The erosion and mischaracterization of the term "Antifa"

The truth of the term has been lost in ad hominem hysteria:

Lindsay Ayling, a 32-year-old doctoral student at the University of North Carolina's flagship Chapel Hill campus, is a fixture at counterprotests against neo-Confederates and other far-right group members. They often call her "antifa," a label she accepts "in the sense that I oppose fascism and I am willing to go and confront fascists on the streets."

"The thing that's so dangerous about labeling anyone who is antifascist as a terrorist is that it's criminalizing thought," she said. "Not just thought, but it's criminalizing active resistance to fascism."

Before we get into the details of this transformation, let's talk about "branding." About fashioning catchy terms that roll off the tongue nicely, are easy to remember, short enough they can be written in bold letters on a protest sign, etc. Works good in advertising products, but not always so good in social messaging. In this case, we left the negative (anti) completely intact, but shortened the villain (fascist) to only the first two letters. Derrida would not be impressed, nor would he be surprised the term is so misunderstood by many. And by chopping the word "fascist" into a nice little two-letter bite, we've also lost an opportunity to educate those who don't understand what fascism means, those who would be forced to Google the term:

Fascism (/ˈfæʃɪzəm/) is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism[1][2] characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and of the economy[3] which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe.[4] The first fascist movements emerged in Italy during World War I, before spreading to other European countries.[4] Opposed to liberalism, Marxism, and anarchism, fascism is placed on the far right within the traditional left–right spectrum.[4][5][6]

There are better, more in-depth definitions out there, but I used the Wiki to show you what most folks would look at. The definition of "Fa" is the British Football Association. Which is actually soccer.

Back to the original article, which (believe it or not) was published in my hometown paper:

President Donald Trump has said the federal government would designate antifa as a "terrorist organization" and has blamed it for violence at protests against racial injustice and police brutality. Attorney General William Barr has claimed groups using "antifa-like tactics" fueled violent clashes in Minneapolis after the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes.

However, FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional panel last Thursday that antifa is more of an ideology or a movement than an organization. While the FBI has had domestic terrorism investigations of "violent anarchist extremists, any number of whom self identify with the antifa movement," Wray noted that extremists driven by white supremacist or anti-government ideologies have been responsible for most deadly attacks in the U.S. over the past few years.

Ayling said the first person to call her an antifa leader was a Florida man, Daniel McMahon, who dubbed himself "the Antifa hunter" online. McMahon was sentenced to more than three years in prison after pleading guilty in April to using social media to threaten a Black activist to deter the man from running for office in Charlottesville.

Far-right extremists aren't the only ones who use the term against her, Ayling said. Last week, she posted a video of herself asking Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson why he and his deputies were "breaking the law" by not wearing masks at the scene of a protest in North Carolina.

"Ma'am, why are you breaking the law? We know you're with antifa," the sheriff responded.

She should have asked him, "Do you even know what that word means?" He should, being the Sheriff of a county with 169,509 people living in it, #16 out of 100. But it's a good bet he doesn't, or has conveniently "forgotten" the fascist part.

From this point on, stop using the abbreviated term in conversation or commentary. Because it's time to put the Fascists back on the public shaming square.



The thing that makes me crazy about that term...

is how many people who should know better (especially in the media) mispronounce it, either intentionally or in imitation of those who do so intentionally. The way you often hear it is as "an tee fa", which not only obscures the "fascist" part but also obscures the "anti-" part. To be true to the intent of the original unabbreviated term, it should be more like "antī (or antē, depending on your accent) fa", so that at least the first part's meaning isn't lost. That large swaths of the media picked up the rightwing's deliberate mispronunciation, meant from the outset to obscure the real meaning of the term for the uninitiated public, shows just how poor many in the media have become at their job of educating the public about the true nature of the issues before it.