20 experts to help explain antifa, Proud Boys and others grabbing headlines during this election season

Proud Boys showed up at a 2020 event in Ohio. (Courtesy Paul Becker via Creative Commons)

Who are the Proud Boys? What is antifa? Groups and ideologies such as these have garnered increased attention and heightened scrutiny as politicians debate who is responsible for violence during this year’s largely peaceful racial injustice protests and elsewhere.

They gained even more attention during the first televised debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump, who blames left-wing radicals for protest violence, told the far-right Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” Trump made the controversial remark after the debate moderator pressed him to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and tell them to stand down.

The Associated Press recently found that many of the people arrested during the nationwide protests have no ties to antifa nor previous run-ins with police, but they are instead young adults from the suburbs. Experts also caution against describing antifa as the leftist equivalent of white supremacist groups. FBI Director Chris Wray said antifa is real, but it is an ideology, not an organization.

This edition of ReligionLink features experts who may be able to help you cover what Proud Boys and antifa supporters believe, as well as the other extremist groups and radical movements grabbing headlines during this contentious campaign season.

Background information

Who are the Proud Boys?

The Anti-Defamation League says “the Proud Boys represent an unconventional strain of
American right-wing extremism. While the group can be described as violent, nationalistic,
Islamophobic, transphobic and misogynistic, its members represent a range of ethnic
backgrounds, and its leaders vehemently protest any allegations of racism.”

What is antifa?

Antifa is short for anti-fascist. Vox describes antifa as “a loose network of left-wing activists who
physically resist people they consider fascists. These are often the scruffy, bandana-clad people
who show up at alt-right rallies or speaking events in order to shut them down before they
happen, and they openly embrace violence as a justifiable means to that end.”

Other groups, movements and labels

More news coverage and commentary

Related research

Potential sources

  • Kathleen Belew

    Kathleen Belew, a history professor at the University of Chicago, is the author of “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.”

  • Ruth Ben-Ghiat

    Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a history and Italian studies professor at New York University. She studies fascism and her upcoming book is “Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present.”

  • Mark Bray

    Mark Bray, a history lecturer at Rutgers University, is the author of “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.”

  • Amy Cooter

    Amy Cooter, a sociology lecturer at Vanderbilt University, researches nationalism.

  • Adam Ericksen

    The Rev. Adam Ericksen is the pastor of Clackamas United Church of Christ in Milwaukie, Oregon. His church has partnered with mutual aid groups, including those with members who identify as anti-fascists, to provide support to wildfire evacuees.

  • John E. Finn

    John E. Finn is a professor emeritus of government at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. He wrote “Fracturing the Founding: How the Alt-Right Corrupts the Constitution.”

  • Michael German

    Michael German is a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty & National Security Program and a former FBI agent who infiltrated neo-Nazi terrorist groups as an undercover agent. Media contact is Mireya Navarro.

  • Jonathan Greenblatt

    Jonathan Greenblatt is the CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights watchdog organization with Jewish roots.

  • Seth Jones

    Seth Jones is a counterterrorism expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Media contact is H. Andrew Schwartz.

  • Gary LaFree

    Gary LaFree is the founding director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland. He created the Global Terrorism Database.

  • Brian Levin

    Brian Levin is director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, a nonpartisan research and policy center at California State University, San Bernardino. Levin is also a professor of criminal justice at the university.

  • Darren Linvill

    Darren Linvill is a Clemson University professor who researches disinformation on social media.

  • J.J. MacNab

    J.J. MacNab is a fellow with the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. MacNab is an expert on sovereign citizens, paramilitary militia groups and anti-government extremist organizations.

  • Arie Perliger

    Arie Perliger is a security studies professor at University of Massachusetts Lowell. His research interests include political violence and extremism.

  • Peter Simi

    Peter Simi is a sociology professor at Chapman University and has studied extremist groups and violence for more than two decades.

  • David Snyder

    David Snyder is the executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. He comments on free speech issues.

  • Zeynep Tufekci

    Zeynep Tufekci is a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She wrote “Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest.”

  • Andrew Whitehead

    Andrew Whitehead is an associate professor of sociology and co-director of the Association of Religion Data Archives at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He researches the relationship between religion and other social forces, such as the family.  

  • Alan Zimmerman

    Alan Zimmerman is the immediate past president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, Virginia. He wrote about his congregation’s experience during the August 2017 “Unite the Right” protest.

    Contact: 434-295-6382.
  • Chris Zurn

    Chris Zurn is a philosophy professor at University of Massachusetts Boston. He led a 2017 discussion about the ethics of antifa tactics for a series put on by the university’s Applied Ethics Center.