How violent Antifa really is

Antifa mythBetween engagement and violence

"Alerta, Alerta, Antifacista. Alerta, Alerta, Antifacista ..."

October 3, 2019, Day of German Unity in Berlin. Right-wing extremist demonstrators want to march through the government district from the main train station, accompanied by a massive police presence. Several hundred counter-demonstrators tried again and again to stop the train by sitting blockades. Police are pushing back the mostly younger protesters and clearing the demonstration route.

Typical scenes for what is called "anti-fascist protest".

The buzzword "Antifa" polarizes: On the one hand, hashtags like #DankeAntifa or #ichbinantifa appear on Twitter in Germany several times this year, on the other hand, politicians are calling for a ban on "Antifa" because they fear that democracy will be jeopardized.

The Antifa is not an organization

How imprecise the discussion about the catchphrase "Antifa" is, shows the debate about an application by the AfD in the Bundestag at the end of September 2019 to ostracize it. The speech by CDU MP Christoph Bernstiel is just one example:

"Why is an organization heard that injures our police officers, sets cars on fire, threatens politicians and publicly endangers the security of our country? The protection of the Constitution has been monitoring the Antifa for years, and rightly so: Heilgendamm, the opening of the ECB and the G20 summit in Hamburg have shown what the Antifa with all its subgroups is capable of ... "

(Deutschlandradio / Christian Röther)Liberation Theology: The Christian Antifa
The Liberation Theological Group Berlin sees itself as a left within the church. They fight against the right, get involved in queer issues and also pray at demos. They offend: in the churches and in the left.

In fact, contrary to the conspiracy theories widespread online, the Antifa is not an organization. The Bundestag's scientific service determined this as early as 2018.

It is also clear that "Antifa" is often used abbreviatedly as a synonym for "violent left-wing radicalism". Left-wing extremist acts of violence and riots are listed that initially have nothing to do with anti-fascism.

Participants in a counter-demonstrator, including supporters of the Antifa, protest against right-wing extremists on the Day of German Unity in Berlin (imago images / Christian Mang)

Sociologist: Antifa means defending yourself

Those who reject "the Antifa" often mean: "violent left-wing extremism". On the other hand, those who refer to the word positively often mean "necessary civil society engagement against the extreme right".

But what "antifa" or anti-fascist engagement really means, what forms, structures, forms of action of the antifa exist, that is mostly lost behind these generalizations.

The sociologist Nils Schuhmacher is one of the few scientists who has dealt intensively with this political field of action.

"The core of anti-fascist practice is an idea of ​​self-help, that is, the idea not to appeal to others, but to defend oneself, to get involved on behalf of others and to act in a self-mandated manner, so to speak. That is one element. The second element is To do this with a certain degree of aggressiveness, that always includes exceeding certain legal limits, at least it can.

And they are all independent groups. So there is no core that dictates anything, but rather loose networking. "

The classic concept of the "Autonomen Antifa" emerged in the 1980s from the radical left-wing autonomous scene: informal small groups that function through personal relationships and usually represent a "revolutionary anti-fascism", often communist or anarchist in character.

The sociologist Nils Schuhmacher took a closer look at such autonomous antifa groups for a study.

Often these groups are also very strongly subcultural and youthful. Most of the actors are adolescents and young adults.

Antifa groups write leaflets, discuss, organize lectures, rallies and demonstrations, and react to the appearance of political opponents, according to Nils Schuhmacher:

"And as you can see from what I have listed, there are also a lot of things that have a lot to do with speeches, with content positioning and not even that much with what I have just called confrontational practice and certainly not not always with militancy and violence. "

Observation by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution

Nonetheless, the acceptance and willingness to use violence play an important role for part of the autonomous anti-fascist scene. The questioning of the state's monopoly on the use of force and the connection between anti-fascism and anti-capitalism lead to the surveillance of part of the scene by the authorities for the protection of the constitution. This leads to accusations of criminalizing anti-fascist protests. Who is being watched and who is not? Deutschlandfunk asked the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution how the authority differentiates between "anti-fascism" as a field of action for left-wing extremists and anti-fascist groups in general. The statement reads:

"Antifascism" as a term is also used by Democrats to express their rejection of right-wing extremism. Therefore, not every anti-fascist group is automatically a case for the protection of the constitution, on the contrary, every democrat is automatically also against fascism. "

"Taking it into your own hands", not to rely on the measures of state and official bodies, is common to very different forms of anti-fascist engagement:

There are the already mentioned classic, autonomous Antifa groups, as well as covert and anonymous research collectives, as well as official magazines and journals. Many professional and semi-professional working journalists write texts for websites and social media. There are established archives, associations that have emerged from anti-fascist structures. Some of them still see themselves as "Antifa", others only get this label in the public debate. They all see themselves as anti-fascists.

