False Rumors of an Antifa Uprising Spread on Social Media
According to “alt-right” conspiracy theories spreading on YouTube and far-right outlets, anti-Trump demonstrators who refer to themselves as the antifa, or anti-fascists, will unite in an uprising Saturday to “take down America in one eventful night.” Antifa spokespeople say no such uprising is planned.
According to some online conservative circles, anti-fascist activists — or “antifa supersoldiers,” depending who you ask — have plans to “behead all white parents” and attack “small-business owners,” “kill every single Trump voter,” team up with violent gangs and go on a rampage, killing every conservative they can find.
The actions have been billed as “bigger than anything the likes of which we’ve ever seen,” with supporters of President Donald Trump urged to “prepare with bullets, food and water.” Conservative activists have been reporting alleged antifa accounts for making serious, violent threats to conservatives in the build-up to the day of action.
Time notes that the far right’s perception of antifa is often misguided: “It’s also worth noting that ‘Antifa’ … is not a single group. Rather it’s a broad term for a very loose confederation of left-wing activist types, acting both individually and under the aegis of smaller political groups. They’re all tenuously strung together by nothing more than an opposition to Trump and a willingness to make it known publicly.”
The conspiracy theories about Nov. 4 seem to have sprung from a post by YouTuber and blogger Paul Joseph Watson on the conspiracy-laden, right-wing site InfoWars, claiming that an antifa document calls for a “civil war” between Trump supporters and antifa on this date. Watson links to a statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, calling for demonstrations against Trump—but not “violence,” “riots” or “civil war,” as Watson wrote. Professed tactics include a “passionate speak-out with music and participatory art,” not violent insurrection.
It started with a person named Jordan Peltz, whose social media platforms carry photos and videos of himself dressed in paramilitary uniform. His work, he says, is #fugitiverecovery. In a video posted in late August titled “ANTIFA Has To Go!”, Peltz insinuated that the leftist movement was planning a “civil war” in November.
In late September, the rumors made it to InfoWars, the online paper of record for far-right conspiracy theorists, which conflated them with the non-violent protests planned by Refuse Fascism. From there, the prospect of an insurrection on Nov. 4 snowballed…”
The rumors have been amplified by conservative media outlets like Fox News, which referenced the impending “Antifa apocalypse.” Other InfoWars personalities fostered the rumors, with Alex Jones telling his viewers that “we have a flood of antifa saying that they’re preparing with weapons, knives and guns to kill conservatives, patriots and white people en masse.” YouTuber Jordan Peltz said in a clip that went viral, “On their website, they are calling for an open civil war that they will start here in the United States in November. They are fundraising for weapons, training, ammunition, suppliers. They are not hiding this. They are openly fundraising so they can attack.”
Other far-right activists erroneously claimed that law enforcement sources told them such things as that Black Lives Matter received “almost 25 million [dollars] for weapons and other tools to supply groups that plan to attack ‘white people,’ ” that President Trump had authorized “over 4 million military people” to prepare for a war with antifa, and that “800,000” antifa soldiers were going to unite and fight with MS-13.
“The end game here is martial law,” another video warns, “provoking Republicans, patriots, whatever, you and me, into this huge battle, whether it’s just fighting or whether it’s guns. What they will do is they will throw up their arms and say, ‘I told you so, they’re violent.’ … They want us out there, with our weapons so the government will commence with martial law. And then, I believe, serious gun control-slash-confiscation.”
The sheer magnitude of far-right messaging on social media perpetuating the rumors has raised questions about the danger of the rumors being used as a tool to stifle free speech. One Twitter user, @KrangTNelson, a left-leaning humorist known for acerbic remarks, was mass reported by far-right users after tweeting the obviously sarcastic remark: “can’t wait for November 4th when millions of antifa supersoldiers will behead all white parents and small business owners in the town square.” Krang’s account was subsequently suspended after the reports, raising questions about how Twitter enforces its policies: Krang was punished for a sardonic response to an outrageous rumor, while the American Nazi Party’s account seems to be deemed within the realm of rule-following.
i feel so much safer because twitter suspends accounts for violent conte-
— Lana Del Raytheon (@LanaDelRaytheon) October 30, 2017
Rebecca Onion writes at Slate that the left should be less quick to respond humorously and consider the rumor in light of its historical context:
On the other hand, it’s not funny at all. In researching our Slate Academy podcasts on slavery and Reconstruction, Jamelle Bouie and I read about example after example of white Southerners panicking over supposed insurrection plots of enslaved people and freed people. During slavery, often invoking the specter of the Haitian Revolution, slaveholders and poor whites alike worried that they would wake up to find guns in their faces and their children murdered…
And the deadly history of insurrection panic didn’t stop after the war. In early Reconstruction, the nascent Klan and similar groups used rumors of insurrection to buttress their case for white vigilantism, seizing upon any assembly of freed people as evidence.
Onion raises the question of whether right-wing jumpiness over the Nov. 4 rumors could be equivalent to the other historical examples of whites fearing insurrection. “White supremacist ideology is inherently violent,” she writes, “and there’s enough of an echo here to make me nervous.”
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