violence, Antifa groups largely utilize the tactic of doxing—publicly revealing personal identification details of opponents.*
With a wave of protests against police brutality sweeping across the United States in 2020, various Antifa groups have denounced the police as representatives of a fascist system. Antifa protesters have accused police of shielding neo-Nazis and thus denounced police as collaborators.* In July 2020, the political advocacy group American Police Officers Alliance released a report accusing Antifa of contributing to political and social unrest in the United States with a goal of disbanding the police.* However, police reports, FBI intelligence, and court records have recorded little evidence of Antifa’s participation in the anti-police protests across the country.*
Despite its broad opposition to fascism, Antifa itself stands accused of promoting antisemitism because of vocalized opposition to Zionism as part of a broader opposition to racism and inequality. In 2017, the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) interviewed three activists about Antifa views on Jews and Israel. Each responded differently but the commonality was that all three felt safe and welcome as Jews within the Antifa movement. Views on Israel varied, however, with some calling it fascist and others saying it is not. One Jewish Antifa member said that Jews do tend to avoid Antifa events because they feel Antifa is demanding that all Jews abandon Israel. That same activist told CJN that “Nazis support the State of Israel” because they use the example of a Jewish ethno-state to argue that whites should also have their own ethno-state and Jews expelled from this ethno-state could just go to Israel.* In 2020, Jewish Antifa activist Daniel Sieradski told media that Jews are welcome in Antifa as its primary goal is to fight a common enemy, the Nazis. Antisemitism is “the prime ideological viewpoint of Nazis,” he said.*
Israeli antifa groups have also organized and claimed credit for actions against far-right groups internationally. In January 2021, a group called Hayalim Almonim—Hebrew for “Anonymous Soldiers”—hacked the website of the Patriotic Brigade of the Ku Klux Klan, doxing its members and posting anti-fascist messages on the site. The group has promised to strike a death blow to the KKK in the United States. Representatives of the group told Newsweek they do not object to being labeled as Antifa, which they said has been “unfairly demonized” in the United States by a media ignoring the growing threat of white supremacy.* Another Israeli Antifa activist acknowledged to the Jerusalem Post in March 2022 that leftists tend to criticize Israel more but Antifa “is an idea, not an NGO,” and it includes a broad spectrum including “communists, social democrats, liberals, and even religious conservatives who oppose the toxic and inflammatory rhetoric of” far-right hate groups.*
The Torch Network, a collective of Antifa chapters, lists in its “Points of Unity” opposition to antisemitism, as well as racism, sexism, nativism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination against the disabled in its “Points of Unity.”* The Points of Unity do not mention Zionism. The only reference to Zionism on the Torch Network’s website is in a May 30, 2021, post by a Texas affiliate that primarily focuses on the Proud Boys, though it does negatively cite “love of Zionism” as a trait of the Proud Boys’ manifesto alongside hatred of Muslims.*
In May 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States would soon designate Antifa as a terrorist organization.* Following Trump’s announcement, the state-owned Turkish media outlet TRT World alleged that Antifa had been in Syria since 2014 aiding Kurdish militants and received training from them.* Representatives of the United Nations condemned Trump’s declaration on Antifa as harmful to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.* Despite Trump’s declared intention, actually branding Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization faces legal hurdles as the United States has no method to designate domestic terrorist groups. Antifa’s decentralized structure further complicates the issue.* Trump did not follow through on his proposal to designate Antifa. Two months before his election in November 2020, President Joe Biden issued a condemnation of Antifa, saying he condemned violence on both sides of the political spectrum.*
Antifa has no central leadership or organizational structure. Individual Antifa groups exist but they are unrelated to each other and act independently.
Base of Operations
Various Antifa groups have created individual websites. One group for example, New York City Antifa, has a site at https://nycantifa.wordpress.com/. Antifa Philadelphia has a site at https://phillyantifa.org/.
