by Ramin Mazaheri
It’s been amusing to hear American journalists mispronounce Antifa: “An-TEEF-a, is it?”
Well, in many ways they are lucky because the “Anti-Fascists” are as chummy with the media as they are with fascists and the police. I know that because since 2010 I’ve been reporting from France’s protest trenches with Antifa on one side, riot police on the other, and us media in the middle.
I’m not surprised that Americans don’t know Antifa – they had so very, very few protests at all from around 1975 until now. (This is a great, and predicted, byproduct of a Hillary loss.)
France has 10 demonstrations a day and Antifa is likely to be at the leftist ones. Antifa is even rarer in that their graffiti is not just boring bubble letters but calls to revolution and reminders of leftist causes. (For a country with such a history of success in painting, France’s graffiti sure is terrible….)
Due to the unrest in Charlottesville, the hugely anti-Trump mainstream media’s current “flavor of the month” is Antifa. I thought I should share my many nose-to-nose experiences with them, and I’d also like to get my two cents in before the mainstream media inevitably sours on these sincere Leftists.
The most crucial fact which is never reported is: Antifa almost never engages in senseless destruction. Yes they smash things, but I’ve had the shards wedged in my shoes and it is always the same few targets: banks, real estate agencies, advertising – all symbols of unjust wealth and reactionary capitalism. This message is 100% clear, even if it goes unreported.
Antifa is, without a doubt, ideologically sound in many, many ways. They are politically intelligent, modern and motivated.
In this age of fake-leftism Antifa is one of the few groups who consistently show up for the best causes in France. That’s a testament to the fact that Antifa is on the proper side of the key issues, and are willing to get involved. Antifa is not the “good girl in the classroom” – they don’t care about uselessly maintaining a spotless “permanent record”, and they are even willing to take lumps and arrests for leftist causes.
However, a fair chunk of Antifa is also teenagers with equal amounts raging hormones, the admirable youthful demand for righteous behavior, and a lust for violence.
And personal issues, too. I could have sworn I once heard a French protester throw something at a riot cop and shout, “Now how does THAT feel, convenient stand-in for my father?!”
Maybe I just imagined it…back then my French wasn’t so great.
But Antifa has zero-tolerance for right-wing injustice: they’d fit in great in communist-inspired places like Cuba, Iran and China. As far as the US…I remember watching video of a recent demonstration in Chicago that was brought to a halt by two bicycle cops. Sheesh, that was disheartening…Antifa wouldn’t have stopped marching for cops in shorts, at least.
Antifa has very excellent, honorable ideas in the main, but I denigrate the worst of them as “leftist-fascists”, even though some disagree with that term. But I know exactly what Trump meant when he said “violence on both sides” because I’ve seen it over and over firsthand.
Like any force or tool, it’s mainly a question of how Antifa can be best applied in order to promote leftist change.
Hey Antifa – is there ANY role for media in your societal view?
For Antifa, there is no “good” media. We are all dogs/prostitutes/sellouts/phonies, etc.
“I’m on your side,” I have cried a million times, “and I’m the only media who even bothered to attend this protest for God’s sake!”
It’s also a major problem that I’m Iranian media: a major proportion of Antifa are hardcore atheists, after all. And I deal with FRENCH hardcore atheists – think of Charlie Hebdo, and you’ll catch my drift. These types understand the Iranian Revolution about as much as they comprehend particle physics. Showing up in a beard – as I currently do – is enough to draw a hassle from these ones, but such Islamophobia is usually confined to mainly to the older generation. The younger generation is far more tolerant of Muslims, thankfully. But these older types of Antifa are clearly fake leftists who are just Eurocentrists at heart…and more than a few can’t seem to demonstrate without alcohol, either.
But I don’t think there’s any media – except maybe for whoever runs an Antifa blog – who is openly welcomed.
That’s the first problem I would remedy with Antifa. Obviously it’s not the main issue, perhaps, but I’m the one writing this and, as a TV journalist, I am an open target thanks to the attention that a camera and lights naturally attract.
Part of the problem is that everyone – not just Antifa – thinks that TV reporters are jerks: that became obvious to me during my first week of journalism school.
However, my background is in newspapers and I didn’t start working in TV until I was 32. (Ahh, the good old days: Standing in the background, not shaving before work, not feeling like a dancing monkey in a spotlight. And nobody feels nervous giving an interview into a tape recorder.)
Cameramen, however, basically have to be jerks: in order to get the crucial footage they really do require pushing their way to the front. While a few are just apolitical adrenaline junkies, most are just plain surly. So when some Antifa takes it upon himself to play the role of security/vigilante and asks my cameraman what media he works for, my comrade puts down his camera, looks this tough-mugging Antifa in the eye and coolly says: “I’m in radio.” And that’s when he’s feeling polite.
And then I gotta break it up, LOL! Although I’m not Mother Theresa at every Antifa provocation either, as my cameraman points out to me.
