Fear Mongering 101: Antifa as the New ACORN

by on August 26, 2017 · 1 comment

in San Diego

Be prepared to be very scared. Mask-wearing people clad in black are reportedly coming to a neighborhood near you very soon. You’ll want to clutch your pearls as they snarl at puppies, menace children, and spray paint obscenities in the neighborhood. Fox’s Sean Hannity will curl his upper lip, calling on milquetoast mayors for law and order in the streets.

Somewhere in the United States as I’m writing this, faux documentarian James O’Keefe is undoubtedly planning his next ‘gotcha’ production. I’m sure it will involve implied violence with not-so-subtle overtones of racism.

Something called Antifa has made itself known to fright wing activists desperate for any counterpoint to the insanity of Fearless Leader and his feckless followers.

So it’s time for a little common sense discussion. Does anybody remember ACORN? They were the conservative media’s excuse for losing the 2008 Presidential election. What ACORN has in common with Antifa is the fear the right hopes will paralyze or distract us from what’s really going on.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a non-profit organization spent nearly 40 years working on voter registration, community organizing and advocacy for low- and moderate-income people in cities coast-to-coast.

ACORN was, at times, flakey. They built some of their programs around what they could get funded. There were some square pegs filling some round holes in too many places within their organizational chart. But their hearts were in the right place.

Conservative activists Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe released some heavily edited videos filled with innuendos of underage human trafficking, tax evasion, and voter fraud. At the core of their story was the (false) allegation that ACORN was federally funded to the tune of $8 billion dollars.

The airplay and reaction to videos made in ACORN offices in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Brooklyn, San Bernardino, and San Diego were part of the beginnings of what we now know as Breitbart.com.

Although ACORN declared bankruptcy and ceased operations in 2010, that hasn’t stopped Rep. Darrell Issa’s resolution barring any contracts or funding to be regularly passed by Republican Congresses over the past decade.

No actual wrongdoing on the part of the organization ever made it anywhere near a courtroom. Investigations by the Congressional Research Office, along with the New York and California State Attorney Generals found nothing but videotape heavily edited to make ACORN employees look bad.

San Diego ACORN employee Juan Carlos Vera successfully sued both O’Keefe and Giles.

What’s amazing to me is that after all these years and investigations, fright wingers still invoke the term “ACORN” as if the organization existed.


Antifa is even less real as a boogeyman than ACORN. (But they are a real thing, and not always pleasant.)

There is no organization called Antifa and it’s highly unlikely there will ever be. This bit of truth won’t stop Faux news from reporting on what is essentially a self-identification as if it were setting up franchises in cities coast-to-coast.

There are, and always have been, individuals on the left who have identified with the largely anarchist and communist groups who fought in the streets against Mussolini’s Blackshirts and Hitler’s Brownshirts as fascism reared its head in Europe.

As USA Today pointed out:

Antifa — short for “anti-fascist” — is the name for loosely affiliated, left-leaning anti-racist groups that monitor and track the activities of local neo-Nazis. The movement has no unified structure or national leadership but has emerged in the form of local bodies nationwide, particularly on the West Coast.

Arguments about the level of resistance, along with the time and place for protests countering Neo-Nazi activities have created some trepidation among newly emergent groups formed to resist the Trump agenda.

While the clashes in Charlottesville may have created angst for some about the idea of open opposition, the subsequent counter protests in Boston have caused right wing organizers to cancel dozens of planned events. Those telling us to ignore them should have shut up by now, but nooo…

Counter protests, smartly done, are worth the effort, both in building a broader anti-Trump coalition and in opposing the organizing drives of the fringe-right.

The Anti-Antifa. Not everybody who claims to be Antifa is the real deal. Since there are lots of anonymous people behind those kerchiefs, there is also a growing faker movement designed in large part to feed the fantasies of fright wing media outlets, as noted in this GQ article:

On Saturday, thousands of counter-protesters took to the streets in Boston in response to a small right-wing rally. Anyone who’s read or watched the news in the past few days has probably learned as much. Trickling out along with a deluge of news about the rally and counter-protest, though, were a handful of fishy reports from right-wing websites that drew heavily or entirely on a Twitter account with the handle AntifaBoston and its attendant Facebook page.

