Antifa, the Proud Boys, and the Relative Scale of Violent Extremism

At the outset, I want to make clear that I condemn right-wing violence and have done so throughout my life. As a criminologist and political sociologist, I am quite familiar with right-wing extremism. I know how destructive it can be. I have shelves in my library and space on my computer devoted to books and reports on the topic. My goal here is not to downplay right-wing extremism, but to give my readers some perspective on the relative domestic threats facing the American republic. I focus in this essay on Antifa and the Proud Boys since their names were dropped in last night’s presidential debate (the first of three scheduled). Trump turned some heads when he said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” What he meant is not exactly clear. However, the Proud Boys took it as an endorsement. So did progressives and the media. “The president has denounced white supremacists repeatedly,” Peter Navarro countered in an interview on MSNBC. “You guys just aren’t hearing that.”

Moderator Chris Wallace took sides last night during the debate. At many points he seemed to be a debate participant himself rather than a moderator. And he was almost always directing himself as Trump’s second debate opponent. He asked the president, “You have repeatedly criticized the vice president for not specifically calling out Antifa and other left wing extremist groups. But are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia group and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland.” Surely Wallace knows that Trump has on more than one occasion condemned white supremacy, calling out racist organizations by name, including the Ku Klux Klan and neonazis. Yet Wallace’s question to Trump assumed the president hasn’t.

Transcript and Video: President Trump Speaks About Charlottesville - The  New York Times
Trump in 2017 condemning the KKK, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups

In 2017, Trump said of his administration that “we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America.” He continued: “And as I have said many times before: No matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God. We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.” He then condemned racism in the strongest possible terms and identified racist groups. “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” He reiterated the American creed: “We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our Creator. We are equal under the law. And we are equal under our Constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.” Has Trump changed his views since 2017? Just this month, in introducing his plan to pump hundreds of billions of dollars into black communities, Trump proposed to prosecute the KKK. And last night he answered Wallace in the debate with, “Sure, I’m willing to do that.” He said, “I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.”

If Antifa Isn’t Checked, Beware The Backlash Against Their Violence
The left-wing extremist group Antifa

However, more startling than Wallace’s question was Biden claiming that FBI director Christopher Wray said Antifa is only “an idea.” Did Wray actually say that? No, he didn’t. “Antifa is a real thing,” Wray is on the record saying. “It is not a fiction.” He had to say this because progressives and the media keep insisting that leftwing extremism is a fiction. What is Antifa, then? “It’s a movement or an ideology,” according to Wray. Wray told Congress that the FBI has documented Antifa engaging in “organized tactical activity” at the local and regional level. “We don’t view how nationally organized something is as a proxy for how dangerous it is.” Wray has also said that the FBI is investigating Antifa’s “funding, their tactics, their logistics, their supply chains and we’re going to pursue all available charges.” “Organized tactical activity” and “supply chains” sound like a lot more than just “an idea.” So either Biden is misinformed or he is downplaying Antifa.

Destruction caused by white rioters is being widely acknowledged, but are  there ulterior motives? - REVOLT
Riots in Minneapolis initiates months of left-wing violence

The Democrats and the media, which portray Antifa and Black Lives Matter as peaceful movements in the civil rights tradition, want the public to focus on the Proud Boys, a much smaller group than Antifa. To be sure, the Proud Boys are an obnoxious bunch. They are occasionally violent. I will condemn their violent actions without hesitation and so should Trump. But Biden downplaying Antifa, a violent extremist movement that has made a mess of American cities, is the buried lede coming out of the debate. The real threat to public safety today is not the Proud Boys. It’s Antifa. Antifa is destroying property and assaulting civilians and law enforcement personnel. The Proud Boys are small fry in comparison. This does not mean that law enforcement should ignore them. The more important question is why Democrats, progressives, and the establishment media put so much energy into denying the problem of left-wing extremism and violence. We must allow the Proud Boy’s antics to distract the public from the reality of what it happening in our country.

How one Black-owned business was affected by BLM protests : The Indicator  from Planet Money : NPR
Left-wing extremism is by far the most destructive physical force in today’s politics

Part of the way the left confuses the public is by playing loosely with the term “militia,” reserving the term exclusively for the right. What is a militia? When we refer to a militia in terms of insurgent civilian movements, we mean an irregular paramilitary force engaged in insurrection, rebellion, and/or terrorist activities. This describes Antifa as much as it describes the several rightwing militias that we see around the country. Why the failure to accurately describe Antifa in the media? Why the double standard from the Democrats and the corporate media? Because, as I have shown in my blogs, Antifa and Black Lives Matter are the street-level forces of the corporate-led suppression of populism in America.

based stickman
FOAK leader Kyle ‘Based Stickman’ Chapman at a rally on June 4, 2017 in Portland, Oregon. 

