The fake right-wing conversation that maintains we’re all confused about whether or not it’s cool to be a neo-Nazi is too stupid a discussion to have. If you think the violent right-wing extremists upholding America’s legacy of white terror are being too harshly judged, you most definitely are not among their targets, nor are you earnestly concerned about the very real threat they pose to those who are. There’s no honest debate to be had here, just another idiotic exchange Donald Trump has lured some of us into. If you need proof of how utterly absurd this thinking is, try applying that brand of false equivalency on a global scale. When average white Americans are the presumed targets, “many sides” adherents are pretty much guaranteed to stop arguing all violence is equal.
Part of this absurd effort to somehow make antifa into a hate group takes place online in the places where memes and hoaxes are born. The alt-right is essentially an outgrowth of the internet, and its members and sympathizers are adept at using social media to spread toxic misinformation about antifa. Buzzfeed reported in May that there’s been a recent boom in “the creation of fake Twitter accounts that claim to be linked to activists in the United States who call themselves anti-fascists, or Antifa.” Those fake accounts and bots spend a lot of time sharing lies or misrepresentations that can go viral, make the news and allow them to control the narrative. While antifa members are in Texas helping flood victims (alongside Black Lives Matter activists), neo-Nazis and alt-right trolls are cranking out campaigns to confuse people who just heard about antifa last week.
Here are six examples of fake news about antifa.
1. The totally fake antifa campaign to punch white women
Unsurprisingly, it was in the festering bowels of the site that an alt-right troll hatched the idea to smear antifa activists by creating a phony leftist campaign encouraging physical violence against women right-wingers. A recovered 4chan post explicitly instructing the site’s troll army to find graphic domestic violence images, pair them with messages stating the abuse was deserved for political reasons, and add hashtags including #PunchANazi, #RacistWhiteWomen and #PunchWhiteWomen. (Can we pause here to recognize the irony of far-right neo-Nazis subconsciously recognizing the racism and benevolent sexism that makes white women the necessary targets of this campaign to elicit national outrage? I mean, the layers.)
Within hours of the plan’s conception, a horde of fake antifa social media bots — and there are many — were tweeting out the images, as were actual right-wing stars like Infowars’ Joseph Paul Watson. Salon notes that “one commenter claimed to have emailed news outlets to see ‘if theyll take the bait,’ as they pretended to be an antifa activist.” Before the right-wing blogosphere could fall for the plot, the whole thing was unraveled by Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins, who dug up the actual roots of the campaign and tweeted evidence implicating 4chan’s alt-right trolls in the hoax. (!!!)
— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) August 24, 2017
2. The guy who lied about a nonexistent black man attacking him for his haircut
On August 16, when post-Charlottesville racial tensions were running particularly high and neo-Nazis were the lede of every news item, Colorado’s Joshua Witt apparently felt like the odd racist out and decided to get his own 15 minutes of fame. Witt posted a Facebook update claiming a stranger in a fast-food restaurant parking lot had attempted to stab him for his “neo-Nazi” haircut. He reportedly gave police a detailed assailant description of a “black man in his mid 20s, 5ft 10in, wearing a green shirt and blue pants” — because why shouldn’t some innocent African American already feeling traumatized by current national events, not to mention the daily racism of American life, go to jail because someone is an attention-seeking pile of sentient human garbage? As Gizmodo notes, right-wing media ate the fakery up, with the Alex Jones Show, Inside Edition and Fox News all repeating the story.
Police figured out Witt was lying for a number of reasons: at the time of the fake attack, he no longer had the “fashy” haircut he claimed prompted it, there were no witnesses from the packed parking lot and the surveillance cameras hadn’t documented anyone running away from the scene. You know what the cameras did pick up? Video of Witt buying a knife at a nearby store.
Confronted with the evidence, Witt admitted he’d actually stabbed himself. He was arrested for making a false report, and now faces up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,650.
3. The fake antifa photo used by right-wing fake news factories, including James Woods
Actor James Woods, who promised he was quitting Twitter last year but keeps right on yapping away, spends a lot of time tweeting semi-racist, misogynist, Trump-obsessed alt-right memes. (Terrible work if you can get it and you're terrible enough to want it.) About a week after Charlottesville, he tweeted this photo and hashtagged it #Hategroup and #Antifa. The problem is that it isn’t a picture of American antifa in 2017, but of anti-fascists in Dover, England, in 2015. Vice, which originally published the photo, was actually moved to call out Woods and the many other right-wing entities that have gotten the backstory wrong in employing the photo for their own propagandist ends. Vice writes:
The image has been used in, among other things, an article calling an anti-Trump protest in November "terrorism"; an article comparing anti-fascists to the KKK, saying they're "affiliated with the Democrats"; a conspiracy website's write-up of a story about a different anti-fascist in Pennsylvania who actually did get arrested for attacking a police horse; an "open letter" to anti-fascists from a "patriot" threatening them with violence; an Infowars story about MSNBC and CNN purportedly "promoting" anti-fascist violence; a blog post about a petition for the White House to recognise Antifa as a terrorist group; and "Texas: Antifa Faggots SHUT DOWN by Brave Nazi Warriors" on a website called Jew World Order.