The articles at Gateway Pundit, Independent Journal Review, Townhall, and a couple of other sites detailed posts encouraging violence, censorship, and, uh, thanking Hillary Clinton voters for their support. They did so without realizing or noting an important detail: the Twitter and Facebook accounts are fakes, run with the aim of mocking and discrediting anti-fascist groups.

Then there are the social media accounts running doctored photos of supposedly Antifa supporters doing horrible things, like the one Snopes debunked and the campaign on 4Chan by far-right sympathizers saying the group is promoting the targeting of white women for violence.

The “logo” was airbrushed. The photo is from Greece.

Are Antifa-identified individuals or groups friend or foe for progressives? The truth is a little bit of both. Some of these folks have been on the front lines of worthy causes for decades. I would also say it’s fair to describe them as generally opposed to liberal democracy as we know it.

There are three points worthy of consideration:

Understand what you’re talking about. The Vox interview with Dartmouth historian Mark Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, is a good place to start.

Understand what they’re talking about. The best outlet for this sort of thought is It’s Going Down, a website unabashed in its disdain for political action inclusive of traditional electoral entities.

Understand what they are not. There are not many of these folks, and they lack cohesion. While they view self-defense as necessary in terms of defending communities against white supremacists, that’s about as far as it goes. It is a mistake to allow them to dictate the terms for anything involving effort on your part if you’re not comfortable with them.


The San Diego Rally Against Hate, slated for Sunday (August 26), has drawn some controversy in progressive circles over fears of Neo-Nazi-ish counter protesters and rumors of a response by people identifying with the Antifa movement.

The good news is that some twenty local activist groups have endorsed the demonstration, which will begin at 1pm outside the Museum of Man and end with a march to Horton Plaza.

The bad news is that there is a degree of uncertainty evident in social media about just how well-organized this event will be.

An employee with the Museum of Man reported they found out about the demonstration only after getting phone inquiries. Unofficial accounts say the Balboa Park institution is upset as they are struggling financially already and are worried about the loss of attendance due to the rally.

Disruptions of the July 2nd Impeachment Rally by the so-called Proud Boys and their supporters still loom large in local memories, and some are saying this event won’t be family friendly.

While local Indivisible activists say they plan on attending the rally and are supportive of its goals, they have repeatedly emphasized on Facebook the organization is not co-sponsoring or organizing the event.

Other local responses –among them the vigil at the County Building (8/13), a rally in Escondido (8/20), and the United Intersections of Justice Rally Against Hate in Hillcrest (8/20)– to the outbreak of hate in this country as evidenced by the events in Charlottesville in recent weeks have drawn large crowds and not been disrupted.

The San Diego Rally Against hate is planned as a counterpoint to Bay Area right wing gatherings called “Patriot Prayer” and the “March against Marxism” this weekend.

I intend on participating.

I have returned from vacation. The weekly Progressive Activist Calendar will return on September 1st.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Frances O'Neill Zimmerman August 26, 2017 at 3:48 pm

ACORN folks never wore masks or bandannas to hide their faces and they were always peaceable agents for social progress.

I don’t know why you semi-equate ACORN with “Antifa,” but it confuses an important issue of permitted peaceful free speech protests that, without police preparation and protection, may be interrupted by illegal “Antifa” violent action. Why do you talk about “clutching pearls” — as if to say that acknowledging “Antifa” is to be unduly alarmist? Unfortunately, “Antifa” seems to be a thing these days.

Bat and knife-wielding, masked, self-described anti-fascists from the Bay Area roughed up media and bloodied (permitted) skinheads at a demonstration last summer in Sacramento’s Capitol Park. Only last week, one year after the fact, four of those “Antifa” were charged with crimes. (It was alleged to be difficult to bring charges against masked assailants.) Similar assaults happened in D.C. at the Inauguration, in Berkeley last February and recently in Charlottesville.

What matters is who is organizing any peaceful protest and obtaining permits for it. Will there be sufficient crowd-monitors among organizers? Police are obligated to provide order and security for permitted demonstrations. No guns, no knives, no bats or truncheons, no helmets, no face masks. No violence. Just free speech.


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