While some on the far-right are petitioning to label anti-fascist organizers (commonly referred to as antifa) as terrorists, those very activists are effectively combating hate in the public sphere.
In Boston, tens of thousands turned out to counter-protest a radical right-wing gathering. Rather than merely representing conservative Americans, the speakers invited to the Boston rally included a Holocaust-denier, a far-right conspiracy theorist, and an alt-right agitator known for physical violence. Emboldened by Charlottesville and the rise of Donald Trump, fringe figures have come out the woodwork, resuscitating extremist ideologies that many thought long-dead.
Yet those gathered to hear these alt-right luminaries were outnumbered by the counter-protesters four-to-one. In these moments, the country is starting to see the boundaries and limitations of Trump’s hate-filled movement.
There are, certainly, some among the “antifa” movement that have committed property damage or engaged in violence with those on the far-right. But as we saw in Charlottesville and in Boston, the composition of those gathered to combat racism stretches across political, social, economic, and ethnic spheres. The one thing they collectively embody is an opposition to ideologies that promote genocide.
Dressed in the guise of supporting the First Amendment, it’s clear that these alt-right rallies revolve around a bizarre constellation of vitriolic beliefs regarding marginalized groups that stem from the tech-savvy brand of prejudice that helped propel Trump to power. But in wake of Boston’s enormous ant-fascist turnout, other “free speech” rallies have been called off.
ACT for America – a radical anti-Islamic organization – had planned 67 rallies across the country on September 9 to protest “political correctness.” After Boston, the organization is having an online day of action instead.
Some are criticizing these cancellations as a chilling effect on free speech. But there is no obligation for others to leave virulent hate speech unaddressed. While many hate-filled ideologues feel emboldened, the existence of a vibrant anti-racist movement will go a long way ensuring that the far-right’s ascent does not go unchecked.