Fears about antifa, the amorphous left-wing protest group, are proving to be potent fundraising and data-gathering tools for prominent Republican political campaigns, chief among them that of President Donald Trump himself.
The Trump re-election campaign came under fire on Thursday for an ad on its Facebook page that went after antifa and used an image of an upside-down red triangle, a symbol that has ties to Nazi Germany. The Trump campaign defended the image, saying that it’s a common antifa symbol as well. But evidence of that was scant at best and by midday, Facebook had quickly removed the ad after it was flagged.
But that controversial spot just scratched the surface of the Trump campaign’s antifa messaging. The campaign has run ads invoking the group through at least seven different Facebook pages associated with the campaign, including not just the president’s page but those for Vice President Mike Pence, campaign manager Brad Parscale, and pages devoted to female, Latino, and Black Trump supporters.
Many use identical text and imagery. “We're calling on YOU to make a public statement and add your name to stand with President Trump against ANTIFA,” a handful of the ads declare. Those who add their names can be targeted with future advertising and fundraising appeals from the campaign.
Such red meat list-building is standard fare for political campaigns. And though antifa has arguably played a marginal role in civil unrest around the country over the past month, it has seized the attention of the president’s political base and become a potent call to action—one that political campaigns can use to build lists of supporters to hit up for money in the future.
Both Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and her leading re-election challenger, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), have invoked antifa in recent Facebook ads. “Dismantle Antifa. Fund the police. Add your name if you agree,” declared one recent Loeffler campaign ad. “Dismantle Antifa. Fund the police. Add your name if you agree,” Collins’ campaign beckons.
The advertising isn’t limited to congressional campaigns either. At least one member of Congress, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC), has used taxpayer funds from the congressman’s official office budget to purchase Facebook ads going after antifa and protesters in Seattle, about 2,800 miles from his district, who have occupied a six-square-block segment of the city.
Some independent groups are also getting in on the action. C3 PAC, a super PAC that runs ads on the page 2020 American Defense Fund, has purchased a handful of highly inflammatory ads going after antifa and the group’s supposed backer, liberal billionaire and perennial right-wing bogeyman George Soros.
“George Soros's dark money is funding domestic terrorist groups like ANTIFA, causing the destruction of our cities,” one C3 PAC ad declares. Another asks supporters to “tell President Trump that we do not negotiate with radical groups. Demand he activates [sic] the military now.”
Ironically, the Trump campaign itself has sworn off C3 PAC in the past, officially notifying the Federal Election Commission that it wants nothing to do with the group.