Well, it's come to this: The far-right obsession with antifa has been overblown into a fake news story that now rivals the most over-the-top Michael Bay movie. Allow Newsweek to introduce you to the "Antifa supersoldiers" who apparently exist in the minds of some people on the far right, and who are coming to "behead all white parents" across America this Saturday, if the bizarre and spiralling fake news story is to be believed.
As with the fake news story that antifa is waging civil war on America, which was started by Alex Jones at the conspiracy site InfoWars, the imaginary supersoldiers have been injected into the far-right's coverage of a series of rallies planned for Saturday to demand the removal of President Donald Trump from office. The story may sound asinine, but concerns are growing that it could lead to someone inflicting real-life violence, activists told Newsweek.
The "news" story, which has since been embraced with irony as a meme on left-leaning social media circles, spawned from a joke posted Friday on the comedic Twitter account @KrangTNelson. It said: "can't wait for November 4th when millions of antifa supersoldiers will behead all white parents and small business owners in the town square." The post was meant to mock the "festering panic over an exceedingly fake Civil War plot for which thousands of FOX News grandparents may, at this very moment, be boarding up their windows in panicked preparation," according to the anonymous person behind the Krang account, who wrote about the controversy he or she inadvertently started in a first-person story for VICE. Right-leaning accounts began to report the satirical tweet as being offensive, which led to the temporary suspension of @KrangTNelson's account on Twitter.
Gateway Pundit, a well-trafficked right wing blog that "has 15 million visits each month," by its own account, ran with it, reporting the joke as a straightforward news story with the headline, "ANTIFA Leader: "November 4th […] millions of antifa supersoldiers will behead all white parents." Bill Mitchell, a pro-Trump personality and radio host with a sizable Twitter following of close to 300,000 people, picked up the story from The Gateway Pundit, and then tweeted it out in apparent earnestness. The Gateway Pundit story, authored by Lucian Wintrich, the website's 29-year-old D.C. bureau chief, has been shared more than 40,000 times on Facebook. The page has also been blasted with over a thousand comments, some of them from people preparing for violence against the supersoldiers (who, remember—to be as explicit as humanly possible here—are not in any way real).
"Thank you for making your terroristic threats so unmistakable," a commenter going by the name Irredeemable OC5150 wrote under the Gateway Pundit story. "Proves a lethal response is justified," a commenter going by the name Dorsai1 replied. "Lock and load," a commenter named Mark said.
Members of Refuse Fascism, the nascent protest group behind Saturday's rallies, have expressed concerns to Newsweek that the bizarre readings of the November 4 protests by those on the right could lead to real-life violence, like what transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, when anti-racist activist Heather Heyer was allegedly murdered by a white supremacist. In Austin, Texas, for example, local militias have threatened to show up to combat the antifa supersoldiers they believe are coming, according to social media posts and the accounts of Texas-based activists. To reiterate what has already been reported in Newsweek: Antifa (short for "antifascist") is more of a style of protest targeting far-right groups than an outfit with any organizational hierarchy, according to academics and activists. Not only does "antifa" lack the capability or funding to breed supersoldiers, there is no organizational structure in place to order such a thing in the first place.
Andy Zee, a member of the advisory board for Refuse Fascism, said it was a mistake to portray the spiraling fake news stories about Saturday's protests as a joke.
"It's very dangerous and harmful to take these people as a joke," Zee told Newsweek, noting the way the Reichstag fire, a false-flag operation blamed on leftists, was exploited by Nazi Germany to accelerate a fascist regime. "You have to take this stuff seriously because some of them really believe it."
Newsweek reached out to Wintrich, the author of the post on Gateway Pundit, for a comment on the article, and to ask if he had reached out to any antifascist activists or organizers with Refuse Fascism prior to running his story about antifa supersoldiers.
"That's confidential," he replied. Wintrich denied believing that supersoldiers were being bred by antifa, but said that @KrangTNelson's post "does promote a certain type of violent rhetoric targeted at conservatives" that he wanted to highlight. He asked Newsweek to imagine if the satirical Twitter post had been targeted at people of color, instead of Trump voters, echoing a familiar claim made by people on the right about bias.
"Conservatives have gotten in more trouble for doing things that were much more innocuous," he said, adding without irony that he hoped Newsweek would "report on his article fairly."