<< News Scan | Main | Massive Vote Suppression Down Under >>

Is Antifa a Street Gang?

David Pyrooz and James Densley assert that Antifa can be designated a street gang in this op-ed in the WSJ. They note that there are many definitions of "street gang":

Yet under any scientific or official definition, Antifa makes the grade. Gangs are groups. They have a collective identity, which includes signs, symbols and other features that distinguish the in-group from the out-group. Bloods wear red; Crips wear blue; Antifa wear black. It's obvious when Antifa members join protests, even for the untrained eye. And don't be fooled by Antifa's diffuse structure. Conventional street gangs are pretty disorganized too.
*      *      *
By definition gangs must engage in illegal activity. That's what sets them apart from basketball teams and chess clubs. What moves Antifa into the gang category is the propensity for violence that we have witnessed at political events. Such criminal activity is partly what contributes to group identity.

The street orientation of gangs is the final defining characteristic. Gangs spend time in public places, often to the chagrin of the public. Likewise, Antifa members enjoy making a statement, both in person and online, where they have mobilized a progressive army. Some performances, like the ones in Berkeley, do more than put on a display; they try to change the social order.

Which brings us to the caveat: Most gangs are apolitical. The line between domestic extremist groups and gangs is blurry at times. Antifa's agenda sets it apart to the extent that some are calling for a different designation: "domestic terrorists." The problem is the label is empty: No such term exists in criminal law.

If Antifa did earn the gang designation, law enforcement could use tools beyond crowd control. After years of failed suppression tactics, we now have a sense of what works in gang intervention. Social-network analysis can identify the most violent gang members. Focused deterrence strategies target the small number of chronic offenders who are most vulnerable to sanctions and communicate to them clear incentives for nonviolence. Civil injunctions can restrict gang behavior. An injunction in Birmingham, England, banned two rival gangs from a whole city.

Protesting fascism is not a bad thing. But when protest turns violent, and when there are repeated incidents of violence, it doesn't matter if it's the Crips and the Bloods or Antifa and neo-Nazis. They all fall under our common definition and understanding of gangs.
Incidentally, there is considerable historical irony in a group calling itself "anti-fascist" adopting black shirts as its uniform.

Leave a comment

Monthly Archives