Letter to the editor: Why are you not antifa?

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Antifa demonstrate in Portland, Oregon on Nov. 4, 2017. — Old White Truck via Flickr

By Kent Williams, Iowa City

The recent resignation of adjunct professor Jeff Klinzman from Kirkwood Community College has focused attention on the activist group antifa. On Aug. 22, KCRG’s Jeff Scheinblum aired an investigative report, digging up comments by Klinzman on Facebook that some people might find offensive, but the headline was Klinzman’s claim that he was antifa.

Antifa (short for anti-fascist) is a leaderless collection of people who communicate via social media and show up to oppose demonstrations by white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups. There is no organization and no manifesto except that they oppose fascism. There have been highly publicized incidents where antifa has had charged encounters with the groups they oppose, and more humorous incidents where public figures associated with racist and fascist groups are doused with milkshakes.

There is also a curious anti-antifa movement fueled by stories from Fox News and Breitbart. Even the president has said he’s thinking of designating antifa as a terrorist organization.

Scheinblum’s KCRG piece seizes on antifa as bogeymen, and used the term as a way to call Klinzman’s opinions into question.

After the story ran, and was picked up by Fox News, the Chronicle of Higher Education and other national media outlets, Kirkwood took away Klinzman’s fall class and he resigned. Kirkwood President Lori Sundberg said removing Klinzman from the classroom was due to safety concerns for students, faculty and staff. What she didn’t say was where the threat to safety was coming from. In a recent Gazette article, Klinzman says the Kirkwood administrators told him, “they were getting thousands of complaints. They were getting threats. People were threatening to burn down the college.”

Why are so many people so upset about antifa? Antifa has never been a threat to the general public, unlike the people they oppose. The overwhelming majority of domestic terrorism attacks in the United States are committed by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. One can certainly question antifa’s tactics, but making the argument that there is a moral equivalence between throwing a milkshake at someone and committing mass murder in a church is just crazy.

Opposing fascism isn’t something you need to do with baseball bats or milkshakes in the streets, but it is essential to the survival of democracy in the United States. It has never been as important as it is now. The president of the United States has encouraged white supremacists and neo-Nazis. He will deny it and claim that he is “the least racist person anywhere in the world.” But if you ask white supremacists and Nazis, they’ll tell you openly that he is encouraging them with what he says and what he does as president.

“Is Jeff Klinzman antifa?” is the wrong question to ask. The right question is “Why am I not antifa?” Do you support the Ku Klux Klan, the Proud Boys and the Aryan Nation, or do you oppose them? In 1770, philosopher Edmund Burke wrote, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

Burke’s words were relevant in his time, during the Second World War, and are still today. The difference between 1938 and today is that we live in a world where the news media and popular conservative figures are quicker to vilify those who oppose fascists than they are to condemn the fascists themselves. So let me ask again: Why are you not antifa?

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