Membership Size and Relevance
Antifa has no central organizational structure and thus no membership rolls. Multiple Antifa groups have formed across the United States, but they are largely independent of each other. These groups have turned to social media to spread their messages. Among them, New York City Antifa has more than 70,000 followers on Twitter as of June 2022.* ANTIFA Philadelphia had almost 20,000 followers on Twitter as of June 2022.* A group calling itself Antifa International had more than 40,000 followers on Twitter as of June 2022.* Hub City Antifa in New Brunswick, New Jersey, had more than 5,200 followers on Twitter as of June 2022.*
Antifa rose to national prominence in the United States following the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when Antifa activists violently confronted far-right marchers. U.S. media has since reported on numerous protests by Antifa that have turned violent.* In May 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States would soon designate Antifa as a terrorist organization.*
As of June 2022, the U.S. government had taken no such action. Further, while the U.S. government accused Antifa of driving violence during anti-police and social justice protests in recent years—particularly in Portland, Oregon, during anti-police riots in the summer of 2020—subsequent U.S. government investigations have not found evidence to corroborate such allegations.* In September 2020, acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf announced the DHS was investigating prosecuting leaders of Antifa and Black Lives Matter over the Portland riots.* On January 6, 2021, however, DHS released an internal report that concluded senior leadership had promoted unfounded conspiracies about antifascists, encouraged staff to violate constitutional rights, and falsely connected Antifa to protesters who engaged in criminal activity. According to the report, DHS frequently used the term “Violent Antifa Anarchists Inspired” in intelligence reports, but a review team could find no intelligence to support that conclusion a “core set of threat actors” inspired by Antifa were leading the protests.* While individuals who associate with the Antifa ideology have engaged in violence during protests, the evidence that a specific Antifa organization is driving such violence remains unfounded.
Recruitment and Propaganda
As there is no central, unified Antifa organization, various Antifa groups have largely adopted two primary symbols: a circle containing three downward-facing arrows and two side-by-side flags, one black and one red. The circle with the arrows is known as anti-fascist circle and was originally designed in the 1930s for the German anti-fascist paramilitary organization Iron Front. The black flag traditionally represents anarchy while the red flag represents communism or socialism. Both symbols have been adopted by various groups, including Antifa, which do not necessarily assign the same meaning to the symbols.* In order to appear more intimidating, Antifa protesters typically dress all in black with black masks to obscure their identities.*
In terms of recruitment, each individual Antifa group has its own procedures for contacting and joining. Many of them offer methods to contact them online, where they also promote their own activities and ideologies.
- August 22, 2021: Antifascist counter-protesters violently clashed with members of the Proud Boys and other far-right groups at a far-right rally in Portland, Oregon, called “Summer of Love.” Some of the counter-protesters openly identified themselves as Antifa. One recording picked up a far-right protesters saying, “Antifa, come on. Let’s play, let’s play.” In video foots of the clashes, protesters were filmed shooting paintball guns at each other, destroying a white van, detonating what appear to be small gas grenades and spraying chemicals at each other. During street fighting, Dennis G. Anderson fired a handgun toward a group of anti-fascists. No injuries were reported from the shooting and Anderson was arrested on charges of unlawful use of a weapon and unlawful possession of a firearm.*
- August 7, 2021: Antifa protesters clashed with members of the Proud Boys at a rally hosted by Canadian anti-LGBT Pastor Artur Pawlowski at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland, Oregon. The Proud Boys were acting as event security. In a recording of the clashes, black-clad protesters carrying shields, identified as Antifa, set off smoke grenades and attempted to dismantle the public address system. The opposing protesters fired paintball guns and pepper spray at each other. In a Twitter post, far-right commentator Andy Ngo accused Antifa of trying to “attack & shut down a family Christian prayer & worship event on the waterfront.” A Portland minister responded the event was no “family Christian prayer event” but a far-right political rally.*
