With the tragedy of the Charlottesville murder of Heather Heyer and the increasingly angry response to Nazi and fascist marches, some are trying to figure out, or attempting to lump Nazis in with, the “antifa” movement. But nailing down exactly what antifa — short for “anti-fascist” — is … well, that’s far more complicated than figuring out where Nazis stand.
Anti-fascists aren’t really one particular group. Really, in the broadest sense, anybody opposed to Nazis is “anti-fascist.” And anti-fascism, including acts of aggression, has long, long roots, going back to the very beginning, when Italian leftist groups organized against Mussolini. American anti-fascism has, in part, a history in the punk scene, where fascism was such a problem that “Nazi Punks F*ck Off” by the Dead Kennedys became the rallying cry of a protest movement, where the aforementioned Nazi punks were often beaten up.
In the modern U.S., the label tends mostly to be applied to more militant leftist groups that are more likely to use aggressive tactics against fascists and racists. That said, that’s still overly broad. Some specifically use the label, such as NYC Antifa. Still others are anti-government or anarchist groups that have taken up the label due to their belief that Trump is a fascist, although just how these terms are applied can vary from group to group. Others are simply organizations that will use a show of force, not necessarily violence, to go after and disrupt white nationalists and other fascist groups, such as, for example, forcing pro-fascist websites to change domains or outing fascists to friends, family and employers.
Despite what some, notably Trump, would insist, leftist groups are far from united on the behavior and tactics of groups that refer to themselves as antifa. Some are specifically peaceful groups, and there remains strong philosophical disagreement about whether violence is an effective protest tactic or even a worthy reaction to violence. A critical profile of the movement in The Atlantic notes that support for it has only recently become more prevalent among other left-leaning groups: