'Antifa' Sympathizers Being Investigated by FBI, Director Tells Lawmakers

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Antifascists demonstrate on the University of Utah campus on September 27. Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Men and women who are inspired by “kind of an antifa ideology” are being investigated by the FBI, according to the bureau's director, Christopher Wray.

“While we're not investigating antifa as antifa—that's an ideology and we don't investigate ideologies—we are investigating a number of what we would call anarchist-extremist [groups], where we have properly predicated subjects of people who are motivated to commit violent criminal activity on kind of an antifa ideology,” Wray told members of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Wray’s wording—“kind of an antifa ideology”—leaves considerable room for interpretation. The “antifa” movement has no formal, organizational hierarchy, and is more of an idea that can be adopted by anyone seeking to oppose fascism through street protest and other political actions. Mark Bray, a historian, wrote in Antifa: the Anti-Fascist Handbook that “some antifa groups are more Marxist while others are more anarchist or antiauthoritarian. In the United States, most have been anarchist or antiauthoritarian.” Antifa protesters oppose neo-fascist and white supremacist groups in the streets, as they did in Charlottesville, Virginia this August, and also monitor them online. A significant portion of the work they do is merely notifying the public about what organized racists are planning—so that marginalized communities are aware of it.

Activists on the left have complained to Newsweek about the demonization of “antifa” by right wing media, which has resulted in a deluge of surreal conspiracy theories about their work in opposing neo-fascist and white supremacist movements. Fox News and other outlets reported on the threat of an “antifa”-led civil war plot on November 4, for example. It was a fake concept, fueled by websites like InfoWars, and it never happened. The NRA put “antifa” on the cover of its magazine in November, repeatedly referring to antifascist protesters as “thugs” and—apparently without irony—“ne’er do wells.” A spokesman for Antifascist Action Nebraska, told Newsweek that the gun lobby was using its movement as a boogeymen to “sell more guns.”

“We aren’t violent. Violence is a last resort in opposing fascism,” the spokesman, Nestor, who did not give his last name, told Newsweek. “There aren’t antifa protesters roaming around the streets carrying baseball bats. That’s not happening.”

Wray’s statement comes amid a trial involving close to 200 anti-Trump protesters who are facing felony rioting charges. The trial surrounds actions taken by antifascist protesters, also known as “#J20 protesters,” during Trump’s inauguration in January. In it, federal prosecutors employed video evidence captured by Project Veritas, the conservative action group that allegedly recently tried to trick The Washington Post into publishing a fake news story about Alabama Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore. Activists have expressed concerns to Newsweek that the trial, as well as the depiction of antifascism by some conservatives, represented an attempt to crack down on dissent at a time when the threat of organized racism is rising in America. 

“People need to keep in mind where the violence is really coming from at events,” a spokesperson with It’s Going Down, an antifascist news website, told Newsweek in reference to violence perpetrated by white supremacist and neo-fascist groups in 2017. “The goal of antifascism has never been to escalate violence or even match their violence.”