Ban Antifa? I've Met Golden Retrievers Who Scared Me More | Opinion

In the summer of 2017, I sang at a rally that was heavily counter-protested by a crowd of white men in Make America Great Again hats.

After my performance, I approached a few of these counter-protesters and asked why they had come. In response, one of them began ranting about Antifa, gesticulating at a group of black-clad youth leaning against a low retaining wall on the other side of the police barricade.

"They're terrorists," he said. "They look just like ISIS. Just look at them."

These kids, most of whom were clearly overheating behind the black bandanas impractically tied across their faces, seemed enigmatic and slightly silly to me; but nothing about their posture or behavior struck me as remotely menacing. I've met golden retrievers who scared me more.

By contrast, I later learned that the man who'd invoked the ISIS comparison was well-known throughout the Pacific Northwest for showing up at mosques to harass worshippers and that his affiliations included multiple groups recognized as far-right hate, reactionary, and antigovernment groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

So imagine my concern when I heard his talking points about those black-clad youngsters coming out of the mouths of United States Senators last week; as Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced a Senate resolution to declare Antifa a terrorist organization.

Cruz and Cassidy's proposal is equal parts alarming and ludicrous, and it should have every American asking serious questions.

For starters, the vast majority of terrorist attacks on American soil are motivated by right-wing extremism, and terrorists typically attack soft targets such as places of worship, workplaces, schools, or clinics. By aiming at people going about their daily lives, terrorists sow fear and instability, often in an attempt to coerce powerful institutions into complying with their demands.

We should therefore all be asking why Republicans are so eager to slap the "terrorist organization" label on a decentralized, left-wing, grassroots network that has never claimed responsibility for any such attack, and which is responsible for zero deaths ever.

I won't deny that Antifa employs physical violence and destroys property for political aims. But they typically confine their actions to throwing punches when they see the need to de-platform someone inciting violence against vulnerable populations, as one Antifa activist famously did during a TV interview with white supremacist pundit Richard Spencer in early 2017. They also step in when they see right-wing groups menacing vulnerable people as they did in Charlottesville during the Unite the Right events there in 2017.

Even Willem Van Spronsen—who some have pointed to as an example of the danger posed by Antifa—does not fit the terrorist mold. Van Spronsen was killed by Tacoma, WA police in mid-July while throwing home-brew incendiary devices at a parking lot full of unoccupied ICE vehicles near the Northwest Detention Center in the wee hours of the morning.

If he intended to harm ICE personnel—or any other person—Van Spronsen could not have picked a less effective way to go about it. His choice of targets strongly suggests his aim was to sabotage ICE vehicles, presumably to hamper their ability to round up innocent people. Militant? Sure. Illegal? Absolutely. But not something most Americans would equate with terrorism in the everyday usage of the word. Antifa is responsible for a body count of exactly zero. If they're terrorists, they must be the least threatening terrorists ever to face the kind of sanctions that Cruz and Cassidy are proposing.

At the time I was chatting with that counter-protestor two summers ago, I didn't imagine I'd have much occasion to get to know those black-clad kids. Like many Americans, I had misconceptions about what kind of people they were, and I thought I had better things to do.

All that changed earlier this year when a couple of right-wing extremists began sending me threatening messages and turning up anywhere they expected I was scheduled to sing or speak. As I wrangled with the legal system and made arrangements for security for myself and my family, local Antifa organizers came to my aid.

Not only did they provide me background information about my stalkers' known extremist group affiliations, they were there for me with the kind of emotional support you'd expect from a faith community; sending me texts to brighten my day and reminding me regularly that I could call them if I needed anything at all. I'd never even met most of these people in "real life," but their commitment to ensuring my safety and psychological well-being during a difficult time was touching.

As I've gotten to know them and connected with others they've helped, I've come to understand is that Antifa isn't really a group so much as a far-reaching, multidisciplinary mutual aid and support network.

One Antifa activist I know has become adept at navigating the local social services system and is fighting to make sure that families experiencing homelessness do not lose their shelter beds due to technicalities beyond their control.

Another focuses on making sure that people living in poverty are able to afford their prescription medications and is raising money to help a local trans activist purchase a new motorized wheelchair.

Another provides rides to prisons around the region, to make sure that people who cannot afford a car do not lose touch with loved ones who are incarcerated.

Still another catalogues which right-wing extremists appear at which rallies and counter protests and monitors their social media presence, keeping track of affiliations and watching for patterns of behavior that might indicate that someone is a danger to the community at large.

Antifa performs many different functions in a decentralized manner, but Cassidy and Cruz's resolution could easily be used to extend the "terrorist" label to anyone whose grassroots activities focus on fighting abusive hierarchies or protecting vulnerable communities from far-right extremism; a textbook authoritarian move.

So regardless of how we may feel about fisticuffs in the streets or willful property damage, every American who is invested in a democratic future should be far less afraid of Antifa than of criminalizing grassroots resistance to right wing extremism. We should all be calling our Senators, asking them to speak out publicly against Cruz and Cassidy's dangerous resolution—and to vote it down.

Tae Phoenix is a singer-songwriter who uses music as a community organizing tool. She organizes with the Poor People's Campaign and Indivisible, among others.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​