Keeping an eye on Antifa is part of my job because I also work as the cameraman’s bodyguard, as he can’t film and see around him at the same time, eh? More accurately, we are both the bodyguard of the $10-$20,000 camera, so he doesn’t lose his job.
So, between a cameraman who sticks up for the rights of a free press, a camera, an Iranian credential, and a bourgeois journalism degree…let’s just say that Antifa and I have a strictly professional relationship. Frankly, everyone here in France has a story of how the French far-left has stupidly mistreated them, but that is another subject.
Bottom line: any TV journalist will tell you that Antifa is more of a threat to us than cops, because a camera is enough to keep a cop in line – they can’t beat on the press without consequences. Of course, Antifa isn’t firing flash balls, water cannons, etc.
And with cops there’s another easy tactic, which you can use as well: just talk English. They know they can beat on local protesters, but foreigners? That’ll get them in real trouble. Speak a foreign language to a cop who’s bothering you and they’ll immediately find someone else to go harass.
Fascists are holding society back, not Antifa
As regards the US, I wonder at the efficacy of aggressively combating a few hundred Charlottesville bozos who will just crawl back under their rock: it’s the rampant institutional White Nationalism that is the problem there.
Obviously, a huge difference is that the far-right in Charlottesville was carrying semi-automatic weapons. Well, that’s a rather atypical problem…but I wonder if Lenin would have encouraged dying on that particular day for that particular struggle, given my previous paragraph?
However, beyond any numerical doubt, the largest numbers of fascists are in the police force. For example, more than half of cops in France voted for the far-right this year. And in 2015 also, so it’s not as if these are enlightened anti-Macronists.
It’s appalling that the revelation of this extremist imbalance sparked no overhaul of the police force, nor even any calls for that in France’s mainstream media. Obviously the cops are there to defend the 1%, and the mainstream media protects the 1%, and not The People. From Kiev’s police station to the US, the situation is the same anywhere socialism is not.
And The People know this everywhere: When I was covering the 2011 Egyptian Revolution at Tahrir Square I was dangerously harassed by the black-vested police, only to be saved by members of the army – and this was exactly the same experience as the Egyptian People reported over and over. (And the Egyptian army did save them and did not turn on The People…temporarily.) Except for maybe only the US, the army is always viewed as the true defenders of The People, while everyone knows the police are dangerous tyrants to be avoided. One is defending the country – the other is offending it.
The only exceptions to this rule that I have personally seen are in Cuba and Iran, where explicitly-named Revolutionary Guards corps play a major policing role (my Chinese is non-existent, so I’m not sure about them). These groups have the respect, dignity and pride of those who protect a modern revolution: One cannot compare them with mere police who, only 6 months of training/far-right jingoistic indoctrination earlier, were the Clockwork Orange thugs on the other side.
France’s riot police are all failed rugby players who are there to have fun cracking heads. Playing their game is useless energy…but many in Antifa love to play it. But France’s police force, like all police, cannot be politically neutralized by smashing advertising…as much as we’d all love to take a hammer to the “attempted mental rape” that is advertising.
In the US…well, it’s appalling to see how the media salaams at every mere mention of the police, as if they were revolutionary anything….
Antifa is morally & politically right, but that doesn’t make them leaders
Antifa often thinks they are the leaders, though. They push to the front of the protest and rage away. Or they are at the sides and providing security with all the unnecessary arrogance and intimidation tactics used by any mercenary security force of France’s politicians or stars.
If Antifa is leading your protest, that is a big problem.
It is no joke that those at the front – those facing the cops – should be women and the elderly, preferably holding babies. This is what works, as proven in the French and Russian Revolutions. The reasoning is obvious: the cops will have no compunction about thwacking a frothing male, but these other types of humans give them pause. Please consider this seriously, ladies and elderly.
I’ve never read Sun Tzu, but it seems to me the feng shui place for Antifa is at the center of the protest, providing the belly fire, and also sheltered from the situations they inevitably get into that only allow the police to justify violence.
Indeed, the worst place for Antifa is at the front: they antagonize the riot police, get them all hyped up, and after the initial adrenaline burst Antifa really just drains energy from the crowd. The reason for that is simple: For every 20 protests Antifa and other hardcore protesters only attempt to break through the police line once. It’s a lotta boring “will they or won’t they try” for the media and protesters alike; it’s terrible leadership (take note, ladies and elderly, and push them aside). It’s also a lotta political safety-valve behavior on a societal level…and that must theoretically translate into “wasted political energy”.
There are radical times when Antifa does need to be at the front, and they have actually come bursting through the arbitrary, provocative and anti-democratic lines of authoritarian dominance. When it happens it is thrilling and necessary.
I remember the very first protest after the state of emergency was first declared in 2015. It was just 9 days after the Bataclan Massacre, but Antifa, far-leftists and myself could never accept the state’s logic that a ban on street gatherings was necessary due to fight terrorism, especially in the context of an austerity war being waged against the 99%. And so a planned pro-refugee rally refused to be cancelled – the right to freedom of assembly would not be restricted. The protest was attended by only the truly committed because nobody know how bad the police repression would be. There was nearly no mainstream media, who towed the state propaganda line.