- March 28, 2021: A group of Proud Boys and Trump supporters traveled to Salem, Oregon, for a rally to support “freedom.” The right-wing protesters clashed with a group of about 150 anti-fascist counter-protesters, who threw objects and paint at vehicles attempting to drive through the crowds. Police broke up the rally hours later, declaring it unlawful assembly. One man was arrested after he exited a truck and pointed a gun at anti-fascist protesters. Oregon police reportedly arrested several anti-fascist activists as well.*
- January 9, 2021: About 100 protesters gathered for a pro-Trump “Patriot March” in San Diego’s Pacific Beach, while another group of about 100 counter-protesters also assembled. The protests devolved into clashes between the two groups, resulting in the arrest of at least three people who refused to disperse. A video recorded a group of black-clad protesters chanting “racists go home.” One of the protesters carried an “Antifascist Action” banner. Eleven protesters were arrested and later indicted in June 2022. According to the indictment, the defendants were “all affiliated with Antifa” and responded to social media posts calling for “counterprotesting” about one week before the Patriot March and arrived in Pacific Beach “dressed in black clothing, and armed with weapons and protective gear.” The indictment further accused the defendants of using “force, fear, and violence to further their interests and suppress the interests of others.”*
- August 29, 2020: Following a pro-Trump parade, self-described Antifa activist Michael Forest Reinoehl followed attendee Aaron “Jay” Danielson in a parking garage in Portland, Oregon. Danielson was wearing a hat for the far-right group Patriot Prayer. On September 3, Reinhoehl told Vice News he had acted in self-defense because he believed he and a friend were about to be stabbed, but police claimed the murder was premeditated based on security footage of Reinoehl waiting in the parking garage. Later that day, police tracked Reinoehl to an apartment in Lacey, Washington, where they shot and killed him after an exchange of fire. Reinoehl’s Twitter account declared he was a proud supporter of Antifa. He told Vice that he was not a member but supported Antifa. A U.S. Marshals task force in Washington state shot and killed Reinoehl on September 3 as they moved in to arrest him. The Trump administration praised the removal of a “violent agitator.” A months-long investigation determined Reinoehl had likely fired at police first, but a New York Times document review from the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office revealed the sheriff’s office dismissed contradicting evidence indicating Reinoehl may never have fired or pointed a gun at officers.*
- August 12, 2018: Antifa activists protesting the Unite the Right Rally 2 in Washington, D.C., threw eggs and water bottles and shot firecrackers at police and reporters.*
- August 27, 2017: About 100 protesters, including Antifa, broke off from a peaceful counter-protest to attack attendees at a far-right “No to Marxism” rally in Berkeley, California. Five individuals were physically assaulted, according to media reports.*
- February 2, 2017: Ahead of a speech at University of California, Berkeley by right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, 150 black-clad and masked protesters threw rocks, M-80 flares, and Molotov cocktails at police and university facilities, causing $100,000 worth of damage to the student union center and other parts of campus and injuring at least six people. Two protesters were arrested after physically attacking two members of College Republicans. The university canceled the speech in response. The university largely blamed black bloc but some members of Antifa are also among the protesters.*
- Antifa International, tweet in response to a post promising violence against those opposing LGBT rights and bodily autonomy, May 8, 2022: “RESPECT EXISTENCE OR EXPECT RESISTANCE!”*
- New York City Antifa, tweet, August 16, 2020: “stop believing the copaganda version of what policing is, if you still do. television shows lied to you. policing is about maintaining power and social control.”*
- Antifa International, tweet, August 15, 2020: “Cops & the Klan go hand-in-hand. #kkkops”*
- ANTIFA Philadelphia, tweet, March 15, 2019:
“People critique us and what Antifa does but we exist to confront fascism in all it’s forms. Fascism breeds days like this, where scores of people are taken away from us all in the most repulsive of acts.
We will not sit on the sidelines, we will not allow fascists to be normal.”*