Liberals worry the violent conflicts antifa invites will ultimately create a backlash that's far worse than a handful of neo-Nazis or alt-right protestors. There's even fear that the alt-right will use antifa as an excuse to legitimize white supremacists as victims of oppression. Worse yet, critics worry antifa will be used as a justification to crackdown on nonviolent protestors.
When far-left protesters act violently, it gives Trump and other conservatives more ammunition to draw equivalencies between the far left and far right — even if it is a false equivalence, given that America has a long history of racist violence and very little, by comparison, of left-wing violence.
The right started to call antifa a terror group when anti-fascist protesters shut down rallies in Berkeley earlier this year. That messaging has slowly filtered its way into the mainstream and even to the president's desk. While many Americans think white supremacists are horrible, they also think violence is equally as bad. In their eyes, violent protest is always wrong and erodes the bedrock of American ideals.
This is how the US is supposed to work. Instead of resorting to force to work out differences, the American ideal is to demonstrate and head to the voting booth to affect change. America hasn’t always lived up to this standard — particularly during the Civil War and Jim Crow era of anti-black violence — but it’s the concept enshrined in First Amendment protections for free speech and for the right to peaceably assemble.
Antifa only takes action to directly address white supremacist and neo-Nazis. There would be no antifa if there was not a growing white supremacist movement in the United States. In the aftermath of Charlottesville, members of the clergy who were there to protest wrote about how antifa put themselves in harm's way to protect the unarmed from white supremacists. Cornel West said antifa saved his life, and the lives of other clergy members, complaining the police completely abdicated their duties.
The anti-fascists, and then, crucial, the anarchists, because they saved our lives, actually. We would have been completely crushed, and I’ll never forget that. Meaning what? Meaning that you had the police holding back, on the one hand, so we couldn’t even get arrested. We were there to get arrested. We couldn’t get arrested, because the police had pulled back, and just allowing fellow citizens to go at each other, you see, and with all of the consequences that would follow there from.
Antifa is a direct response to white supremacy. Directly and violently engaging with white supremacists is just one tactic out of many that antifa is deploying to fight back. If the system worked, we wouldn't have Nazis holding rallies in the streets. We wouldn't be discussing the merits of a ban on Muslims. We wouldn't have white supremacists driving cars into protesters. But the system doesn't work. Until there's a better solution, antifa is going to make sure white supremacists don't feel safe organizing in our communities.
"People might think our actions are extreme,” Telly told the crowd, “but these guys”—neo-Nazis—”are often so far beyond the law that they don’t respond to legal appeals. They don’t care if hate crime legislation is enacted; it makes no difference to them. The situation in America has reached a critical tipping point, and we need to fight back with whatever tactics are effective at sending these guys back into the caves they crawled out of.”