By Anthony Giannamore, Opinion Writer
Most notably since the election of Donald Trump in late 2016, increased demonstration activity from so called “AntiFa” (shortened from “anti-fascist”) groups has prompted a debate on how the government is deal with the movement.
Pundits on both sides of the issue have reacted in a rather predictable manner, either defending the Anti-Fascists’ right to organize and demonstrate, or even going so far as to condemn AntiFa as a terrorist group. The dialogue surrounding AntiFa’s legal standing reveals the real issue regarding radicalism in the United States.
The “Black Flag” movement of Anti-Fascism has always existed as a reactionary movement, dating back to the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s, where Anarchist and Communist forces united to oppose the consolidation of power under Francesco Franco. Although ultimately unsuccessful, the idea of a “United Left” as pioneered by philosopher Leon Trotsky continued in some, albeit romanticized capacity.
Generalizations about the Anti-Fascist movement are difficult to make because there are many largely regionally-bound organizations who claim legitimacy as representatives of the movement. In addition, these groups frequently disband and reform, causing increased blurriness for an outsider’s perspective. Goals in these organizations range from interfering with Alt-Right and White Nationalist demonstrations at the most benign, to more severe plots involving violent clashes resembling something akin to soccer hooliganism.
While these clashes between Alt-Right and AntiFa groups are growing more frequent and increasing in severity, the groups’ existences in and of themselves are not entirely to blame. As exemplified in the election of Donald Trump, for better or worse, simply many Americans are dissatisfied with the status quo. This dissatisfaction has set off an increasingly-worrisome cycle of action and reaction between radical right and leftist groups, leaving many others caught in the crossfire.
The most recent publicized iteration of this pendulum swing was the heart-breaking course of events in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017 when White Nationalist leader Richard Spencer’s “Unite the Right” demonstration was violently countered by both AntiFa and unaligned demonstrators. After the collision was ended, the battle claimed the life of Heather Hyer, in addition to countless other grievous injuries.
The photographs of this incident do not resemble protests as much as they resemble opposing guerilla groups. White Nationalist and AntiFa representatives alike exercised Virginia’s open-carry laws to have fully-armed militias in tow with the rest of their respective demonstrators. This disturbing trend begs the question of what is to come in the coming months if the increase of violent tension continues. When one brings a militia to what is supposed to be an exercise of free speech, at what point will one decide it’s better to bring a gun to a fistfight?
The issue is further complicated by the difficulty in regulating such organizations. The United States’ First Amendment dictates a right to free speech which in turn dictates a right to organize. While the government still has power to condemn a specific group as terroristic, nothing is keeping that group from reforming as a new entity and continuing.
The fact of the matter is that increased regulation is not the answer to this problem in the United States. In order to quell the violence that is taking hold of the country, we need to once again strive for the middle path that is the hallmark of a democratic society. By calming the tumultuousness of the action-reaction cycle, we may find reason once again in the churning of ideologies.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, September 12th print edition.
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