Keith Ellison's 'Antifa' Tweet Spurs Anti-Muslim and Racist Backlash

The deputy head of the Democratic National Committee is under fire—again—from far-right activists after he posed with a copy of a "antifa" book and suggested anti-fascist activism is President Donald Trump's worst nightmare.

Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has been a lightning rod for conservatives for his support for Senator Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign, for his race and for his Islamic faith, but his tweet on Wednesday of a picture of himself holding up Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook by Mark Bray, enraged his opponents again.

“I just found the book that strike fear in the heart of @realDonaldTrump,” Ellison had posted, linking to Trump's Twitter account.

Opponents jumped on the tweet, with Fox News and other conservative outlets like Gateway Pundit and Alex Jones's InfoWars covering it, and running anti-Muslim comments underneath the articles.

“A Muslim promoting terrorism is not news,” commenter Supah Cisgender wrote on Gateway Pundit.

Other comments labeled the representative a “terrorist.” Pundits on the far-right also recycled talking points about “antifa,” a catch-all word for leftist protesters that has been associated with dozens of fake news stories since the start of Trump’s presidency.

Paul Joseph Watson, an anti-Muslim performer on the conspiracy website InfoWars, posted a story under the headline, “DNC Deputy Chair Keith Ellison Endorses ‘Antifa’ (A Terrorist Group).”

The comments below Watson’s story were racially and politically motivated.

“He's muslim and of course the only thing he knows is striking fear and drawing blood for his demon god!” wrote an InfoWars poster named “Savour4truth.” “No suprise [sic], not news, not a revelation,” an InfoWars poster named ClassicGamer1968 wrote. “Just another Black Muslim terrorist (like Obama) out for blood, the destruction of Freedom, America, and the West.”

“Antifa” is not a group; it is a word used to describe a means of protesting. The protesters involved in the movement have not been even “formally classified” as a domestic terror organization by the federal government. FBI Director Christopher Wray said in late November that some men and women who are inspired by “kind of an antifa ideology” were being investigated by the FBI to the House Homeland Security Committee, but that remark was embedded in a larger discussion about investigating white supremacists—the very people “antifa” protesters are setting out to disrupt.

Newsweek was unable to reach Ellison for comment about his tweet, but it is unclear whether or not he “endorsed” the book, or whether he was simply making a joke.

The subject matter of the book details the history of antifascism, and helps to explain how and why they protest. The text itself is politically neutral, though Bray is himself an activist.

Watson could not be reached for comment about his remarks, but Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks, a U.K.-based group that tracks Islamaphobic rhetoric and hate crimes, told Newsweek that his laser focus on Islam has created tension for Muslims in his home country and abroad.

“Paul Joseph Watson has become 'the' nexus for anti-Muslim accounts that we have mapped,” Iman A'tta, the director of Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks said. “He has become an influencer in promoting information—much of it bizarre and untrue—which has been regurgitated by anti-Muslim and anti-migrant accounts time and time again."

The anger toward Ellison is increasingly a fringe movement. Newsweek reported in December that favorable opinions of Muslims are rising during the Trump era, according to an Arab American Institute poll conducted by Zogby Analytics. The favorability rating of American Muslims like Ellison has risen nine points since July, according to the poll.

Meanwhile, far-right pundits continue to blame “antifa” for news events to which leftist protesters have no connection, including terrorism. “Antifa” was falsely blamed for an Amtrak train derailment in December, for example, and every major mass shooting that has taken place over the last few months by professional conspiracy theorists like Watson and others.

But left-wing activists did physically attack people at protests in 2017, including a sucker punch of alt-right provocateur Richard Spencer in Washington, D.C., following the inauguration of Trump. Noam Chomsky, a renowned leftist academic, has worried aloud in multiple interviews that “antifa” violence could trigger widespread state-led repression. Activists describe violence as a last-resort tactic to protect marginalized communities.

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