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What does it mean to be anti-fascist?

In the first 2020 presidential debate, Joe Biden said "antifa is not an organization." Here's a look at what that means.

PORTLAND, Ore. — During the first 2020 presidential debate, President Donald Trump was asked by moderator Chris Wallace to condemn white supremacists and militia groups. 

Trump responded by urging presidential candidate Joe Biden to do the same with left-wing extremists. Biden proceeded to assert that “antifa is not an organization” and as such should not be subject to the same scrutiny as organized groups like the Proud Boys.

Tensions between anti-fascists and right-wing extremist groups like Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys have escalated since ongoing Black Lives Matter protests began this summer following the death of George Floyd. There has also been increasing confusion over what it means to be anti-fascist.

Anti-fascism can be understood as a broad social movement without a leader that works to fight against authoritarian and fascist politics, often associated with homophobia, racism, and xenophobia. 

While anti-fascism is complex and dynamic in its presentation, it is important to understand that it is an idea propelling social movement, as opposed to an organization with membership and established leaders. While certain groups can subscribe to anti-fascist ideology, there is no central governing body and no defined roles.

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Anti-fascism exists in stark contrast to Patriot Prayer, a far-right group founded by Vancouver, Washington resident and former Proud Boy member Joey Gibson. Gibson has initiated a call to arms in response to the growing antifa movement in Portland and is the designated leader of the extremist group. 

In the Pacific Northwest, Proud Boys have marched alongside Patriot Prayer on multiple occasions. The two groups have many associations, and both include active membership.

A study done by Samantha Kutner for the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism found that there are four levels to Proud Boy membership:

  • The first requires an initiate to state the Proud Boys fraternity creed
  • The second level involves inflicting pain on the initiate until he can name five breakfast cereals while enduring the pain. Only then does he become an official member. 
  • The third level to Proud Boy membership entails getting a tattoo with phrases and symbols relating to Proud Boys. 
  • The fourth and final level to membership requires the Proud Boy to engage in violence on the group’s behalf.

There are no such requirements in place for being anti-fascist, and this distinction is important in that it underscores anti-fascism’s lack of organization. While the Proud Boys have a manifesto of sorts and an official website, antifa remains a political ideology lacking defined structure or membership.