Internal U.S. Army documents in 2017 on anti-fascists (antifa) parroted a fascist talking point about the far-right’s supposedly non-racist creds, according to newly released material reviewed by The Daily Beast.
Yet even as two assessments warned of an “increasingly violent” antifa, they conceded that the group poses no threat to the military.
The Army assessments, dating from mid-2017, were meant to alert service members to potential risks anti-fascists posed to military or military installations. But they also stated that the U.S. military is “not aware of any threats from Antifa directed at the Army or DoD [Department of Defense] in general.” The heavily redacted documents, marked unclassified, were provided to The Daily Beast by the transparency nonprofit Property of the People and are believed to be the first public disclosures of Defense Department references to antifa.
The documents showed the Army struggling to characterize antifa, or antifascism, a decentralized movement that confronts extremist right-wing forces. Despite conceding that antifa is not connected to any known threat facing service members, the documents showed that the Army is encouraging service members to “maintain situational awareness” of the movement, whose profile has soared after the election of Donald Trump—and which mainstream Republican politicians demagogically describe as a Democrat-aligned mob.
Though many parts of the unclassified documents are redacted, repeated mentions refer to the documents’ provenance in ARTIC, the U.S. Army’s Threat Integration Center. ARTIC focuses on threats to military personnel and installations, mostly inside the United States. Several paragraphs within the documents appear verbatim in other recently released documents from various homeland-security “fusion centers.” Fusion centers pool information on various domestic threats from state and local police with federal law enforcement and homeland security elements, which may help explain the repetitive text.
“The Army does not monitor these types of groups [anti-fascists],” Lt. Col. Christopher Ophardt, an Army spokesperson, told The Daily Beast. “ARTIC researches any potential incidents or events that may impact the Army and its personnel using interagency reports and open source information. To help protect our Soldiers, families and installations, information regarding this type of activity is sent to assist US Army Service Members, US Army Employees, US Army Dependents and Facilities.”
"With the newly released documents, we again find a U.S. agency targeting anti-fascists as security threats while downplaying the menace posed by white nationalists,” said Ryan Shapiro, Property of the People’s executive director.
One of the documents, dated June 30, 2017, is titled “Situational Awareness: Criminal Activity Sometimes Associated With ANTIFA and ANTI-ANTIFA Gatherings.” Warning of potential violence at “scheduled nationwide protest[s]” for the 4th of July holiday, it portrays Antifa as a sprawling “network of left-wing anarchist group [sic] whose goal is to ‘smash fascism in all its forms,’ specifically sexism, racism, homophobia, government corruption and Islamophobia.” (Some anti-fascists are anarchists, while others are not.)
Antifa’s antagonists, however, are portrayed in a more favorable light: “According to open source [publicly available information, often news reports], ANTI-ANTIFA members are individuals and groups who are engaged in a political battle against ANTIFA, but who are not affiliated with racist nationalists.”
The Army did not provide its basis for that assessment beyond saying it came from “open source” information.
This anti-antifa claim is more than just false—it’s a popular talking point with fascist groups hoping to disguise their racism.
One of the most vocal anti-anti-fascist groups is an extremist collective called Anticom or Anti-Communist Action. Now largely defunct, the most active version of the group billed itself as “the right’s response to antifa.” But Anticom was more than anti-communist; the group was intimately tied to neo-Nazis, as leaked chat logs published by the media nonprofit Unicorn Riot revealed. In between acts of racist incitement, Anticom members predicted a forthcoming “massacre” and “a genocide,” in which white supremacists would have “the military on our side” the leaked chats reveal.
The group had a presence at Unite the Right, and members worked as security for prominent white nationalists like Richard Spencer, ProPublica reported. Despite appearing at white supremacist rallies and promoting genocide online, Anticom told ProPublica that “all races and ideologies are welcome” in the group, as long as they “are anti-communist.”
Similarly, chat logs from the now-defunct white supremacist group the Traditionalist Worker Party also showed the violent group trying to salvage its reputation after Charlottesville by shifting the blame onto anti-fascists. “You want people hating antifa as much as possible lol,” one wrote in the logs, which were published by Unicorn Riot. Elsewhere in the logs, the violent group discussed building explosives to use against anti-fascists.
