Antifa 'Empowered' by Biden Victory, Unlikely to Disappear Once Trump Leaves White House

President Donald Trump spent much of the year blaming "antifa" for the violent unrest that erupted in some cities across the U.S. in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Despite many noting that antifa—short for anti-fascists—is not a formal organization, but rather an umbrella term for a number of left-leaning militant groups that oppose or resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists, the president vowed to declare it a terrorist organization.

That looks unlikely now with Trump losing the election to Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate who in the first presidential debate dismissed the threat of the movement and said, "His own FBI director said...antifa is an idea, not an organization," referring to FBI Director Chris Wray.

The movement came to prominence under Trump's presidency, but will it continue to protest with Biden in office?

(The) fascist movement that metastasized around Trump will not go away (with Biden in office).
Andy Zee, Refuse Fascism

Arie Perliger, a professor of security studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, told Newsweek that because antifa is "basically a collection of local groups, it doesn't have any kind of coordinating mechanism that can make these kind of collective decisions."

But he doesn't believe antifa will disappear when Trump leaves office.

"I think it will focus more on how they can really promote their objectives, their goals, in this new political environment, which is more accommodating to their goals, to their ideas, that is more open to hear their voices and their views," Perliger said.

Andy Zee, of Refuse Fascism, a group that describes the Trump administration as fascist, told Newsweek that the "fascist movement that metastasized around Trump will not go away" with Biden in office.

"In one form or another, that will need to be fought, but the defeat of Trump will put everyone who desires social and environmental justice and all progressive social movements in a potentially stronger position," Zee said.

Mark Bray, a historian and the author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, told Newsweek that the history of such militant, anti-fascist politics in the U.S. has existed for several decades and will continue regardless of who is in power.

But he adds that antifa's importance in national politics "has been greatly overstated by Trump for political purposes."

"There were groups, not always calling themselves antifa, but there were groups doing this kind of work of opposing the far right when George Bush was in office, when Bill Clinton was in office, when George W. Bush was in office, when Obama was in office and with Trump in office, so it's a politics that's going to continue," Bray said.

"It's a politics that responds to the threat of the far right, whether that threat has access to the White House or not."

But he noted that the number of antifa groups in the U.S., and their membership, has "everything to do with the rise and fall of far-right politics."

Bray said there was a decline in anti-fascist activity in the early 2000s, but this changed when the so-called alt-right began its attempt to establish a public presence and when Trump started his first campaign for the presidency.

"So many of the antifa groups that I interviewed for my book formed in 2015, 2016 and 2017 in response to this perceived new threat," Bray said. "So although antifa as a politics and as a movement continues regardless of who's in office, the changes in far-right politics have a very big role in determining how many groups, how many people participate in these groups and what the anti-fascist resistance is like."

With Biden in power, the far right certainly will have less of an influence on national politics, Bray said.

"But Trumpism as a kind of phenomenon won't disappear," he added. "Plenty of other politicians will attempt to capitalize upon his legacy by promoting those kinds of ideas or politics at a local or state level.

"The kinds of far-right groups that have been emboldened by Trump will continue to exist, and in some cases, may even become more dangerous as they may give up hope in the ability of their desired essentially fascist ethno-state to exist within the framework of the United States," he said. "And so what anti-fascism looks like in that context will have everything to do with what the right does in response.

"It's not so much a question of what antifa would do without asking what the right would do and how they would respond, because in general, the politics of antifa groups is a politics in response to far-right mobilization and activism."

But Trumpism as a kind of phenomenon won't disappear. Plenty of other politicians will attempt to capitalize upon his legacy by promoting those kinds of ideas or politics at a local or state level.
Mark Bray, historian and author

Perliger and Bray are concerned that far-right violence could erupt in the U.S. following Biden's victory because of Trump repeatedly casting doubt on the integrity of the election process. If that occurs, it could draw a response from anti-fascists, they said.

"If that happens, I don't think that antifa and other leftist groups will disappear from the streets," Perliger said. "The opposite, because of their victory in the election, they'll feel empowered, they'll feel that they have now more legitimacy."

If Trump refuses to accept the results of the election and protesters take to the streets in opposition, Bray said he wouldn't be surprised if "the far right feels emboldened to attack them with cars, possibly with guns, possibly in other ways, particularly in areas of the country where we've seen significant far-right activity.

"Those kinds of conflict could potentially involve anti-fascists, they may not."

Perliger said antifa in recent years was motivated by its animosity toward Trump and his administration's policies, such as the widely condemned family separation policy and "complete unwillingness" to tackle police brutality.

With Trump gone, Perliger believes anti-fascists will start merging with other left-leaning groups.

"I think that what the movement may try to do is to move into a less contentious track," he said.

"Less of a movement that is focusing on countering far-right activity but more focusing on trying to influence the policies of Biden's administration. I think in this sense, there's also a good chance that antifa eventually will merge with other left-wing organizations to focus mainly on trying to pressure the Biden administration to adopt progressive policies and to promote different types of reforms."

Bray agreed.

The U.S. is getting to the point where the struggle between an emboldened far right and the left in general is "taking on such a scale that the role of explicitly antifa groups is becoming less and less important, as the struggle gets bigger and bigger," he said.

"They will likely be involved in pushing back against any kind of far-right activity during the election. But increasingly as time goes on, I think it'll be a broader question that will impact Black Lives Matter, the left and other kinds of groups more broadly."

Bray also said that support for the kind of politics backed by Trump and the far right are becoming less popular as the demographics of the U.S. continue to shift.

"It's becoming less white, less Christian and more in favor of queer and trans rights. Clearly over the coming generations, (the far right) is going to be losing the culture war that is so central to what its politics are about.

"I think the question is, 'What the kind of danger is there of a far right that is increasingly more convinced that they are being victimized and in their own language, the victims of white genocide, in a country with a lot of guns?' How will they respond to that?"

Antifa
Antifa and demonstrators protest on election night near the White House in Washington, D.C. on November 3, 2020. Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images