The piece goes on to note that “James Woods' tweet...denies people defending themselves against fascists any context or rationale, and suggests they're weirdos who go around poking strangers with sticks for no reason, even if they're actually facing up to people who venerate death squads.”
It seems worth adding that the history of the photo is yet more proof that the right wing actually loves fake news, as long as they’re responsible for making it. Woods never apologized for or took down the photo.
4. Another fake antifa photo right-wingers Photoshopped to tell a narrative lie
In the ongoing effort to prove the #ManySides theory that fascism and racism are exactly like anti-fascism and anti-racism, this photo was shared across conservative echo chambers in the days after Charlottesville. It purports to show a member of antifa — you can tell by the logo on the attacker’s jacket — beating a police officer during the “Unite the Right” rally. What it actually shows is a Getty image from Greece in 2009. Some neo-Nazi supporter Photoshopped the patch onto the protester’s back. Because no low is too low.
Snopes debunked the image, and even went through the trouble of creating a video explainer, below.
Fact Check: Antifa Member Photographed Beating Police Officer?
— snopes.com (@snopes) August 15, 2017
5. The anti-antifa flyers encouraging the murder of white children
A pretty good rule of thumb for distinguishing neo-Nazi propaganda from antifa materials is that the latter doesn't contain blatant anti-Semitic slurs. I mean, that’s kind of the major point of contention between these two factions. That was apparently lost on the dumb neo-Nazis who came up with this fake antifa flyer; they stuck an anti-Jewish epithet right at the top of it, maybe not realizing they basically left a neo-Nazi calling card. Who talks about “heeb masters” except white racist conspiracy nuts who think the George Soros-funded globalist NWO is going to elect a Muslim chemtrail for president? They literally couldn’t even suppress their Jew hatred for the one hour — maybe two, tops — it takes to design a pamphlet free of slurs so it could pass for the real thing.
Also, it openly advocates for the murder of white children, which is totally a thing a group would publicly hand out flyers for. They would also make sure to stamp said call for murder with their logo.
The other telltale giveaways are enumerated by @AntifaNYC, which gave Snopes a rundown of the obvious fails:
- there is no such group called the “national antifa front.” there is only one national group in the US and it is the Torch Antifa Network. And I can only think of one antifa group that uses the term “front” — and none use the term “national,” which in the context of our work has a far right connotation.
- No one wants to kill white people. This is a perverted reading of the idea of the “abolition of the white race” which says that the CONCEPT of whiteness needs to be dispensed with — NOT literally harming anyone. no antifa ever says things like the “evil white race.”
- no antifa would ever use this language of the “to do what must be done,” “after the purge,” or “workers paradise.” this is a cartoonish image of Stalinism. most antifa are anarchists [and] are opposed to all this.
6. The Antifa Manual, a poor simulacrum of an antifa how-to guide
There are countless numbers of fake African-American Twitter accounts set up by alt-right members and other assorted racists. You can usually tell they're fake because they’re jam-packed with uncreative stereotypes: forced hip-hop slang, references to stuff racist white people think all black people are into, “black names” that sound like they were made up by racist white people, and on and on you get the point. Basically, if it seems like the profile came out of a racist Trump supporter’s fever dream, it probably did.
My point is, lack of nuance or subtlety is a recurring theme with these anti-antifa campaigns. The Antifa Manual, which recently made the rounds among right-wingers, is a distillation of nonsensical antifa urban legends and liberal stereotypes. Some posters claimed it was found at — where else? — Evergreen College. The cover states, “Do not distribute to any cis white males, non-PoC, non-LGBTQ peoples a.k.a. fascists” because the person who wrote it clearly overlooked the fact that cis white males actually dominate antifa spaces. (Under any other conditions, that fact would make white racists proud, actually.) Throughout the seven-page “manual,” which you should really check out for yourself, are ridiculous ideas that right-wingers imagine black leftists fantasize about, run through a machine that imbues them with the racism of the right.
“Those who can’t work will be provided a stipend and unlimited supply of opiates, marijuana, meth and cocaine to occupy their free time,” one passage declares. “Container ship after container ship will be converted to massive passenger cruise-liners and will ferry poverty-stricken brown people from around the world to the (former) United States and Western Europe,” states another passage.