Although I have spent much of my scholarly life warning against inappropriate comparisons between Nazis or fascists and the pet peeves of academics and journalists, I myself am now using the F-word (as in fascist) or really the N-word (as in Nazi) with growing regularity.
The antifascist left, about which I have just finished writing a book, resembles the Nazis in a striking way, particularly when these earlier advocates of violence were on their way to power. I am drawing this parallel while being fully aware of the qualifications that I am constrained to offer.
Yes, I am aware that, unlike the Nazis, American Antifa members and German Antifaschisten loathe their own race and nation and are doing everything possible to weaken them. They also favor filling their country with third world immigrants, preferably non-Christian, to change its inherited cultural and ethnic character. Further, these rioters and subversives are working to bring shame on once-celebrated national heroes and call for tearing down their statues and banishing national literatures. As I write, Antifa and Black Lives Matter (BLM) have just torn down a statue of George Washington in Portland, Oregon. Elsewhere, Confederate memorial monuments, statues of Columbus, and other tributes to the onetime heroes of my youth are being smashed or defaced.
If all these things are true, then how do antifascists resemble those whom they claim to be combating?
First off, political movements often imitate those that they purport to stand in opposition to. The Nazis borrowed heavily from Stalin’s Communist regime. Concentration camps, a totalitarian state structure, ubiquitous secret police, and the cult of the leader were all aspects of the Soviet system that Hitler borrowed from his murderous Soviet competitor. Although he might have taken the leadership principle from the Italian Duce and then expanded it according to his own sinister designs, other traits of Hitler’s rule, including genocide, as historian Robert Conquest showed, were previewed by the Soviets. Hannah Arendt, a pioneer in the study of totalitarianism, has argued that Stalin experimented with anti-Semitism during his long rule. He thought it was an instrument in Hitler’s ideological toolbox that he too might put to good effect. The fact that Antifa claims to be against fascism, and particularly Nazism, certainly does not mean it cannot adopt some of its features from real Nazis.
Second, today’s Antifa and its German counterpart are not derived from traditional Marxist ideology, which appeals to a “science of socialism.” Antifa has no rational or even pseudo-rational plans to reconstruct society, but focuses on venting destructive energy against hate targets. In this tendency, Antifa and its riotous allies seem much more like Nazis than communists or generic Marxists. They illustrate what German philosopher Hermann Rauschning regarded as an essential characteristic of the Nazis, which was a “revolution of nihilism” that presumably would go on and on until it eradicated all inherited moral institutions and marks of human civility.
Having read Mark Bray, Alexander Reid Ross, and other Antifa theorists, it is hard for me to see anything positive they are engaged in beyond targeting enemies and calling for their destruction. Author Keith Preston, who has devoted his life to studying anarchist movements, is at a loss to find a coherent anarchist vision in the pamphlets and manifestos of Antifa activists. Like the Nazis, who incited violence against Jews, socialists, clericalists, and other supposed enemies of the German people, Antifa militants spread their mayhem to new targets daily, striking out against an ever-expanding collection of “fascist” enemies.
Even more striking is the way in which both the Nazis and Antifa have built on a vast support system that gave their unruly behavior social acceptability. The German political sociologist Claus Wolfschlag has observed that German Antifaschisten, who provide the model for their American counterpart, represent no threat to those who run the German government. The anti-national left and left-center who exercise power do not stay up nights worrying that leftist rioters will devastate their assemblies or offices. The ones whom the violent protesters unleash their hate on are “the isolated and powerless.” These are people whom the Antifaschisten accuse of belonging to the nationalist right, or being insufficiently enthusiastic about admitting more Muslim migrants into Germany. Antifaschisten speak for those in high places politically and socioeconomically, while holding down and terrifying the antidemocratic troublemakers among the average population.
In the U.S., according to polls by Rasmussen Reports, Antifa enjoys openly declared support from more than 20 percent of the population. In addition, no Democratic member of Congress will lay a glove on our urban rioters without a multitude of qualifying statements. Progressive Democrats, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, freely raise money for Antifa activities, while Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison proudly posed in a picture with Bray’s Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.
Meanwhile, corporations supply funds for bailing out Antifa and BLM rioters, assuming municipal governments in New York City, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis do not let them out quickly enough. PepsiCo, Goldman-Sachs, Citibank, and the National Football League are just a few of the many corporate sponsors pampering those who are wreaking havoc. Meanwhile, Google, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media giants censor and de-platform those who may be calling too much attention to what is being done by supposedly peaceful antifascists.
A recent decision by President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr to declare Antifa to be “terrorists” brought forth indignant objections from the national press. New York Times star columnist Nicholas Kristof has been particularly exercised by the “Antifa panic” that supposedly keeps us from properly discussing white racism. One need only think of how little the mainstream media would respond if the president decided to go after Nick Fuentes and the Groypers—a decidedly more peaceful group of youths, but ones on the right.
Significantly, a recent film of Antifa meetings by Project Veritas indicates that we are not dealing here with informal groupings of activists as depicted in our mainstream media. These Antifa organizers also bear no resemblance to the protesters lying down on city streets who are photographed on the front page of the June 22-29 Time next to the caption “Overdue Awakening.” Not to be outdone by his leftist pals, Fox News commentator Jason Chaffetz, a retired Republican Congressman, informed his listeners that he feels “there's actually a lot of good people in [Black Lives Matter].”
