clock menu more-arrow no yes

“White supremacists are more afraid of us than we are of them.”

The self-appointed spokesperson of antifa talks to Vox

Left-wing antifa protesters rally against a far-right group in Madrid, Spain.
Left-wing antifa protesters rally against a far-right group in Madrid, Spain.
Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images

“I want to force them out of the shadows.”

That’s what Daryle Jenkins, a longtime activist and antifa member, told me in a recent interview. Antifa is a loose network of left-wing activists who physically confront and publicize the personal information of people they consider fascists.

These are the black-clad folks who show up at alt-right rallies or conferences in order to shut them down before they happen. Since the events in Charlottesville a few weeks ago, Jenkins has emerged as an unofficial spokesperson for antifa.

Jenkins is perhaps not what you’d expect the public face of antifa to look like. He’s 49 years old, an African American, and an Air Force veteran. He lives in Philadelphia but spends a lot of his time traveling around the country in pursuit of white supremacists.

He attends their conferences. He shows up at their rallies. He films them, takes their pictures, and exposes them publicly. This is what he’s done since 2000, when he co-founded One People’s Project, a watchdog group that tracks right-wing hate groups and maintains a database of their membership.

Unhappy with the media coverage of antifa, Jenkins has embraced the spotlight, hoping to dispel some of the myths around the group. In this interview, he responds to some of my objections to antifa. We also talk about his tactic of doxxing white supremacists (meaning he outs them to their employers and communities).

“My view is that you have to be aggressive. You have to expose these people,” Jenkins told me. “White supremacists are more afraid of us than we are of them. They know we can cause more damage to them than they can cause to us.”

Our full conversation, lightly edited for clarity, follows.

Sean Illing

Before we get into antifa, tell me about your personal politics.

Daryle Jenkins

For the last couple of years, I’ve increasingly come to think of myself as an anarchist, but for many years I simply identified as a leftist. These labels are slippery, as you know, so it’s never that simple. But generally speaking, I’m of the left.

Sean Illing

Those are very different things, right? An anarchist wants no government, a leftist wants more government, or at least better government.

Daryle Jenkins

The way I think of anarchism is that it refuses to recognize an authority that doesn’t deserve to be recognized. So I’m still comfortable supporting government so long as that government is just and upholds righteous principles.

What antifa stands for

Sean Illing

Let’s talk about antifa, the militant left-wing group that has received a lot of attention since Charlottesville. You’ve emerged as one of the faces of this group. Do you own that label?

Daryle Jenkins

Absolutely. I proudly stand with antifa, and I’ve always been antifa, even before people knew what that meant. People keep talking about antifa like it’s a comprehensive belief system, but it’s not. antifa, as a group, simply stands against fascists — and we fight them wherever they emerge. Once upon a time, anti-fascists were just called civil rights activists or anti-racist activists. So this isn’t exactly new or unusual.

Sean Illing

You know a lot of people would shudder at that comparison, right? The majority of the civil rights activists were nonviolent and engaged in organized acts of strategic civil disobedience. That’s not exactly what antifa is up to.

Daryle Jenkins

I agree with that. There’s definitely a tactical difference between antifa and Martin Luther King’s movement.

Jenkins (on the left) marches during a 2001 rally in the wake of riots in Cincinnati, Ohio, following a police shooting that killed 19 year old Timothy Thomas.

Sean Illing

Antifa endorses violence as a justifiable means, and I assume you do as well. Why?

Daryle Jenkins

I’m glad you brought this up, because I’ve noticed a lot of attention has been placed on antifa’s use of violence. But it’s not as though we’re running around like the nihilists in A Clockwork Orange looking for a nasty fight. Violence is not a central component of what we do and it’s definitely not the only thing we do. It’s not preferred or even the first option.

Sean Illing

And you, personally, how do you think about violence in defense of your political goals?

Daryle Jenkins

Look, I was a police officer in the Air Force. I was trained to deescalate situations. That’s how I approach things. I try as much as I can to deescalate, and if I can't, I’m prepared to do what I have to do to protect myself and anyone around me.

Sean Illing

I take that to mean you’re usually armed at events like Charlottesville?

Daryle Jenkins

Yes.

Sean Illing

Do you think your emphasis on deescalation is shared by most of the people in antifa?

Daryle Jenkins

While we do have some people who go on the offensive, that’s not what I do. I try to encourage folks to not put themselves in bad positions. I tell them to not make themselves the aggressor or the bad guy when you’re not. But what’s happened over the last couple of years is that the frustration levels have gone way up. People are lashing out now. There’s a desperation setting in and people don’t know what to do.

Sean Illing

Is this about Trump?

Daryle Jenkins

Of course it is. Everything really started to ratchet up during these Trump rallies. People were getting attacked by his supporters and he was encouraging it, celebrating it. We were asking, “How is he getting away with this?” These were peaceful protesters, and a candidate for president of the United States was cracking jokes about protesters leaving on “stretchers.” So we decided that this couldn’t go unanswered any longer; we had to fight back.

Sean Illing

Do you see the events in Charlottesville as a turning point? Because my sense is that things are going to get worse before they get better.

Daryle Jenkins

I don’t know. I think after Charlottesville, cooler heads can prevail. But I think the neo-Nazis who went to Charlottesville had to be reminded that we won’t stand for this, that we won’t allow them to be normalized. White supremacists needed to know that they aren’t a majority, that this is not the country they want it to be — not today, not ever.

Daryle Jenkins argues with white nationalist Richard Spencer outside the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

The art of doxxing neo-Nazis

Sean Illing

You’ve made a name for yourself traveling around the country and pestering white supremacist groups. You show up at their conferences and rallies. You film them, take their pictures, and then expose them online. Why?

