Illinois passed into Phase Three of its coronavirus pandemic response plan, the first state in the nation to meet the CDC guidelines to do so, but not the first state to open businesses this way. In fact, just the first state to pull off the high wire balancing act between a toxic contagion on one side and a toxic federal leadership on the other.
But the emerging sunlight from Illinois’ accomplishment has been blocked by a recent chain of racist atrocities by law enforcement authorities across the nation and myriad levels of government. While angry but organized demonstrations grew across every major American city, burning and looting have broken out in its wake. And while suspicious characters have been seen provoking crimes, with reports of race-war boogaloo provocateurs instigating chaos and police targeting local and national cable news crews with rubber bullets and handcuffs, the president, Attorney General and local law enforcement have focused their blame on “Antifa,” or Anti-Fascist Action.
History does not repeat, Mark Twain is often credited with saying, but it often rhymes. Appearing in 1932, the leftist Antifaschistische Aktion (Antifa) was the product of factional violence in the volatile German Weimar government between the wars. In 1933, Hitler’s Nazis burned down the German representative lawmaking chamber, the Reichstag, creating an opportunity to blame leftists for the arson, to marginalize German leftist parties and to legislate the Enabling Act that shoved Germany’s Weimar government into a dictatorship in 1933.
As it exists today, Antifa is not even an organization, let alone any kind of “terrorist” organization. What is happening now is coordinated propaganda. WGN-TV news had former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy on a phone interview on the Saturday night of May 30, to blame “Antifa” for the violence in Chicago and the anchor desk was predictably too ignorant about the subject to call him on it. Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz tweeted, “Now that we clearly see Antifa as terrorists, can we hunt them down like we do those in the Middle East?,” while Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas published an op-ed in the New York Times, saying that “if local law enforcement is overwhelmed and needs backup, let’s see how tough these Antifa terrorists are when they’re facing off with the 101st Airborne Division,” that led to the awkward resignation of the Times’ opinion page editor James Bennett, who had claimed in his own defense that he had not even read Sen. Cotton’s piece.
American cities are broken and burning. Trump has insisted that as president he is above the law while his Attorney General seeks to drop his own Justice Department’s cases against Russian hackers and General Michael Flynn’s collusion with them. After a month of armed teabaggers at state capitols, waving their firearms at passive police and terrified state lawmakers and raging against pandemic response policies based on federal Center for Disease Control guidelines that the president has come to fear for its impact on the economic indicators he depends upon for reelection, we now have the president and his supporters trying to define an amorphous antifascist movement as a “terrorist organization” in a pathetic attempt to shirk their own responsibility for the power they have achieved through a generation of gerrymandering, voter suppression and bullying our free press.
“The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization,” the President tweeted from his bunker inside the White House as protesters faced off with police and Secret Service agents outside. Of course, it is only logical, if not wholly natural, that fascists should be terrified by an antifascist movement.