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.
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.”
- Read “Proud Boys” from the Anti-Defamation League.
- Read “The Proud Boys Are Part of America’s Long History of Vigilante Violence. Here’s What to Know About the Group’s Origins” from Time on Oct. 1, 2020.
- Read “Trump mentioned the Proud Boys, but who are they?” from Deseret News on Sept. 30, 2020.
- Read “Who are the Proud Boys? Far-right group has concerned experts for years” from USA Today on Sept. 30, 2020.
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.”
- Read “Who are Antifa?” from the Anti-Defamation League.
- Read “What Is Antifa, the Movement Trump Wants to Declare a Terror Group?” from The New York Times on Sept. 28, 2020.
- Read “‘They have no allegiance to liberal democracy’: An expert on antifa explains the group” from Vox on June 1, 2020.
- Read “What Trump Gets Wrong About Antifa” from The Atlantic on Aug. 16, 2017.
Other groups, movements and labels
- Read “An Expert on Right-Wing Extremist Groups Warns ‘The Threat Is Escalating’” from Esquire on Oct. 19, 2020.
- Read “The boogaloo movement is gaining momentum. Who are the boogaloo ‘bois’ and what do they want?” from USA Today on June 19, 2020.
- Read “Explainer: Who are Antifa, the ‘boogaloo’ movement and others blamed in U.S. protest violence?” from Reuters on June 5, 2020.
- Read “Anarchy: What It Is and Why Pop Culture Loves It” from Teen Vogue on June 3, 2020.
- Read “Alt-Right, Alt-Left, Antifa: A Glossary of Extremist Language” from The New York Times on Aug. 15, 2017.
More news coverage and commentary
- Read “Facebook Continues To Host Militant Groups And Ads Despite A Ban On Right-Wing Extremism” from BuzzFeed News on Oct. 19, 2020.
- Read “AP finds most arrested in protests aren’t leftist radicals” from The Associated Press on Oct. 20, 2020.
- Read “As political violence rises, we need peacemakers at the polls” from Religion News Service on Oct. 16, 2020.
- Read “Plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor grew from the militia movement’s toxic mix of constitutional falsehoods and half-truths” from The Conversation on Oct. 12, 2020.
- Read “Donald Trump just gave white supremacists legitimacy, and the Proud Boys were never prouder” from Religion News Service on Sept. 30, 2020.
- Read “Antifa and America’s revamped Red Scare” from Al Jazeera on Sept. 29, 2020.
- Read “In Oregon, churches and anti-fascists unite to provide mutual aid to fire evacuees and others in need” from Religion News Service on Sept. 22, 2020.
- Read “Christian fundraising site has earned over $250,000 for alleged Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse” from Religion News Service on Aug. 29, 2020.
- Read “Martin Gugino is a Catholic peace activist, not an ‘Antifa provocateur,’ friends say” from Religion News Service on June 9, 2020.
- Read “Meet Antifa’s Secret Weapon Against Far-Right Extremists” from Wired on Jan. 16, 2018.
- Read “In Charlottesville, the Local Jewish Community Presses On” from ReformJudaism.org on Aug. 14, 2017.
- Watch “House Homeland Security Hearing on National Security Threats” from C-SPAN on Sept. 17, 2020.
- Read “The Escalating Terrorism Problem in the United States” from the Center for Strategic and International Studies on June 17, 2020.
- Read “FACT SHEET: DHS Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence” from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2019.
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 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, a history lecturer at Rutgers University, is the author of “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.”
Amy Cooter, a sociology lecturer at Vanderbilt University, researches nationalism.
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 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 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 is the CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights watchdog organization with Jewish roots.
Seth Jones is a counterterrorism expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Media contact is H. Andrew Schwartz.
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 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 is a Clemson University professor who researches disinformation on social media.
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 is a security studies professor at University of Massachusetts Lowell. His research interests include political violence and extremism.
Peter Simi is a sociology professor at Chapman University and has studied extremist groups and violence for more than two decades.
David Snyder is the executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. He comments on free speech issues.
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 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 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.
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.