A Look At 'Antifa'
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The words neo-Nazi and white supremacist have become part of our daily conversations, as is another name that Scott cited just now and President Trump did recently.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know, they show up in the helmets and the black masks. And they've got clubs, and they've got everything. Antifa.
SIMON: Antifa is short for anti-fascist. And members of that group, clad in black, wearing masks and sometimes carrying baseball bats and police batons, have been seen in recent months on the streets of Washington, D.C., and in Berkeley, Charlottesville, where, of course, they clashed with white supremacists. Wes Enzinna has profiled antifa for Mother Jones magazine. So we've asked him to help us understand what the group represents. Thanks for being with us.
WES ENZINNA: Happy to be here.
SIMON: Please help us understand antifa. What's their goal?
ENZINNA: They're dedicated to the idea that fascists and white supremacists and neo-Nazis don't respond to legal mechanisms and that you can't rely on legislative efforts or police to prevent them from recruiting and organizing. And as one member told in a documentary called "The Invisible Revolution," he said racism is an idea, but fascism is an idea mixed with action. It took fascism to establish Jim Crow and, before that, slavery. Anti-Semitism has been around a long time. But it took fascism to make the Holocaust. When you cross that threshold, you negate your rights to a calm, collective conversation. And that sort of is indicative of the general approach of the antifa movement.
SIMON: Does antifa believe in violence?
ENZINNA: Yes, I think they're not opposed to violence. I spent about two years investigating the antifa movement and getting to know five men who were imprisoned for a violent attack. One of the guys, Jason Sutherland - he was a working-class guy from Indiana. He has a black half-sister and had experienced a lot of - you know, a lot of racism and had actually seen a lot of violence by white supremacists in Indiana in the '80s and '90s when he was growing up. He told me, you know, part of me feels bad for the whole attack. Some central part of me thinks that all violence is oppression, and it's never ever right to oppress another person for their beliefs, identity, sexuality or any other reason. But another part of me thinks that these guys aren't worth that consideration. All you can do is stop them from influencing others at this point.
SIMON: And yet at the same time, I guess we need to ask, has antifa killed anyone?
ENZINNA: Right. And I think that really gets to the heart of the matter. Since 9/11, 68 people have been killed by white supremacists. Zero have been killed by antifa. There's no Timothy McVeigh of the antifa movement. There's no Dylann Roof of the antifa movement. There's no James Fields of the antifa movement, the man who allegedly murdered Heather Heyer with his car in Charlottesville. So in that sense, they're not really at all comparable.
SIMON: I ask this question as a journalist. I'm not looking for a legal opinion. Is antifa a terrorist organization in any way?
ENZINNA: I think even law enforcement across the board agrees antifa is not a terrorist movement. While their tactics are sometimes violent, the underlying ideology in general is not one that's committed to violent worldview in the way that ISIS, for example - their ideology - is or in the way that the white supremacist movement is largely committed to a sort of violent worldview. The danger, whether they're aware of it or not, is that these aggressive tactics and sometimes violent tactics - they might reinforce the narrative of victimization that radicalizes some extremists in the first place.
SIMON: Wes Enzinna of Mother Jones, thanks so much for being with us.
ENZINNA: Thanks very much.
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