5 things to know about antifa

President Donald Trump has set his sights on antifa, blaming them for much of the violence that has broken out in recent days


A bonfire set by demonstrators protesting a scheduled speaking appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos, Feb. 1, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Image: AP Photo/Ben Margot

AP Photo/Ben Margot

By Police1 Staff

As the nation grapples with widespread civil unrest in response to the in-custody death of George Floyd, President Donald Trump has set his sights on antifa, blaming them for much of the violence that has broken out.

“The memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters, and anarchists,” Trump said. “The violence and vandalism is being led by Antifa and other radical left-wing groups who are terrorizing the innocent, destroying jobs, hurting businesses, and burning down buildings.”

Here are five things local governments and public safety personnel should know about antifa.

#1 What is antifa?

Antifa, short for anti-fascist or Anti-Fascism Action, is a radical far-left-leaning political movement, made up of mostly autonomous groups spread throughout the United States. The movement has ties to anarchism, other radical left groups like By Any Means Necessary, and is known for its militant presence at protests. Some of the better known, loosely organized antifa groups include Torch Antifa, Antifa Sacramento and NYC Antifa.

NYC Antifa described the movement’s motives in an interview with The Nation:

“Antifa combines radical left-wing and anarchist politics, revulsion at racists, sexists, homophobes, anti-Semites, and Islamophobes, with the international anti-fascist culture of taking the streets and physically confronting the brownshirts of white supremacy, whoever they may be.”

#2 Antifa returned to the spotlight in the Trump era

Antifa’s origins can be traced to similar movements in Europe as far back as the 1920s and ‘30s. Its resurgence has been directly tied to the presidential campaign and election of Donald Trump, the emergence of the alt-right, and the rise of white nationalism and white supremacist groups in the U.S. Antifa’s primary targets are groups it considers racist or fascist, and the movement spends much of its energy on targeting individuals it identifies as members of these groups (by pressuring their employer to fire them, doxxing them, etc.) or trying to prevent public gatherings of said groups.

When things spill into the streets, antifa is known for its willingness to use force to shut down or otherwise disrupt rallies – whether through property damage or physical violence. Sticks, bats, knives, and pepper spray are among the weapons police have confiscated during clashes between antifa and rival groups.


In defense of antifa’s tactics, one member told AOL.com:

“Resistance is not always safe and pretty, but it is immaculate compared to our monstrous government.”

Another member said the group wouldn’t rule out the use of firearms or other powerful weaponry at future protests.

“We believe in a diversity of tactics,” a member told the site. “The level of violence is already incredibly high, but not from the left.”

#3 Antifa is linked to multiple incidents of violence

Perhaps the most infamous early example of violence was a melee in 2016 between antifa members and white nationalist groups in Sacramento, California, during a rally at the state Capitol building. That incident left 14 people with stab wounds, cuts and bruises.


Since then, Portland and Berkeley have seen some of the worst and most frequent violence. In February 2017, a protest of a planned UC Berkeley speech by alt-right icon Milo Yiannopoulos ended with anti-fascists setting fires, breaking windows, throwing rocks at police and attacking people in the crowd – a grim kickoff to a series of bloody clashes in the city throughout 2017.

In Portland, police arrested 25 protesters after a May Day march erupted in violence – one of many examples of the chaotic scenes that plagued the city that year.


Charlottesville, D.C. (most infamously during Trump’s inauguration – where police arrested 217 protesters), Philly, and NYC are just a few examples of other cities that have seen their share of violence between antifa and rival groups.

#4 A popular antifa tactic is the ‘black bloc’

A common misconception is that the “black bloc” is a group, but it’s actually a tactic. Those that employ it don black clothing from head to toe in order to conceal their identities. In the Sacramento Capitol melee, law enforcement originally sought to charge 101 protesters for their roles in the violence, but ran into difficulties because so many of the participants were masked. It’s also used by protesters to help protect themselves from less-lethal tools like pepper spray and tear gas.

The tactic is common among antifa and was also widespread during the G-20 protests in 2017. One of the most well-known cases of its use prior to the Trump era was during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle.

#5 Is Antifa considered a terror group?

Pointing the finger at antifa for violence that has erupted during the 2020 George Floyd protests, President Trump has announced that he plans to label antifa as a terrorist organization, but the announcement has drawn criticism and questions of whether or not it could actually be done. Antifa is one of multiple extremist groups that have been accused of being agitators during the protests that have occurred in over 140 cities across the U.S., and the FBI and DOJ are currently investigating the possibility.

“Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate, violent and extremist agenda,” Attorney General William P. Barr said. “The violence instigated and carried out by antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly.”

Next: 5 domestic terror groups to keep on the radar

Cole Zercoe previously served as Senior Associate Editor of Lexipol’s Police1.com and Corrections1.com. His award-winning features focus on the complexity of policing in the modern world.

Contact Cole Zercoe