Here’s the report I did, and I made sure to describe the street tactic needed to defeat a police line.
That protest really felt like a victory, and it was: The People proved they would not be cowed by the most dangerous force – the domestic government, not foreign terrorism. All credit goes to Antifa (you can see their flags in the video) and the other true leftists who defeated those unquestioning, dimwitted cops, who were truly just defending an imaginary goal line and not any modern, political, moral value.
But that was a special occasion. I can think of many, many other occasions where Antifa did not break through.
The worst part of Antifa: They can make the Left look bad and the Right look justified
The biggest problem is that Antifa gives the government and the far-right cover for increased repression and false flags. I do not write “false flags” lightly – I am a professional journalist and demand proof.
However, I refer you to an infamous attack on the Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris last year:
This was during the height of the protests against the labor code rollback (there’s another one coming next month). It was a union-led demonstration and, as was common then, there were dozens of people hurt and arrested. Water cannons were used, arrests of democratic protesters, street violence, etc.
So, a couple of masked vandals walked up to Paris’ top hospital for kids and smashed 15 full-length windows.
Of course, the Necker Hospital Attack provoked huge, nationwide outrage. Such a thing is totally indefensible. (Why were there no cops around a top hospital amid a planned demonstration, and how could vandals have the time to smash not 1 but 15 windows? That was totally ignored.)
The prime minister seized upon it immediately to delegitimize the protesters, increase the use of police violence and to ban further protests. And who was going to defend – in the media, in the government, maybe even in the café – protesters who attacked a children’s hospital?
The incident could not have done more to retard the struggle against austerity…and that’s why no one on the left would have done it!!!!! I’ll go to my grave thinking that it was cops, or government-paid thugs, who were behind the attack.
It is absolutely impossible that Antifa, or any leftist, would do such a thing.
And look at the timing, which is now totally forgotten: It was only the day after the attack – with the protesters now totally delegitimized – that the government FINALLY agreed to meet with the head of the main union DESPITE three months of regular protests…ugh. They met for just 90 minutes – a show meeting, sure to draw even more ill-will towards the unions, strikers and leftists.
A key hint that it was some stupid cop was in the idiotic graffiti on the hospital, which read: “Never work!”
That’s absolute nonsense and pure propaganda, obviously designed to play on the most absurd image of the true left as “lazy”…. Only a meathead cop could come up with something so uninformed and stereotypical. Antifa would never, ever write that.
Nor even an anarchist: Anarchists want near-total control over their work, not to “not work” for their daily bread.
And anarchists don’t want society to “not work”, either – another stereotype – as their goal is not chaos. They want as much power devolved from the state to the individual as possible, just like Libertarians in the US.
Not that many are interested enough in politics to have read about anarchism and to get beyond this level of miscomprehension. But the only group which truly wants to “not work” is…the rich capitalists who want to retire at 40 and spend the rest of their life on the beach! And that is undeniable!
Of course, I remain adamant that Antifa was not responsible for the Necker Hospital attack and that it does not remotely resemble their tactics.
But the reality is…I get paid to cover politics, while most do not. The average person has other outside interests, and they may not be politically discerning.
Antifa needs to realize that there is a real blowback for every act of political violence. In the end, Antifa needs to question if – for example – the best way to get homeless families into the 20% of Paris apartments which sit empty is by smashing up real estate agencies?
Or if the best way to promote understanding is by trying to intimidate journalists into leaving? I put MY name on my work and don’t cover MY face, at least….
Antifa as teddy bears – is that impossible?
The bottom line is that Antifa are fine, admirable leftists who would do greatly valued work in a leftist society, acting as a muscular vanguard against reactionary backsliding.
France and America are not such societies.
In fact, France and America are such hugely militaristic, gun-loving, police-worshipping, imperialistic societies that Leftists must take care as to which parts of their society they choose to provoke. Provoking the military industrial complex? That’s something. Protesting against the deification of cops? That’s something too. Joining protest groups like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel – only made illegal in “free speech-loving” France – that’s really tough!
But provoking the kind of lowdown, pathetic people on whom I would never even bestow my beloved label of “White Trash”? That’s kind of low hanging fruit, no?
Theoretically, Antifa…I’m not criticizing you very harshly. You mostly know your stuff, and that’s good enough for me.
Psychologically, as I joked earlier, your aggression is too easily misdirected. You act as if EVERYONE is the enemy. Antifa’s biggest problem is this sense of victimhood, and their apparent perception that no one loves them.
We love ya Antifa!
But do ya have to act like it would kill ya to show that you love us back?
If it does, then you are guilty of failing to put your leftist principles in to action, because love – solidarity, communal harmony, equality – is the motivating force of any effective Leftist.
Antifa could use some love. I’d give it to them, if they’d only let us.
Good luck in the States!
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television.