The Proud Boys have a paramilitary wing: the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights, or FOAK. FOAK’s leader is Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman. At the same time, the Proud Boys in no way represent a mass movement on the right like we saw historically with the second KKK (formed in the same year as The Birth of Nation was released (1915), a movie screened in progressive Democratic president Woodrow Wilson’s White House). Indeed, organized white supremacy has been a vanishing problem for decades, exaggerated by alarmist groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-defamation League to keep their audiences on edge. These groups publish reports about the proliferation of Proud Boy chapters in various counties, but they never report on the corporate-funded Black Lives Matter chapters proliferating across the West. Yet even these organizations are reluctant to identify the Proud Boys as white supremacist, describing them instead as “misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic, and anti-immigration,” to quote the ADL Maybe that’s because the Proud Boys, who describe themselves as Western chauvinists, have black and brown members.

Silence Is Violence': D.C. Black Lives Matter Protesters Adopt Strategy of  Intimidating Random White People – Reason.com
Black Lives Matter terrorizing a civilian

In considering domestic threats, one should look at the character of actual violence in society. Who is doing what? What is the scope of their actions? I have already documented widespread arson, looting, and interpersonal violence perpetrated by left-wing extremists. We should also consider in our assessment violence against law enforcement. In the context of his testimony regarding extremism, Wray has noted that that rate of violence against law enforcement “is up significantly this year from last year.” More police officers were killed in felonious acts so far this year than all unarmed civilians (black or white) killed in 2019. Are the perpetrators of these murders white supremacists? Not that I can tell.

I have to say, folks have been punked a bit with this Proud Boys distraction. Keep in mind that Trump didn’t bring up Gavin McInnes’ men club. Biden brought them up because he knows jack about white supremacist groups (which the Proud Boys aren’t). Except the Klan. Biden knows about the Klan because Robert Byrd, formerly Exalted Cyclops and then the Democratic Senator from West Virginia, was a dear friend of his (and the Clintons, as well). Trump either didn’t know who the Proud Boys were or knew that they’re a joke orchestrated by comedian Gavin McInnes. The media knows this, too. They are gaslighting the public who they know doesn’t know the ins and outs of right-wing extremism.

The much bigger issue here is why Biden and Harris not merely fail to condemn Black Lives Matter and Antifa, but why they promote their actions. Black Lives Matter is a racialist organization. By definition. How is that not completely obvious? The approach of Black Lives Matter is to reduce individuals to demographic categories and treat them on that basis. This is what critical race theory is all about: seeing race before people and making policy decisions based on grouped disparities. It’s based on a logical fallacy: the fallacy of misplaced concreteness or reification. It is a cracked academic theory taken to the streets, where it burns buildings and cars, loots stores, and assaults civilians and law enforcement personnel. The Democrats find all this chaos useful.

I am sure readers are familiar with the claim that antifa simply means antifascism. First, this is insulting to the people who took on actual fascism. Fascism of the sort Antifa says it’s fighting is not an actual threat. So Antifa defines anybody who is on the right or conservative as a “fascist” and “white supremacist.” They’re like the witchfynders during the Inquisition. Hitler and fascists are the secular versions of Satan and his demons. Only the first were real and they are no longer with us. But since the modern left is not particularly religious, they can’t name check Satan, so they name check the Proud Boys. Second, Antifa is a highly organized anarchist-communist terroristic countermovement against republican government and liberal values. It is itself fascistic. It is authoritarian and sadistic. Just as antiracists are racists because they organize their politics not around individual freedom and democracy but racialist thinking and action, Antifa is fascistic because it uses the same street-level tactics that the Blackshirts and Brownshirts used during the European fascist period. Moreover, it is in the service of corporatists powers who share its goal of quashing the populist rising to neoliberal and technocratic oppression.

The Anti-Defamation League can’t say for sure, but, as is its habit, CNN can muddy the waters. Case in point: Enrique Tarrio, a member of the Proud Boys, is the leader of the Latinos for Trump movement. Tarrio is Cuban American. He is one of the many non-white members of the group. CNN and Democrats are freaking out because Trump is popular among Latinos. There are a lot of Cuban Americans in Florida. The Democrats must win Florida. That’s why Michael Bloomberg offered to personally pay off criminal fines so people could vote—a practice otherwise known as bribery. 

For some reason the position of Tarrio’s Latinos for Trump that “all guns laws are unconstitutional” has some bearing on the matter, as if opposition to gun restrictions was a white nationalist issue. (CNN should talk to all the black people buying guns and forming militias and see what they think about that.) CNN is also perplexed because, while Tarrio is brown and Proud Boys claims a diverse membership, its central tenets of closed borders and Western chauvinism seems to indicate something else. What exactly strict immigration controls and Western chauvinism has to do with anti-diversity is unclear. We do know that open borders are harmful to the economic interests of black and brown people. But somehow that isn’t anti-working class. The United States is and has been a very diverse country for a very long time, with people of all races and ethnicities distributed throughout the social structure. The same is true for the West generally. To confuse the public over matters of diversity, CNN conflates mass immigration with racial and ethnic diversity. 

Perhaps the most interesting piece of all this it was Biden not Trump who has made the Proud Boys a household name.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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