From Moderate To Antifa

Submitted by Cass Biles on Mon, 02/10/2020 - 10:59 - 0 Comments

At 11 am on August 17th, 2019, hundreds of people flooded the streets of Portland. Divided by their clothing and signs, some sported black masks and dark shirts, holding a sickle and hammer in the air. Others propped red baseball caps on their heads, waving red, white, and blue flags high above. Along the waterfront they met, seeing nothing but monsters on the other side.

While these groups may seem outcast, strange, foreign even, the individuals that reside in them are normal people, just like you or me. In fact, some members of the famous “Antifa” ideology attend Lincoln, and many “to-be” members are students in our community. Far left-groups are increasingly made up of student and young adult members, with a prominent group, the Youth Liberation Front, including “Youth” in its title. This phenomenon of the young being associated with the progressive is not an uncommon one, and is generally an accepted stereotype that people tend to grow more conservative with age. The question remains however, what changes a relatively “normal” student or child to one with such passion that they willing to incite violence for their political beliefs? Is it purely environmental? Influence from adult figures? Is it simply hormonal, a mixture of angst and teen rebellion? Or is the stress of a much larger, scarier issue pressing people into these types of reactions? 

And, can it happen to anyone?

Dr. Randy Blazak, a Phd. in sociology and previous professor at PSU, is an expert in extremist groups. He agreed to sit down with me and discuss what has caused these groups to form, and what might cause someone to join them. “It’s a perfect storm of things that are happening in the world” he states, “we are going through  a lot of change all at the same time, and it’s happening very quickly...there’s kind of a freakout”. Blazak cites huge economic and cultural change as the main reasons for the development of alt-right groups, with this change creating anxiety, and want to return to “simpler” times. The formation of these alt-right groups is not a new phenomenon by any standard, with groups like the skinheads providing some historical context. When it comes to alt-left groups, Blazak references a past study done in the 60’s concerning Hippie culture, “when people are very clear about their values, and their values are challenged, they want to engage in some type of activism...the idea is that when you care about something, and are then shown why that thing is being threatened or challenged, you want to do something about it,” he explains, “ I suspect that this is similar phenomena of at least some of the antifa crowd.” Overall, he states that alt-left groups “tends to be less defensive, tends to be more, ‘I need to act on my values around the issues of fairness.’ ”

Additionally, Blazak states that the individual reason for a teen to join alt-left and right groups may have to do with isolation, and the strive for identity that so commonly accompanies adolescence. Obviously there are factors that determine whether people go left or right, but as Blazak says, “A lot of it comes from a need to belong, and a need to feel like you're part of a movement”. 

When talking to actual members of the antifa ideology, specifically those affiliated with a group called the “Youth Liberation Front”, they state more practical reasons to join. “Personally, I joined [the group] for my own safety,” one states, “We’re all sorta like a family...it’s just kinda a safety thing for us all to go together.” However, the actual cause for transition from a moderate view to a more radical one was said to be a mixture of personal experience with an unfair environment, influence of family and friends, and exposure to literature that preached that ideology. Online forums were also listed as an area of education and transition into the “antifa” ideology, and the 2016 elections were also described as a sort of ‘wake up call’. One member cited the cause of their transition to “Witnessing police brutality, and protest, and then getting arrested myself.” They went on to explain that “People don’t realize the insane amount of oppression going on until they experience it.”

The transition for most people was said to have started around 13-14 years old, with the Youth Liberation Front taking in people anywhere from 14 to their mid 20s. “Generally, people want to make some sort of change in the world, and they’re tired of this indirect action” a member said, “[they] want to make change, and they see that we’re organized, and we’re friendly.”

 

While these groups may see radical action as the main solution, Blazak encourages a strive for change within the system as opposed to outside. “Don’t be destructive for the sake of being destructive,” He says, “when I think of the private businesses that I spray painted on, I’m embarrassed, I wish I could go back and stop myself from spray painting...It didn’t accomplish anything...In fact, it probably hurt my cause, those people probably became republican because I spray painted an anarchy symbol on their businesses.” According to him, one of the greatest ways we can help is by showing our empathy and supporting those who are victims, “It helps the anxiety, the fear, and the trauma of the people being targeted, but also send a message to the people who are doing the hate: ‘I might look like you, or I might love like you, or I might pray like you, or I might be like you, but I’m not with you. Don’t think that just because I got white skin, or I’m in a male body, or I’m a straight person, that I’m on your side’...that is the most powerful message you can send”. He also states that,  “We have to think in practical terms about how we achieve our goals, and that's getting people registered to vote, that’s people informing people on issues...it's not quite as sexy...but the real nuts and bolts of our democracy is boring...that means knocking on doors, not smashing the doors down.” 

 

 

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