Sunday’s counterprotests against the white nationalist “Unite the Right 2” rally in Washington, DC, were largely peaceful. Thousands of people held multiple rallies across the city to celebrate diversity and push back against the hateful views the white nationalists espouse.
But a few left-wing “antifa” (short for “anti-fascist”) counterprotesters did engage in violence, throwing eggs and water bottles and shooting fireworks at police officers and some journalists who were covering the demonstrations.
NPR reporter Tim Mak captured video of the scene:
Masked antifa launch fireworks, water bottles, eggs at cops— Tim Mak (@timkmak) August 12, 2018
Secret service has backed off pic.twitter.com/Jrru0by0WM
Mak also narrowly missed getting hit with an egg himself:
Dodged an egg thrown at my head from inside the Antifa crowd as NPR's Brian Mann narrated pic.twitter.com/wQKUdSCirw— Tim Mak (@timkmak) August 12, 2018
Demonstrators also clashed with journalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, during an event marking the one-year anniversary of the killing of Heather Heyer by a Unite the Right participant at the first rally.
NBC News’s Cal Perry posted video of protesters shoving their hands into his camera, trying to cover the lens and asking him to stop filming:
Protesters very aggressive with media. #Charlottesville pic.twitter.com/CSYNyvBbeG— Cal Perry (@CalNBC) August 12, 2018
A bit later, Perry posted another video of a protester shouting, “Fuck you, snitch-ass news bitch! Fuck you!” and aggressively swatting away Perry’s camera:
“Fu** you, snitch ass news bitch. Fu** you”. #Charlotsville pic.twitter.com/JPl3480FUG— Cal Perry (@CalNBC) August 12, 2018
This is not the first time antifa protesters have been violent. In August 2017, about 100 anarchists and antifa members assaulted far-right demonstrators who were marching peacefully in Berkeley, California, with pepper spray, water bottles, and direct physical assault.
As Vox’s German Lopez wrote at the time, “The argument for antifa activists is that the current crop of right-wing protesters — which are partly but not entirely made up of neo-Nazis, KKK members, and other white supremacists and nationalists — are so extreme that they must be stopped swiftly and even violently.”
Antifa supporters worry that if these groups’ views aren’t completely robbed of any kind of platform, they could gain legitimacy — and take advantage of democratic ideals like free speech to, ironically, promote their undemocratic messages. Violence is one way to get them off the stage.
What this view misses is the backlash that may come from political violence: that such violence can reinforce right-wing views about the left. As Michael Kazin, a history professor at Georgetown University and editor of Dissent magazine, told me earlier this year, “[N]on-leftists often see [the left] as a disruptive, lawless force. Violence tends to confirm that view.”
This weekend in Charlottesville and DC, though, it wasn’t neo-Nazis and white supremacists the antifa attacked. It was police who were there to help keep the peace among all the demonstrators and journalists who were there to cover the events.
How that factors into antifa’s ideology is anyone’s guess.