Antifascists, according to their own doctrine, fight fascism. Sounds simple enough.
Granted, members of the loosely organized antifa movement define “fascism” vaguely — to include not just Nazis and neo-Nazis but also white supremacists, white nationalists and the broader population of racists.
As for the fighting, antifa takes that part of the doctrine literally. Claiming that even a small public gathering of fascists is a threat to freedom, the movement condones physical violence against them. Its anonymous, black-clad members routinely crash far-right demonstrations to brawl.
So — you might expect that when antifa can’t find any fascists, it has nothing to fight. That seemed to be the situation this weekend, when a long-planned rally for far-right extremists fizzled into a paltry gathering of a few dozen white supremacists, unapproachable and nearly invisible behind a police blockade as they met without incident in a Washington, D.C., park.
And yet antifa still managed to fight — not fascists this time, but reporters.
A few blocks away from the main event — about 40 racists surrounded by thousands of protesters at Lafayette Square — several dozen masked antifa members marched up 13th Street NW in the early afternoon. They carried the movement’s red-and-black flag, and some wore makeshift body armor, even though no fascists were anywhere in sight.
When a Washington Post reporter tried to interview the antifascists, they refused to speak. When he followed them up the street with his cellphone camera, one of them shoved a black umbrella into his lens and several shouted: “No photos!”
“This can harm us,” one of the protesters said, just before someone swatted the reporter’s iPhone out of his hand and threw it into the middle of the street.
The reporter and camera were fine, but the incident was not isolated. Again and again, small groups of antifa members harassed, threatened and occasionally jostled reporters. The activists demanded not to be photographed as they marched down public streets — even as many of them hoisted their own cellphone cameras and staged their own photo ops.
“At least they’re all going to get likes, right?” someone said as a group of masked antifa members posed for photographers during one of the afternoon’s more serene moments.
“It’s not about likes,” a woman standing with the antifascists replied. “It’s about control over the narrative.”
A few hours later, as the white supremacists went home and rain began to fall, several antifa members resorted to threats and violence to keep control of their narrative.
“F—ing camera fairy, f— off!” an antifascist screamed at a Post videographer as he followed the group through the city.
“He’s got a camera!” a woman yelled from the crowd, pointing. “Get that camera!”
Blocks away, a photographer in a rain poncho was recorded being chased through an alley, while a woman berated other journalists.
“You’re betraying us!” she yelled. “Are you going to report how many people they tear-gassed?”
In video published by the right-wing website Breitbart, journalists with USA Today and Agence France-Presse tried to explain their jobs to the woman while a man in a bandanna screamed expletives at them.
At the same event, NPR reporter Tim Mak watched antifa protesters lob fireworks and bottles at the police separating them from the white supremacists.
Then he ducked as someone whipped an egg at his head.
Antifa’s violence was dwarfed by thousands of other people who peacefully protested the white supremacists, Mak noted. “I was not marked as press,” he wrote, “and have no reason to believe it was thrown at me because I am a reporter.”
But many other videos show antifa members accosting reporters specifically because they’re reporters, in scenes reminiscent of Donald Trump campaign rallies where the media were often treated as enemy. And not just in Washington D.C.; antifa’s hostility extended to Charlottesville, which spent the weekend marking the first anniversary since a woman was killed while protesting a massive gathering of white nationalists.
Few if any white nationalists were on display in the city this weekend, but antifascists came nonetheless.
On Saturday evening, after university students who organized the day’s rally against white supremacy had left, NBC reporter Cal Perry posted video of a man with a kerchief around his neck, screaming, “Snitch ass news b—–!” and slapping his TV crew’s phone away.
The next day, a reporter for the local ABC Station WTVD shared video of antifa members shoving objects into his cameraman’s lens — then cutting his microphone cord.
Even in Canada, where a group called Intersectional Anti-Fascists marched against Islamophobia over the weekend, members were recorded yelling at a Toronto Sun journalist and taking a swipe at the videographer.
Antifa’s anti-fascist aggression has morphed into attacks on the media before. Members of the movement were documented threatening reporters and smashing cameras during protests in Berkeley, Calif., last year, for example.
But normally, brawls between antifascists and racists get most of the attention. In the aftermath of this weekend’s otherwise uneventful rallies, antifa’s attacks on the media stood out.
The movement was condemned not only by right-wing commentators (several of whom found ways to criticize the mainstream media for not sufficiently covering the attacks), but also by prominent national reporters such as CNN’s Jake Tapper and Brian Stelter.
The press being the press, reactions varied. Daily Beast reporter Kelly Weill argued that the vast majority of antifascists in the District this weekend “were pretty uniformly chill.”
Jorge Ribas and Peter Jamison contributed to this report. It has been updated with new accounts of antifa members harassing journalists.