Daryle Jenkins

My view is that you have to be aggressive. You have to expose these people. My vocation is journalism. I’m looking to gather information and bring it to light. This is the age of show us or it didn’t happen. So I show who these people are, what they do, and what they believe. I want to force them out of the shadows.

Sean Illing

When you say expose them, you mean dox them, right?

Daryle Jenkins

Exactly. Our belief is that we research and report on these groups and encourage communities to be proactive in dealing with them. This diminishes their ability to hide and function. This is why we expose them.

Sean Illing

So you take their pictures, find out their names, and share that information with their communities, their friends, their employers?

Daryle Jenkins

Yes, all of that. We share it with communities and employers in particular. We contact anybody that may be receptive to this particular information. Most importantly, we make sure it's on our website. We write new stories, and we also write mini-bios of various individuals as well. And that exposes them. They don't like that.

Sean Illing

How successful have you been in getting people fired or marginalized in their communities?

Daryle Jenkins

Fairly successful. We’ve ended campaigns, we’ve shut down conferences before they could happen, we’ve caused people to lose their jobs, and we’ve exposed a lot of people’s criminal records.

Sean Illing

I imagine you’ve made a lot of enemies. Any close calls?

Daryle Jenkins

The other sides know who I am. I’ve been threatened. The FBI once called me to let me know there was a credible threat to blow up my parent’s house. But look, white supremacists are more afraid of us than we are of them. They know we can cause more damage to them than they can cause to us.

The truth is that I try not to dwell on the risks. I take precautions. I do what I can. I make sure that I’m safe and that my family is safe. What else can I do?

Sean Illing

Why take on these risks? Why expose yourself in this way?

Daryle Jenkins

It has to be done. It’s really that simple. I’m not blind. I understand that there are real risks here. But there are also real risks for society. We can’t let these movements go unchallenged. And I have no problem putting myself on the front line.

Sean Illing

You’re also known for trying to engage with these people. What are you trying to understand? Something I’ve struggled with is trying to understand how some people, especially young people, get sucked into this world. There are obviously committed racists, people who’ve always been racists, but there are also some people whose lives are so empty, so marked by failure, that they get drawn into a movement that makes them feel important or meaningful. Are these the ones you try to reach?

Daryle Jenkins

You have to recognize that these people are still human, and a lot of them have all kinds of baggage. Take the guy who killed Heather Heyer at the Charlottesville rally. This is a guy who just failed at life. He was a guy who couldn’t hack it in the military, who beat up his own mother, and I’m sure becoming a white nationalist made his life more purposeful.

The point isn’t to sympathize with these people or to excuse what they do. I try to reach out when I can. I try to keep the door open as long as I can. But at the end of the day, these people are trying to hurt others and that comes first. That’s what we have to deal with, that’s what we have to stop, no matter what it takes. If I can help turn any of these people around, great. If not, I’ll see them in the streets.

Antifa protesters face off against white supremacists at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017.
Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Will antifa’s tactics backfire?

Sean Illing

I’m fine with the doxxing and the other nonviolent tactics, but I think antifa’s street tactics undermine their cause. I’m not a pacifist and I accept the utility of violence, but antifa isn’t merely squaring off against self-identified neo-Nazis. They also shut down obnoxious political entrepreneurs like Ann Coulter or professional trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos. Now these people may be assholes, but they’re not violent fascists. What cause is served by censoring their speech or violently disrupting their events?

Daryle Jenkins

I want folks to keep their heads about themselves whenever things start to go downhill, and I don’t want to see people just lashing out in anger. Now I realize some people won’t like what antifa does or what the Black Bloc does at these protest events, but you have to remember that people like Milo or Ann have serious problems and their speech is very destructive in its own way.

Sean Illing

But the question is, does shutting down the speech of people like Milo or Ann, who aren’t violent fascists, advance the anti-fascist cause? Using violence to stamp out speech is itself a kind of fascism.

Daryle Jenkins

I think this has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Personally, I want to hear from conservative voices. I want to hear what they believe and why they believe it. I think we need dialogue.

But when you have someone like a Pam Geller [who founded the group Stop the Islamization of America] who shows up on campuses not to engage in dialogue but to insult liberals and Muslims and to incite violence, we’re not merely talking about free speech here. Or when someone like Milo goes on stage and starts outing transgender students, I don’t think we can treat that as simply a free speech issue.

Sean Illing

Free speech doesn’t necessarily mean dialogue, right? It means we have the right to say offensive things, to be an asshole in public. Now I get that antifa doesn’t believe neo-Nazis have a right assembly or free speech, but a guy like Milo is in a different category, no?

Daryle Jenkins

He has the right to be an asshole. But we also have a right to deny him the forum to be an asshole if he's going to endanger other people or otherwise do harm. Like I said, I want to hear voices of conservatism. But this isn’t about conservatism anymore. People have a right to stand up and say, “You can’t come to our campus and insult us in this way and then deny us the right to respond.” I don’t endorse using violence in this context, but I stand by the people who say, “No, not here, not on our campus.”

Sean Illing

How do you see all this racial tension playing out? The alt-right is ascendant, the militant left is rising up in response to it. Are we falling into spiral of action, reaction, and escalation?

Daryle Jenkins

I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing. I really believe cooler heads will prevail. My response to critics is simple: If you think what antifa is doing is wrong, then you stand up and do what’s right. Do what you feel needs to be done out there. If you don’t think we have the answer, then you better be putting the solution into motion. You can’t be an armchair quarterback on this. You’ve got to do something.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.