Tag Archives: Little man who wasn’t there

Antifa And The Right

Sometimes, when I was a little girl (eons ago–it may have been the Ice Age) and had done something I knew was forbidden, I would protest innocence: it wasn’t me! It must have been someone else! To which my mother would respond with an old verse:

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…

These days, the “little man who wasn’t there” is likely to be a member of Antifa–currently the favored scapegoat of the Right. “It wasn’t us! It was Antifa!!”

Just who– or what –is Antifa? After an inquiry from a lawyer friend, I decided to do some research.

Is Antifa the the highly organized group of “terrorists” portrayed by Trump Republicans–a source of rioting and looting?  Or is it more accurately described as an idea–a dismissive label for people opposed to fascism and white supremacy?

Actually, according to an investigation by CBS News, it’s something more than a description of people opposed to fascism, but considerably less than an organized movement. (I’ve noticed that the quarrelsome Left has a lot more trouble organizing than the authoritarians on the Right.)

In general, people who identify as Antifa are known not for what they support, but what they oppose: Fascism, nationalism, far-right ideologies, white supremacy, authoritarianism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia. Some antifa activists also denounce capitalism and the government overall.

To the extent they “belong” to anything, Antifa followers tend to be members of small, local cells that sometimes coordinate with other movements, such as Black Lives Matter. Self-described Antifa members have organized to confront Patriot Prayer, the Proud Boys, and other far-right groups during public demonstrations, typically through researching and tracking those organizations, although some confrontations have become violent.

CBS was able to confirm only one instance in which a person self-identifying as Antifa was linked to a deadly attack at a protest. Michael Forest Reinoehl, 48, was considered a prime suspect in the August 2020 killing of a right-wing activist who was shot during demonstrations in Portland. (Reinoehl was later shot to death by federal authorities as they moved to arrest him.)

Given the hysterical accusations from Trump, Cruz and others, it is noteworthy that the Trump administration’s own Department of Homeland Security and FBI didn’t share the view that Antifa poses a significant threat to domestic law and order.

A DHS draft document from September 2020 reportedly named white supremacist groups as the biggest terror threat to America. That same document doesn’t mention Antifa at all.

The FBI also considers far-right groups the “top of the priority list.” FBI director Christopher Wray said in February 2020 that the FBI places the risk of violence from racially-motivated extremist groups “on the same footing” as the threat posed by foreign terrorist organizations such as ISIS and its sympathizers.

Antifa has certainly been involved in sporadic violence, and to the extent that its members have broken the law, they should be punished. But according to the FBI and other government agencies, a number of rumors about Antifa have been spun from whole cloth– sometimes by people later identified as right-wing extremists. According to the CBS report, Twitter shut down multiple “Antifa” accounts in June of 2020 that were later found to be fake. Those fake accounts were advocating violence against white suburbs; subsequent investigations tracked the accounts to Identity Evropa, a white supremacist organization.

In the wake of the Capitol insurrection, Trump and several Republicans insisted that the rioters were really Antifa. Thanks to the behaviors and selfie-documented identities of the participants, that didn’t begin to pass the smell test. As Forbes Magazine reported:

FBI Assistant Director Steven D’Antuono said Friday there is no evidence that Antifa activists were involved in the violent riots in and around the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, debunking the baseless conspiracy theory propagated by several prominent Republican lawmakers and right-wing pundits that anti-fascist leftists—not a pro-Trump mob—were responsible for death and destruction at the Capitol.

As my mother would have said,

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…