■ What unites diverse people who identify as “antifa” is the primary purpose of stopping fascism, even at the expense of free speech.
Only unifying element is fearing fascism’s rise
BERKELEY, Calif. — On the morning of the protest, Sean Hines woke with a sense of purpose he seldom had felt. He was a 20-yearold high school dropout with no car, no job and no money. A year and a half ago, he had been arrested for a drunken brawl. Now Hines was about to be arrested again, but for something he believed in.
In his Santa Rosa halfway house, Hines dressed in all black. He chugged an energy drink, popped some nicotine gum and climbed into a friend’s car that blasted German punk rock as it barreled toward Berkeley.
“Alerta, alerta, anti-fascista!” the chorus shrieked.
It was a call to arms for militant anti-fascists, or “antifa” — and Hines was heeding it.
But the Aug. 27 protest in Berkeley did not go according to plan. Police quickly arrested Hines and 12 others. Then, in images broadcast across the country, more than 100 antifa activists leapt over barricades and stormed Martin Luther King
Jr. Civic Center Park, attacking a handful of President Donald Trump supporters and right-wing activists.
A month earlier, few Americans had heard of antifa. Then came Charlottesville, Virginia, where antifa activists were credited with protecting clergy members from attacks by white supremacists.
The violence in Berkeley led to a backlash, including from the left. The city’s mayor, a Democrat, called for antifa to be classified as a gang and for the University of California, Berkeley to cancel conservative speeches later this month to avoid more violence.
In Washington, where antifa smashed storefronts and torched a limousine on Inauguration Day, authorities fear the far-left activists will strike again.
If Trump’s election has emboldened the far right, then it has also energized its enemies.
Hidden behind masks, however, antifa activists remain mysterious. Are they everyday citizens guarding against the rise of a Fourth Reich? Or are they, as Trump has said, merely the “alt-left” — a lawless mirror image of the white supremacists they oppose?
On Thursday, Trump claimed recent antifa antics had justified his much-criticized response to Charlottesville, in which he blamed the violence on “both sides.”
“I think, especially in light of the advent of antifa, if you look at what’s going on there, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also, and essentially that’s what I said,” he told reporters Thursday.
Interviews with a dozen antifa activists show they come from a variety of backgrounds and are only loosely affiliated. Some, like Hines, are youths in search of a cause. Others have been demonstrating for decades.
Many are anarchists, although some vote. They employ a range of peaceful tactics, including doxing, or exposing, white supremacists.
While they are all open to using violence, some embrace it — even glorify it.
What unites them is the belief that free speech is secondary to squashing fascism before it takes root in the United States.
“If everyone is punching a Nazi, it’s eventually going to create a mass militant movement based around anti-fascist,” Hines said. “That hopefully will be enough to stop them from gaining power.”
For Sean Hines, antifa is the latest in a succession of left-wing causes. The high school dropout now calls himself a “libertarian socialist,” communist and antifa.