A conspiracy theory has spread like wildfire through the Far Right claiming that on November 4, “antifa” will start a civil war and attempt to overthrow Donald Trump. The date is supposed to precede the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, and the demonstrations are described as a prelude to establishing a Communist dictatorship. One website says, “they are planning to kill every single Trump voter, Conservative and gun owner.” The different permutations of the conspiracy show the fears of the Far Right. But, more dangerously, these false claims that antifa will initiate a wave of violence are a kind of projection; in reality, the conspiracy is being used to encourage Far Right activists to harm non-violent Leftist protestors. And threats of violence are pouring in on social media.
Former PRA Senior Analyst Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons write in Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort that conspiracy theories often “start with a grain of truth.” That grain is that the left-wing group Refuse Fascism has called for national demonstrations on November 4. In August, the group issued a call for supporters to:
Take To The Streets And Public Squares in cities and towns across the country continuing day after day and night after night—not stopping—until our DEMAND is met: This Nightmare Must End: The Trump/Pence Regime Must Go! In the Name of Humanity, We REFUSE to Accept a Fascist America!
In a clarification, Refuse Fascism explicitly said the protests will be “non-violent.”
Refuse Fascism is closely associated with the Revolutionary Communist Party, a small Maoist party which formed in the 1970s—although Refuse Fascism itself contains activists from a variety of backgrounds. (It is not uncommon for specifically Marxist-Leninist groups to receive disproportionate attention by the Far Right, as opposed to anarchist or other radical left activists.) So far the November 4 demonstrations seem to have gained limited traction outside of Refuse Fascism.
Additionally, despite Far Right misrepresentations, Refuse Fascism is not an antifa group—although they are openly sympathetic to the movement, and have defended antifa on their website. No self-identified antifa groups seem to have endorsed the November 4 demonstrations, although some are warning their social media followers about the conspiracy theory.
Antifa has also been the focus of Far Right conspiracies since a large black bloc careened through Washington, DC during Trump’s inauguration on January 20. (Black Blocs are a demonstration tactic where militant activists dress in all black and wear masks.) Fake flyers, attributed to antifa groups, were circulated which called for the murder of white children, and even fake demonstrations have been called. Conspiracies have included claims of Soros and Clinton funding; planned desecration of Confederate graves; and ties to ISIS. Alex Jones of Infowars even claimed that the hotel room of shooter Stephen Paddock, who murdered 58 people (not including himself) in Las Vegas on October 1, had “antifa crap everywhere.”
Unsurprisingly, there is no evidence for these claims—and usually, exactly the opposite is true. For example, there are antifa activists fighting in Syria—but they are fighting alongside the largely-Kurdish YPG against ISIS.
The Details of the Conspiracy
The Patriot movement has long fixated on the idea of a coming civil war and a Communist takeover. Earlier this year, Far Right media warned about a “Summer of Rage.” One conspiracy website headline claimed: “Summer of rage set to boil over as militant leftists plan to OVERTHROW Trump. Chaos planned in 50 largest cities!” In this case, the focus was on nation-wide, peaceful “Impeachment Marches” that were held on July 2. But the November 4 conspiracy has spread much wider than this previous one.
The November 4 conspiracy video went viral when a video was posted on the “Vets Before Illegals” Facebook page on September 20 which has received 3 million views. In it, a man dressed like U.S. Marshal claims that:
On their website they [antifa] are calling for an open civil war that they will start here in the United States in November. They are fundraising for weapons, training, ammunition, supplies. They’re not hiding this. They are openly fundraising so that they can get the stuff together to attack—and this is verbatim what they’re going to do—they will start off by attacking police officers, first responders, anybody that’s in uniform.
And after they have disrupted that enough in the nation, and us first responders are literally going everywhere, trying to resolve things—they will then go after the citizens, and the people, and the government, and all of that.
So if you’re white, you’re a Trump supporter—you’re a Nazi then to them—and it will be open game on you. I don’t know why we’re allowing this, but it is time that, honestly, if our leaders and our leadership isn’t going to step up and finish this, we have to—each and every one of us has to, and that is our right, and that is what we must do.
Not just are the “verbatim” quotes entirely fabricated, but the video ends with a call to vigilante action by the Far Right.
These claims were later picked up by media with larger reach, like Infowars, who have promoted the conspiracy in multiple articles and broadcasts. But it is just one of dozens of Far Right websites and videos— including the John Birch Society’s New American and Richard Spencer’s AltRight.com—which promote and elaborate on the details of the story.
Some claim that a night of mayhem, based on the movie The Purge, will occur. For example, YouTube vlogger “Sage Wanderer,” stresses that home invasions will be a major component of November 4, because antifa will supposedly attempt to steal guns for the upcoming revolution. Another vlogger muses about the possibility that George Soros will hire “trained professional killers” to fight alongside antifa. On an Infowars broadcast, Doug Hagmann claims “evangelical churches” will be attacked, while Jones claims that “it’s usually tranny men saying they are going to kill everybody.”
One popular Facebook post has upped the ante on the conspiracy, saying:
looks like the new black panthers organization has confirmed they will be part of nov 4th riots and chaos, BLM has just received almost 25 million for weapons and other tools to supply groups that plan to attack “white people” on nov 4th. It is expected there will be over 5 million people in 6 states. The FBI has seen a 1200% up tick in registered democrats buying weapons and mass ammunition. The group called ANTIFA has now reached just over 800,000 members, mostly kids with ages from 16-28 throughout the country. FB will be used as the most cost effective way to transmit locations to attack. Ms-13 has pledged all of there members will join the BLM along with many other gangs.