Apabiz - knowledge of extreme right

An example of this can be found in this factory floor in a Kreuzberg backyard: "We are here in the rooms of the anti-fascist press archive and education center, or Apabiz for short, in Berlin. Here we collect everything on the subject of" Extreme rights after 1945 ". Yes, we can claim to provide the largest publicly accessible collection, the largest specialist archive. "

Frank Metzger, one of the eight employees who form the core of the Apabiz team. The Apabiz collects and analyzes magazines, leaflets, stickers and election advertisements from the right-wing extremist scene.

"So here, for example, we have a lot of so-called neo-Nazi fanzines, which have played a major role again in recent years with regard to the processing and processing of the NSU series of murders. These neo-Nazi fanzines were a very, very important source."

(Photo: imago images / Alexander Pohl) Amadeu Antonio Foundation: "The right-wing extremist scene believes it has the support of the population"
Timo Reinfrank, Managing Director of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, warns of the increasing propensity for violence on the right-wing extremist scene. They believe they are waging a civil war with the backing of the population, he said in the Dlf. Much depends on how right-wing extremism is dealt with in Germany.

A source that is only available in the Apabiz. The Apabiz is financed by donations and membership fees from the sponsoring association, some projects and thus also positions are financed by the Berlin Senate from tax funds, such as the documentation of right-wing extremist rallies and events:

"Here in Berlin it is even part of our funding through the Berlin Senate that we document and evaluate relevant events and that the material can then also be used."

Apabiz offers its knowledge of the extreme right in lectures, brochures and articles. Students, scientists and many journalists use the archive.

View of the press archive of Apabiz, an anti-fascist press archive and education center in Berlin Kreuzberg (dpa / Stephanie Pilick)

"They're the dirty kids"

The Apabiz is one of those examples of institutions that have developed out of informal, loose anti-fascist structures. Without professionalization, anti-legal work would have a hard time, says Frank Metzger. Anti-fascist research is often only noticed if it is published by official bodies.

"When an anti-fascist group publishes a report under the label" Antifa ", it has rarely reached the public. It was always dealt with, ok, these are the dirty kids now."

For the public knowledge of the right-wing extremist scene, such anti-fascist research plays a role that should not be underestimated. A prominent example: When the mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, was attacked with a knife during the election campaign, the police did not initially assume political motivation. Only research by the "Antifa Bonn / Rhein-Sieg" showed how deeply the assassin was already involved in the violent, right-wing extremist scene in the 1990s. And even after the murder of the Kassel District President Walter Lübcke in June 2019, anti-fascist research collectives provided a lot of information on the local neo-Nazi scene.

How do such collectives work? An Antifa research group replied to the Deutschlandfunk inquiry: "Some maintain archives, collect and read right-wing publications, others take photos, write articles, observe social networks, sneak covertly into networks and structures or provide technical assistance."

The publications mostly show right-wing networks in a very factual tone and publish photos and full names. "Outings" published on other platforms, which are repeatedly criticized as "pillory", are usually more problematic. Here, often in a smug tone, a lot of personal data such as home address, employer and sometimes also intimate details are disseminated with the aim of socially marginalizing and ostracizing the person described.

BR journalist: "Of course I use anti-fascist research"

How do journalists deal with this research, which in some cases also contains personal data from right-wing extremist actors and in rare cases has even been created through illegal methods? Thies Marsen is one of the specialist journalists for right-wing extremism at Bayerischer Rundfunk:

"Yes, of course I use anti-fascist research. I've made the experience that this anti-fascist research, as soon as the researcher goes public with it, is usually very well-founded. And the anti-fascist platforms and anti-fascist colleagues are usually more willing to provide information than, for example, government agencies now For various reasons: They are of course not so bound by legal requirements, so they can act more openly. But you always have to find out that they are also better informed. "

For Marsen this means: Without the knowledge of the anti-fascist researchers, he can hardly do his job. Nevertheless, he must check the information according to journalistic criteria and protect personal rights. Years of experience help him assess the facts.

In the anti-fascist press archive and education center Apabiz in Berlin, everything on the subject of "Extreme rights after 1945" is collected (dpa / Stephanie Pilick)

Photographers play an important role

Antifa is also hard work: Publicly accessible information is linked with self-acquired photos and network information.