“‘Antifa’ means anti-fascist, i.e. people who are against fascism,” a New York City anti-fascist activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Daily Beast. “The provenance of the term ‘anti-antifa’ originates in the messaging of neo-Nazi movements and is absolutely a term used by ‘white power’ groups and adherents around the world. Just breaking down the term, anti-anti-fascist just means fascist. The question that arises is why is the U.S. Federal government casually using a term originating in neo-Nazi circles?”
Daryl Johnson is a former Department of Homeland Security analyst focusing on far-right extremism. Speaking broadly, Johnson disputed that those who clash with antifa are free of white-supremacist associations. “We’ve seen violence initiated by far right activists at these protests, and they’re racist and anti-government, a vast majority of them,” he said.
Although the TWP and Anticom have disbanded or fallen in stature, their anti-anti-fascist posturing has been taken up by other far-right groups like the Proud Boys, American Guard, and Resist Marxism, which have fostered violent extremists while publicly claiming not to be racist.
And although those far-right groups claim to brawl with anti-fascists out of self-defense, their members have been accused or convicted in a series of brutal attacks. Overall, the far-right has been responsible for most extremist killings over the past decade, according to data compiled by the Anti-Defamation League. From 2008 to 2017, 71 percent of extremist murders were carried out by the far right, dwarfing killings by Islamic extremists (26 percent) and far-left extremists (3 percent).
Meanwhile, the Army assessments ultimately conceded that antifa posed no known threat to the U.S. military.
“The ARTIC is not aware of any threats from Antifa directed at the Army or DoD in general,” the report stated. The closest it came to describing a threat was warning that anti-fascists are confrontational and could cause injury or property damage. “As such, DoD personnel or assets could become collateral damage as a result of violence instigated by Antifa organizations or its members.”
ARTIC was able to locate only one possible anti-fascist attack on a military service member. The Army could not conclusively state that the attackers were anti-fascists but cited to The Daily Beast an Air Force Times story as the basis for the incident’s inclusion. The victim, an Air Force officer, was likely targeted for flying Confederate flags from his motorcycle during a protest last year in Olympia, Washington. Washington, admitted to the union in 1889, was not a Confederate state.
“On 05 SEP 17, two males allegedly part of a local ‘anarchist’ group assaulted an Air Force (AF) officer on a motorcycle during a protest in Olympia Washington,” the report reads. “The AF officer was reportedly targeted due to confederate flags attached to his motorcycle. Open source reports that the AF officer was sprayed in the face with mace and struck on the back with a baseball bat and a glass bottle filled with red paint. There is no indication however, that the AF officer was recognizable as a member of the DoD or targeted due to his military affiliation. While not specified in the reporting, the individuals who attacked the AF officer were likely members or supporters of Antifa.”
Johnson said left-wing extremism targeting the U.S. military was a marginal phenomenon. He recalled a “handful” of episodes from “five to seven years ago” involving vandalism at recruitment stations. “The type of threat is property destruction, and it’s usually [done] after hours, when no one’s around,” Johnson said, indicating a lack of interest in causing someone physical harm.
By contrast, Johnson said, white supremacists actively target service members for recruitment, creating a “substantial infiltration problem from white nationalists and anti-government extremists on the far right.”
In May, ProPublica revealed that at least three members of the race-war focused militia Atomwaffen, including its founder, were members of the Army National Guard, active-duty Army, or the Marines. A Marine veteran, Erik Sailors, trains white supremacists in the group Patriot Front for physical confrontation, according to The Intercept’s Shaun King and The Daily Beast. Splinter reported last year that the leader of a neo-Nazi group present at Charlottesville was a Marine Corps recruiter. A Military Times poll last year reported that about one in four service members saw instances of white nationalism within the military, with the number rising to 42 percent among nonwhite troops.
“The Army’s intelligence center… uncritically accepted far-right talking points whitewashing ‘Anti-Antifa’ groups’ racist underpinnings,” Shapiro said. “In so doing, the Army continues the American intelligence community’s long tradition of finding more common ground with violent, jingoistic bigots than those devoted to stopping them.”