Last, a number of commentators have encouraged their followers to prepare “bug-out bags,” HAM radios, and emergency supplies—or to leave the cities entirely and head to rural areas.
Unsurprisingly, this level of wild rhetoric has produced a huge amount of online threats against antifa and other organizers. Far Right Facebook groups are flooded with threats to attack the demonstrations and murder antifa members. Refuse Fascism says that their supporters have received “outright death-threats and rape-threats.” The conspiracy has even spread to Canada, where Three Percenter paramilitaries are spreading it.
Anti-Communist Conspiracy Theories
These “anti-antifa” conspiracy theories are a recycling of anti-Communist conspiracy theories. Popularized in the United States by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s and later championed by the John Birch Society, they went beyond mere attempts to whip up political support for the Cold War and to destroy the Communist Party USA. Instead, they cast Communists in the “role of the villain in the classic conspiracy theory narrative common to both right-wing populism and fascism,” according to an email from Chip Berlet. Communists are portrayed as a secretive group dedicated to undermining the nation, intent on fomenting civil war and encouraging national discord by supporting equality for oppressed groups, especially racial minorities. Sometimes anti-Communist conspiracies veer into anti-Semitism, with claims of a “Judeo-Bolshevik” conspiracy. They can also support organized White Nationalism, for example claiming that the Civil Rights Movement was a Communist conspiracy.
Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusade ended in a backlash against him after he started to focus on the U.S. Army. But his ideas were taken up and developed by the John Birch Society, whose founder Robert Welch claimed that Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a secret Communist. And books like Gary Allen’s 1971 None Dare Call It Conspiracy claim that the Communist conspiracy acted in concert with a series of liberal foundations, wealthy banking families, the Council on Foreign Relations, the United Nations, and the various New Left radical movements.
The popularity of anti-Communist conspiracies has waxed and waned on the Far Right. During the Obama administration, they received a boost alongside the idea—derived from a loose reading of economist Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom—that even mild government social regulation was “Communism” or “socialism.” At the same time, a crypto-antisemitic conspiracy theory also started gaining traction: the notion of “Cultural Marxism” which is widely used by the right-wing today, even in mainstream circles. This conspiracy started by blaming a small group of mostly Jewish Marxist academics, the Frankfurt School, for undermining U.S. conservative values. While the specific claims vary widely, Cultural Marxism is often held responsible for the idea that oppressed groups should have equality in our society, or for the supposed left-wing influence in education or media.
These ideas are circulating again, with antifa often taking the place of the Communists—despite the fact that most US antifa activists tend to be anarchists, and politically hostile to Leninist ideas. Neonazis have long trafficked in anti-Communist and “anti-antifa” ideas and imagery—for example, using the term “Rock Against Communism” to refer to neonazi skinhead bands. “Anti-Communist” symbols and slogans that neo-Nazis developed are now being disseminated in Patriot/militia and Alt Right circles.
“Anti-Marxism” as a New Organizing Theme for the Independent Trumpists
Also of importance is the role that “Anti-Marxism” is taking for what I have labeled “Independent Trumpism.” This is the street alliance of Patriot movement activists, Alt Rightists, Trumpist Republicans, Islamophobes and others which have held a number of rallies since February 2017, sometimes attacking left-wing rallies and sometimes being attacked by left-wing protestors. So far their events have been concentrated on three themes: “free speech,” which is really a cover for ultra-nationalist rallies; defending Confederate memorials from removal, which was the ostensible reason for the August 12 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; and Islamophobic rallies, such as the June 10 “March Against Sharia.”
However, “Anti-Marxist” and “Anti-Communist” ideas and rallies have become more popular as well among the same groups of Far Right activists. The violent group “Anti-Communist Action” started in early 2017 and has been acting as a security force for events where Alt Right fascist leader Richard Spencer appears. Their flags are frequently seen at Far Right rallies.
A number of Independent Trumpist rallies have also specifically been called under these anti-Communist slogans. They include a Patriot Prayer “Stand Against Communism” rally in Seattle on May 1; the canceled August 27 “No To Marxism in America” rally in Berkeley, where fights broke out between antifa and Far Right activists who attended anyway; and an October 7 “Anti Marxist Rally” in New Orleans. On August 16, there was also a protest at an ironic Lenin statue in Seattle, Washington.
There are also two upcoming rallies: the November 18 “Rally for the Republic” in Boston which is sponsored by a new coalition called “Resist Marxism.” It lists affiliates which include the Massachusetts Oath Keepers, Massachusetts Three Percent, Patriot Prayer, Based Stickman, and the American Guard’s New Hampshire chapter. A December 28 “March Against Communism” was called for Charlotte, North Carolina and was originally to feature a torch lit rally with Richard Spencer. The march was canceled on September 28, however, and it is unclear if another event such as a private rally will take its place.
The organizing function of these “looming war” narratives serves to motivate the Far Right base, rather than function as actual predictions. There has already been a spate of provocations and attacks on left-wing and progressive demonstrations and spaces throughout the United States all year. Refuse Fascism reports that permits for their rallies in San Francisco and New York City have been denied, which will give them less ability to control what happens if and when counter-protestors show up. Because of the level of rhetoric on the Far Right, activists attending the November 4 demonstrations should take into account these threats.