Photographers play an important role here, taking pictures of demonstrations, rallies, but also secret meetings and concerts. One of them is, as he would like to be called here, Martin Mair:

"So my job is to research and then make the information available to the public, be it through my own texts or through my journalistic colleagues, in order to show what is happening on the extreme right in Germany or internationally and where the inhuman events take place, where weapons training takes place, where political acts of violence are prepared. "

Mair is out and about somewhere in Germany every weekend, but he spends most of his time evaluating.

He found out how dangerous his work can be at the end of April 2018. Together with a colleague, he researched Thorsten Heise, who is known throughout Germany. According to Mair, a preparatory meeting for a neo-Nazi march on May 1st in Erfurt should take place in his house.

The photographer and his colleague are discovered by the right-wing in their car. They arm themselves with baseball bats and wrenches and attack.

The researchers tried to escape in reverse, were chased out of town by the attackers in a car and ended up in the ditch.

"Just as we landed in the ditch, the windows on the driver's side were smashed and pepper spray was sprayed into our car and the hooded neo-Nazi tried to open my door."

The attackers stab with a knife. Only when they get hold of Mair's camera do they let go of him and his colleague. Mair is stabbed with a knife and his colleague is hit on the head with a wrench. The perpetrators can be identified later. They are still at large to this day, and the trial is still a long way off.

Militancy as a "necessary means" against neo-Nazis

The question of the legitimacy of violence is one of the key issues in the public debate on anti-fascism. The sociologist Nils Schuhmacher:

"So violence only plays a role because you are dealing with a violent opponent and because the reference system of anti-fascism - fascism - is by definition a violent system. That means, the violence is there from the start, it will be forgotten, but of course that is a very important point. "

How do the research collectives view the violence and militancy debate? One group responds to request:

"From an anti-fascist point of view, militancy is never an end in itself, but a necessary means to prevent neo-Nazis from exercising violence. Those who reject militancy against Nazis are probably speaking from the privileged position of never having been the target of right-wing violence. (...) Anyone in has ever peacefully incapacitated a neo-Nazi comradeship in the last 70 years, please step forward and explain the concept. "

Protest, talking, discussing, but also willingness to use violence play an important role for part of the autonomous antifa scene (Sputnik / Ekaterina Solovyova)

No statistics on crime

The image of "the Antifa" is shaped by the idea of ​​anti-fascists who are ready to attack and who are masked with balaclavas. And not only with those who reject "anti-fascism", the image is also cultivated in autonomous anti-fascist circles, in rhetoric, symbolism, in a verbal militancy, says Nils Schuhmacher. The idea of ​​a "combative anti-fascism" ultimately means, according to the sociologist, tolerance and acceptance of so-called "offensive forms of action". This is also observed by Simon Teune from the Berlin Institute for Protest and Movement Research:

"There is this image from the 80s of autonomous anti-fascist groups that are very well organized in a clandestine way, whose strategy is to build up public pressure as well as to attack neo-Nazis, to dispute their hegemony, that is today, I don't think it's a reality anymore. "

Also because for anti-fascist groups - involved in counter-protests in broad societal alliances - the sit-in became a means of "combative anti-fascism". Nils Schuhmacher therefore even speaks of a "pacification" of the scene.

However, there are no concrete statistics on crimes committed by anti-fascist circles. The police statistics only show "left-wing extremist" crimes in general. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution only replied to the Deutschlandfunk's request in general:

"Crimes typical of the scene in the context of" anti-fascism "are property damage and arson, and in some cases also bodily harm. In addition, so-called outing actions often take place."

Public debate about Antifa not diversified enough

So for some of the anti-fascist activists, violence is a legitimate means: How often violence is used can hardly be determined. There are repeated reports of property damage, attacks on offices of right-wing parties or the cars of their members. In May 2019, for example, the apartment of a former NPD functionary and long-term right wing activist in Berlin was destroyed. In his absence, antifa activists smashed furniture and furnishings and sprayed paint.

Physical injuries, especially severe ones, are the exception.From autonomous violent and violent small groups through research networks to work in publicly funded institutions, the commitment under the label "Antifa" or "Antifascism" is broadly diversified. The public debate about the catchphrase "Antifa" usually does not do justice to this.

"It annoys me, of course, that this abbreviation only subsumes this aspect of violence and riot and remmidemmi, because ultimately our work here is part of what anti-fascism is," said Frank Metzger, from Apabiz in Berlin. The protest and movement researcher Simon Teune adds:

"So if it were really about the extent to which developments in social movements lead to violence being legitimized more as a political means, then we would be much closer to a target-oriented debate than if, as is the case today, there is talk of anti-fascism is a problem in itself. "