The LA Times published a story today titled “‘Antifa’ violence in Berkeley spurs soul-searching within leftist activist community.” There’s not a lot of evidence of soul-searching in the piece, by which I mean no one seems to be thinking about changing their opinion of the group based on what they saw last weekend. What the article does include are some condemnations of the group by well-known 1960s radicals who seem to have already made up their minds. Former Students for a Democratic Society President Todd Gitlin tells the Times Antifa is hijacking the message of the protests:
“This is food for the adversary,” said sociologist Todd Gitlin, a founder of Students for a Democratic Society, which organized the first national protests against the Vietnam War. He pointed out that violent acts committed by a few will almost always hijack the narrative of the entire protest, and that it is happening now should be no surprise.
Gitlin also described what he sees as a push by the anti-fascist — also called “antifa” — movement to put “themselves on the map of protest” by using violence to “intimidate” both political opponents and those on the left who promote non-violence. One of the biggest banners at the Berkeley demonstration carried the message “Avenge Charlottesville.”
Former Berkeley student radical Jo Freeman was less kind. She compared Antifa to those who threatened freedom marchers in the South during the 1960s.
Political scientist Jo Freeman, part of the radical student movement that forced UC Berkeley to permit political speech five decades ago, said she was dismayed at the effort that went into silencing opposition. She drew similarities between those who threatened her and other freedom marchers in the South in the 1960s, and those who bully the far right now.
“It is not uncommon for societies to produce a hate squad,” Freeman said. “People who want to suppress the right to speak — they are everywhere.”
Earlier this month Noam Chomsky described Antifa as “a major gift to the Right.” He went on to say, “what they do is often wrong in principle – like blocking talks – and [the movement] is generally self-destructive.”
Update: Even Nancy Pelosi is condemning Antifa today:
Our democracy has no room for inciting violence or endangering the public, no matter the ideology of those who commit such acts. The violent actions of people calling themselves antifa in Berkeley this weekend deserve unequivocal condemnation, and the perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted.
In California, as across all of our great nation, we have deep reverence for the Constitutional right to peaceful dissent and free speech. Non-violence is fundamental to that right. Let us use this sad event to reaffirm that we must never fight hate with hate, and to remember the values of peace, openness and justice that represent the best of America.
Better late than never I guess.