Law enforcement agents on Thursday killed an Antifa supporter, 48-year-old Michael Forest Reinoehl, who was a suspect in the fatal shooting of a right-wing activist who was part of a pro-Trump caravan in Portland, Oregon.
Reinoehl was being investigated for killing Aaron J. Danielson, a supporter of Trump who came to Portland and clashed with protesters demonstrating against racism and police brutality on August 29. In an interview he gave to Vice News recently, Reinoehl said he acted in self-defence and believed that Danielson was about to stab him and a friend. “I could have sat there and watched them kill a friend of mine of colour. But I wasn’t going to do that,” he said.
On Wednesday, US Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department was monitoring Antifa, claiming it is at the heart of violence in cities around the country.
As massive protests following the death of George Floyd continued to rock the United States beginning May-end, President Donald Trump had announced that the far-left group Antifa would be designated as a terrorist organisation by his government. “The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization,” Trump said.
Even in the past, Trump has described Antifa as a terrorist group. Other right-wing politicians have also criticised the group, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
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The group made headlines in June last year when its members clashed with those of a far-right group called Proud Boys in Portland. The violence left members of both sides injured, including a journalist with a conservative-leaning publication.
Antifa has been around for several decades, though accounts vary on its exact beginnings. The Merriam-Webster dates the term as far back as Nazi Germany, describing the etymology of ‘antifa’ as “borrowed from German Antifa, short for antifaschistische ‘anti-fascist’, in Antifaschistische Aktion (multiparty front initiated by the German Communist Party in 1932 to counter Nazism) and in other collocations”.
While the movement has had a presence in several European countries and has come into focus in the United States in recent years, Antifa does not have a formal organisational structure. The New York Times said it draws its members from other movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Occupy movement.
The movement has been known to have a presence in the US in the 1980s. It shot into prominence following the election of President Trump in 2016, with violence marking some of its protests and demonstrations.
Antifa members typically dress in black and often wear a mask at their demonstrations, and follow far-left ideologies such as anti-capitalism. They take up causes such as LGBTQ and indigenous rights. What makes them stand out is the violence.
Criticising mainstream liberal politicians for not doing enough, Antifa members have often physically confronted their conservative opponents on the streets, although the group also participates in non-violent protests. Apart from public counter-protests, Antifa members run websites that track white extremist and ultra-right groups.
The current group of Antifa members, according to media reports, appears to be a loose affiliation of activists opposing right-wing groups and white supremacists. Antifa groups do not have a uniform presence in the US, with their activity most prominent in the states of Oregon (which includes Portland), California, Texas, and Pennsylvania.
Antifa members engaged in street clashes in Charlottesville (Virginia) in 2017, following a large demonstration by right-wing radicals. The same year, Antifa members were accused of disrupting a conference by a conservative leader at the University of California at Berkeley. In 2016, a member of the group had punched a right-wing leader on camera, The New York Times reported.
Because of Antifa’s repeated involvement in violence, many liberal figures have criticised the group for bringing disrepute to existing anti-fascism movements in the country. Antifa’s activities, they note, allow right-wing organisations to portray organisers of peaceful events, too, as extremists. Writer and social commentator Noam Chomsky has been quoted as calling the Antifa “a major gift to the right”. Many have pointed out that major substantive reforms, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the ending of formal racial segregation, were achieved after years of non-violent disobedience.
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