It’s hard not to chuckle at the diverse array of boogiemen the Republicans have assembled for themselves over the years. There are the classics like Hillary’s emails and Benghazi, some more creative like Colin Kaepernick and the Squad, and then there is Antifa, a scapegoat so far out there that it defies logic and has conservatives everywhere chasing ghosts.
To be clear, Antifa does exist…sort of. According to the New York Times, Antifa is “not an organization with a leader, a defined structure or membership roles. Rather, antifa is more of a movement of activists whose followers share a philosophy and tactics.” So essentially a lifestyle choice or a state of mind rather than a physical entity. There are groups of people who subscribe to antifa — short for anti-fascist — beliefs, but there are no leaders, no organized structure, and no members.
Antifa protesters have made themselves known over the years, the most famous being their clash with far right protesters at Charlottesville as well as some intense protests centered around preventing certain conservative speakers from coming to college campuses. The right usually responds with cries of censorship ignoring the fact that all these “censored” speakers have somehow managed to cultivate massive audiences all on their own in spite of all this oppression.
Recently, Trump decided to take the rhetoric up a notch by threatening to label Antifa as a terrorist organization. The move is pure pandering on its surface, but once you unpack it, it can lead to some truly bizarre outcomes. People were quick to point out that there’s currently no mechanism for designating a non-foreign terrorist organization. Also, as I mentioned, Antifa isn’t really an organization.
So why make that move? Well it’s not about the official label, instead it’s about rhetoric. Unsurprisingly this ratcheting up has resulted in new heights of absurdity that I didn’t think even 2020 was capable of achieving.
Russell Brandom, writing for The Verge, reports, “Mythical buses full of bloodthirsty antifa protesters are causing panic in rural counties throughout the country — even though there’s no evidence they exist. The Associated Press has catalogued at least five separate rural counties where locals have warned of imminent attacks, although none of the rumors have been substantiated.” In dozens of instance, groups of white men armed with weapons have shown up to a location, waiting for Antifa to arrive and for some reason, they never do.
The Peninsula Daily News reports that in Washington, “a multiracial family of four from Spokane was followed by at least four vehicles — some with people with guns, they told deputies — as they left Forks Outfitters in a full-sized school bus. The family was trapped when they tried to leave their campsite after trees were felled to block the road, Clallam County Sheriff’s deputies said.” In case you missed it, trees were chopped down to block a road so that this family who just wanted to camp couldn’t leave because some residents of the town thought they were members of Antifa.
Similar situations have played out across rural America with rumors usually originating from some sketchy post on Facebook and then ballooning into armed militias patrolling towns often in concert with local officials. This is in direct conflict with the fact that “none of the 22 criminal cases filed in connection with the protests have shown any ties to antifa groups.”
This hasn’t stopped Attorney General Bill Barr from saying that “The violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly.”
It’s hard to see how this will play out, but what makes me worried most is when these local officials stop chasing ghosts and start turning on anyone who dares question them.