ANTIFA and the Reichstag Fire

On Sunday, May 31st, 2020, President Donald Trump sent a tweet that read as follows: “The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.”

It is important to clarify a few things. First, “ANTIFA” is not an acronym, and thus does not need to be written in all caps. In actuality, the word serves as an abbreviation for “Anti-Fascism.” “Anti” as a prefix means “to be opposed to; against,” while fascism is defined by Merriam-Webster as being, “a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.” Compounded together, the definition of “anti-fascism” becomes “a political philosophy that directly opposes fascism.”

Secondly, many on the political left (including socialists, anarchists, and communists) explicitly identify as anti-fascist. However, an individual does not need to identify themselves as a part of antifa to be labeled as such. Anyone that has ever spoken out against Hitler (arguably the most well-known fascist in history) could fall into this category.

Third, antifa is not actually an “organization” as the president makes it out to be. There are no leaders of antifa, since it is an ideology. Some people who identify as antifa destroy property as a form of protest, but there are many who do not. It is the personal choice of an anti-fascist individual how they choose to protest fascism. Any team effort is also a choice, and not directed or organized by any centralized institution.

Trump’s tweet, then, is a very slippery slope — one with historical precedence.

On the night of February 27th, 1933, the German people watched in horror and dismay as the Reichstag building, the meeting place for the German parliament, burned down. It did not take long for the suspect to be apprehended. The young man’s name was Marinus van der Lubbe, and he identified himself as a communist. When interrogated, he swore he committed the arson alone, and the German court system later found him to be telling the truth after thorough investigation. However, this didn’t stop the newly elected Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, and the fascist Nazi Party that supported him to latch onto this shocking event and convince the public that communists had come together to plot the arson.

Hitler convinced President Paul von Hindenburg to issue the Reichstag Fire Decree the very next morning. This decree authorized martial law for all intents and purposes: the German constitution was suspended, and as a result, so were the rights to personal freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to privacy. Additionally, all restraints were removed from the police, which allowed them to search houses without warrants and imprison anyone they personally felt was “an enemy of the state.” From there, the police began to arrest anyone they deemed “communist” and anyone “with communist sympathies,” even without a shred of evidence.

The rest, as they say, is history.

If we do not want a repeat of this terrible era in history, it is absolutely imperative that every person, from every nation, immediately and LOUDLY denounces this step towards labeling anyone who opposes fascism a “terrorist.” If we allow this designation of an ideology entirely opposed to figures like Hitler pass without a fight, eventually it will come to the point that everyone is afraid to speak out against atrocities for fear of being branded “ANTIFA.” We know what happens next.

In the famous word of Martin Niemöller:

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Posts from the United Left’s Writing Team.