A question of conscience
by Tom Sullivan
Bloody Sunday - Alabama police attack Selma-to-Montgomery Marchers, 1965. Public domain.
I am trying to weigh the merits of the “antifa” (antifascist or Anti-Fascist Action) groups confronting the alt-right assemblage of Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, etc. at the recent white power and Unite-the-Right protests. The violent clashes between antifa counterprotesters and the alt-right in Charlottesville last weekend, and the death of Heather Heyer, have put a spotlight on the antifas the groups have not received in the past. Like their opponents, the antifas are not a monolithic group, and loosely organized into local cells, sometimes overlapping with masked, black bloc anarchists. While clergy and Black Lives Matter groups prefer nonviolent protest, the antifas prefer more direct confrontation.
Peter Beinert writes at The Atlantic:
Those responses sometimes spill blood. Since antifa is heavily composed of anarchists, its activists place little faith in the state, which they consider complicit in fascism and racism. They prefer direct action: They pressure venues to deny white supremacists space to meet. They pressure employers to fire them and landlords to evict them. And when people they deem racists and fascists manage to assemble, antifa’s partisans try to break up their gatherings, including by force.The local Indivisible chapter organized a peace vigil downtown here last Sunday in solidarity with Charlottesville. It was one of many such vigils around the country. Not a Nazi symbol in sight. Yet the local antifa group that attended seemed bent on taking over what was intended to be a peaceful rally. There was a shouting match with police the organizers had requested. Later, the group split off and marched through downtown chanting slogans. To the usual "Whose streets? Our streets!" they added “Cops and the Klan go hand in hand.” and "What do we want? DEAD NAZIS. When do we want 'em? NOW!"
Unlike most of the counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville and elsewhere, members of antifa have shown no qualms about using their fists, sticks or canisters of pepper spray to meet an array of right-wing antagonists whom they call a fascist threat to American democracy. As explained this week by a dozen adherents of the movement, the ascendant new right in the country requires a physical response.In contrast with that portrait, Brandy Daniels, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia who holds a doctorate in theology from Vanderbilt, told Chris Matthews of MSNBC's "Hardball" that antifa activists defended her and fellow faith leaders from a group of "white supremacist/nazis."
“People are starting to understand that neo-Nazis don’t care if you’re quiet, you’re peaceful,” said Emily Rose Nauert, a 20-year-old antifa member who became a symbol of the movement in April when a white nationalist leader punched her in the face during a melee near the University of California, Berkeley.
“You need violence in order to protect nonviolence,” Ms. Nauert added. “That’s what’s very obviously necessary right now. It’s full-on war, basically.”
A phalanx of neo-Nazis shoved right through our human wall with 3-foot-wide wooden shields, screaming and spitting homophobic slurs and obscenities at us. It was then that antifa stepped in to thwart them. They have their tools to achieve their purposes, and they are not ones I will personally use, but let me stress that our purposes were the same: block this violent tide and do not let it take the pedestal.Eyeroll here for the minister's using "community defense tools" as a euphemism for fists, sticks, and pepper spray.
The white supremacists did not blink at violently plowing right through clergy, all of us dressed in full clerical garb. White supremacy is violence. I didn’t see any racial justice protesters with weapons; as for antifa, anything they brought I would only categorize as community defense tools and nothing more. Pretty much everyone I talk to agrees—including most clergy. My strong stance is that the weapon is and was white supremacy, and the white supremacists intentionally brought weapons to instigate violence.