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Opinion Black Lives Matter and ‘antifa’ are not the same thing

Demonstrators gather around the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Aug. 28 to protest racism and police violence. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)
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Can’t believe I have to say this, but here goes. Black Lives Matter and “antifa” are not the same thing. Let me repeat. Black Lives Matter and antifa are not the same thing.

This moment of clarity (I hope) was inspired by a headline in the New York Post clearly designed to rile its conservative audience and one loyal reader in particular by the name of President Trump. “Man suspected in deadly Portland shooting calls himself ‘100% ANTIFA’” was based on a report in the Oregonian newspaper with this more newsy headline, “Man under investigation in fatal shooting after pro-Trump rally allegedly took loaded gun to earlier Portland protest.”

The Oregonian reports that a man is “under investigation in the fatal shooting Saturday night of a right-wing demonstrator after a pro-Trump rally.” Other details in the story include that he was accused of carrying a loaded gun at a July Black Lives Matter rally. Those charges were dropped. The Oregonian also reports that this man’s social media posts show that he had attended many of the BLM demonstrations in Portland, Ore., that began after the police killing in May of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The paper notes that a post from June declared, “I am 100% ANTIFA all the way! I am willing to fight for my brothers and sisters!”

On behalf of Black people, may I say, “No thanks.”

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By his alleged murderous actions, he has aided Trump and the right-wing outrage machine in their effort to meld peaceful BLM protesters with the lawless rioters and looters who use their righteous cause as cover. As a result, the alleged killer has pulled the spotlight further away from the reason for the peaceful protests in the first place.

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People, all sorts of people, took to the streets of U.S. cities large and small after the Floyd killing. The multiracial makeup of the protests, along with rising approval for the Black Lives Matter movement, led many of us to believe that we had reached a turning point in our fraught racial history. But it didn’t take long for the focus to shift (and the support to begin to falter). And the first national expression of umbrage came from E.D. Mondainé, the president of the Portland branch of the NAACP, in a July 23 op-ed for The Post.

“As the demonstrations continue every night in Portland, many people with their own agendas are co-opting, and distracting attention from, what should be our central concern: the Black Lives Matter movement,” Mondainé wrote. “The protests that have gone on for weeks in Portland and around the country had a very specific origin. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis prompted a nationwide reckoning with the original and savage crime of slavery our country committed against African Americans. This crime has been reverberating through every generation in this country, black and white, for 401 years. That monstrous crime has finally caught up with us as a nation. I do not believe it is a time for spectacle.”

For Mondainé, “spectacle” included “Naked Athena,” whom he derided as “a beneficiary of white privilege dancing vainly on a stage that was originally created to raise up the voices of my oppressed brothers and sisters.” But he had a more serious concern. “Unfortunately, ‘spectacle’ is now the best way to describe Portland’s protests,” Mondainé complained. “Vandalizing government buildings and hurling projectiles at law enforcement draw attention — but how do these actions stop police from killing Black people? What are antifa and other leftist agitators achieving for the cause of Black equality?”

Great questions. And the answers are “they don’t” and “nothing,” respectively. And now that someone who claims to be “100% ANTIFA all the way” and has made BLM his cause stands accused of murder, the answer to that second question is an emphatic “absolutely nothing.”

In fact, the Rev. Al Sharpton, organizer of the large Aug. 28 civil rights demonstration in front of the Lincoln Memorial raised an even bigger issue. “The right wing’s intentional distortion of the Black Lives Matter and Antifa Movements not only misrepresents our movement,” he told me via email, “but it [also] undermines the pending trials for [the killers of] George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, who defense attorneys and police would want to depict them as violent anarchists.”

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As the president heads to Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday to pick at the scab of a wounded community and, by extension, a nation in desperate need of healing, remember why Americans are protesting. Why they came to Washington over the weekend. They are tired of the fatal injustices they have seen with their own eyes in just the past few months. But Black Americans are especially tired. Tired of feeling hunted. Tired of not being heard or outright ignored. And, as Mondainé so eloquently laid out, we are most certainly tired of some White people using our pain for their own selfish purposes.

Remember that the next time someone tries to make Black Lives Matter and antifa one and the same. They aren’t. Anyone who insists that they are is misinformed at best and a willful liar at worst.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj. Subscribe to Cape Up, Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast

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