Unlike National Review editor Rich Lowry, however, Chaffetz has not called, at least not so far, for removing memorial statues of Confederate generals that, in his view, celebrate traitors. Perhaps he may do so by the time this editorial is published.
All of this recalls the public relations advantage held by the Nazis, who reveled in the sympathy of many Germans while they were rising as an electoral force. Nazi sympathizers both inside and outside of the German administration and German military viewed Hitler and his paramilitary organizations as misunderstood patriots. But, unlike what has now developed in the U.S. and in much of Western Europe, there was at least some pushback by Germans against the Nazis. Nazis met considerable opposition on their way to power both inside and outside of the government, even if it was not enough to keep Adolf Hitler from becoming German Chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933.
Also, the legal revolution by which the Nazis took power was entirely avoidable and transpired not before, but after the Nazis' popular support had peaked. If the then-impaired German President Paul von Hindenburg had not been swayed by advisers to allow Hitler to form a government, the Nazi takeover might never have come to pass. A long-believed idea that Hitler was a tool of German capitalists is also not true, as the American historian Henry Ashby Turner, Jr., has proved definitively. Unlike American corporate boards which swoon over our domestic terrorists, German capitalists were long wary of the Nazis, who they thought would destabilize the economy and plunge Germany into war.
In the U.S. today, Antifa runs riot in our cities. At the same time, its media partisans whitewash its outrages and try to divert our attention by screaming about white privilege. Equally problematic, our conservative celebrities try to make the problem vanish by denouncing Confederate General Robert E. Lee as a traitor and by demanding the immediate removal of Confederate monuments.
Although one might fault the Germans for not having acted decisively enough against a now-obvious danger, what is happening in our country is even more appalling. The reaction to our brutal hellraisers has been virtually nonexistent. And the most pusillanimous response may be the one from authorized conservative celebrities and organizations, which seem to believe that they may quiet the raging storm by shaming those who fought for “the Cause” 150 years ago. I do not believe it’s coincidence that Conservative Inc. has decided to go after all things Confederate while so-called anti-racist rioters are destroying our cities.
We might also note that the communist left, against which post-World War II conservatives mobilized, never represented the internal danger posed by our antifascist Nazis. Although members of the Communist Party USA sometimes served Soviet masters and although the Soviet Union maintained a spy system in the West, American support for the Communists, outside of certain government circles during World War II and certain ethnic enclaves, was never strong. In 1936 Earl Browder, the Communist Party's candidate for U.S. president, received about 79,000 votes nationwide.
Do we even want to speculate about how many votes a candidate for president endorsed by Antifa leaders might expect to receive today? Leading politicians in the state of Minnesota now lavish praise on Antifa, a habit that doesn’t seem to disturb their voters. Moreover, no American leader so far has showed the courage of German Chancellor Heinrich Brüning, who induced Hindenburg to ban both the Brown and Black Shirts in January 1932. Yes, some of our conservatives mouth the phrase that “Antifa are terrorists,” but then they dart back to what they consider safe positions, such as calling for the further degradation of Southern heritage and the creation of Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
Pardon me for doubting that the elephant in the living room will go away after the presidential race in November. If Trump gains what may be a narrow victory, Antifa with its BLM partners will likely take to the streets. If Joe Biden, who is our senile equivalent of Field Marshall Hindenburg, wrests the presidency from Trump, his terrorist allies will most certainly demand a share of his power. We are no longer in 2008, when Obama’s unsavory supporters, like the Black Panthers, stayed quiet most of the time. Although Obama as a leader has always seemed to me to be much overrated, Biden has never equaled his former boss in anything, except perhaps in taking bribe money.
Since 2016, street demonstrators— more recently, rioters—have been working to weaken or subvert Trump’s presidency; and these helpers have every right to expect a big reward. Like Ernst Röhm’s Brown Shirts, they won’t go away because the guy they supported is now at the top. And least of all will they be bought off with decorative reforms or speeches read by a somnolent figurehead chief executive about fighting “systemic racism.” Hitler found an effective way to deal with street gangs on the Night of the Long Knives in June 1934, but mass slaughter may not be a path that is open to Biden and his friends in the media.
There is, however, a silver lining in this otherwise bleak analysis. Antifa's leading lights are preposterous nerds like Mark Bray who—fortunately for our country—lack Hitler’s theatrical and strategic brilliance. Moreover, early Nazi theorists and apologists generally made much more sense than today's academic and media defenders of our rioting radicals, such as Jason Stanley, Timothy Snyder, Nicholas Kristof, Alexander Reid Ross, and others whom I forced myself to read while researching a book on antifascism. Here we are encountering not so much sinister thinkers as tiresome crybabies.
Creating monstrous totalitarian regimes requires a sense of order and discipline; the current equivalent of the Brown Shirts who are taking over our cities and their theoretical defenders have no endgame, except for milking the system while destroying buildings and monuments and shooting policemen. But don’t expect our “liberals” or “conservatives” to push back awfully hard.