Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Reporting on the events of June 29, 2019, when the gutsy freelance reporter Andy Ngo was beaten half to death by Antifa goons during a disturbance in Portland, Oregon, journalist Katie Shepherd – then at the local rag Willamette Week, now at the Washington Post – described the demo as “mostly unremarkable.” Later, Jerry Nadler called Antifa “imaginary” and Post “fact-checkers” denied Antifa’s brutality. When, in August 2020, Ngo addressed a Senate hearing at the invitation of Ted Cruz, Hawaii’s Mamie Hirono dismissed his testimony out of hand, while other Democrats left the chamber. So it goes on both sides of the Atlantic: pols and pressmen alike repeatedly deny or defend even Antifa’s worst depredations (“Destroying property, which can be replaced, is not violence,” pronounced New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, notorious for rewriting American history in the 1619 Project) while celebrities like Steve Carell shell out sizable sums to bail out Antifa thugs.
Some of these supporters (such as, presumably, Carell) are fools who’ve drunk the Antifa Kool-Aid; the likes of Nadler and Mirono, meanwhile, crave power at any cost, and view Antifa as a handy tool. (The Nazis had the Gestapo and SS; the Democrats have Antifa and Black Lives Matter.) Some Democrats don’t love Antifa, but much of their base does; better, they reason, to let innocents be killed than to alienate voters.
Although Antifa members fall into a range of ideological categories – “anarchists, communists, anarcho-syndicalists, Marxist black nationalists, and so on” (BLM is more purely communist) – the group has one overarching, unifying goal: to overthrow America. “Before May 20,” recalls Ngo in his splendid new book Unmasked: Inside Antifas’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy, “I never thought antifa could ever come close to achieving this goal.” (He prefers to write “antifa” with a lower-case initial “a.”) Then he saw Antifa take over parts of U.S. cities, whose elected leaders refused to fight back.
Aside from Portland, the big example was Seattle. In the spring of last year, the city center was a war zone. While police were forbidden to use tear gas (thus sustaining serious injuries), Antifa was allowed to cordon off its own territory, called CHAZ and (later) CHOP. Mayor Jenny Durkin predicted a “summer of love”; instead, in the course of twenty-four days, “there were numerous assaults, robberies, an attempted rape, six shootings, and two homicides.” Even after the writing was on the wall, Durkin insisted that CHAZ, far from being “a lawless wasteland of anarchist insurrection,” was “a peaceful expression of our community’s collective grief and their desire to build a better world.” Durkin wasn’t alone in her self-delusion (if that’s what it was): ignoring Antifa’s repeated calls for cop-killing and revolution, the mainstream media assured the public that CHAZ was all about “racial justice.”
Undaunted by the concussion that was his souvenir from Portland, Ngo infiltrated CHAZ undercover and spent a week there. “In many ways,” he writes, it “was like being among jihadists,” for their mutual solicitude was matched only by their contempt for the enemy. By day, when journalists were present, CHAZ was relatively peaceful: families with kids would “make street art”; sympathetic outsiders brought free pizza to their black-masked idols. The Daily Beast reported that local merchants loved CHAZ. Yes, confirms Ngo, some did; but the many who didn’t like it were terrified to say so. For if by day CHAZ was a carnival, by night it metamorphosed into a place of “chaos, violence, and death”: one punk patrolled the area with a semi-automatic; there was gunfire and bloodshed, with mobs preventing medics from accessing victims; nearly a thousand cops were wounded.
The end of CHAZ/CHOP didn’t mark the end of Antifa mayhem. Returning to Portland, Ngo resumed covering the tumult there. Police Chief Danielle Outlaw (yes, Outlaw), hired in 2017 largely because she was a black woman, disappointed many local fans of anarchy by actually doing her job; after two years, she resigned because the city council fought her law-and-order stance. Her successor, Jami Resch, quit after a few months; she was followed by Charles Lovell, who tilted with Mayor Ted Wheeler over the latter’s tear-gas ban. Then there was county D.A. Rod Underhill, who between May and August 2020 released hundreds of agitators who’d been arrested; when he resigned, he was replaced by Mike Schmidt, who responded to the unrest with praise: “I think that when you look historically at this nation, it’s during these protests when we’ve gotten some of the changes that we are proudest of in our nation’s history.” When Schmidt issued a list of offenses, some quite serious, that he wouldn’t prosecute, the rioting grew even worse.
Then, in November 2020, Mayor Wheeler narrowly won re-election over Sarah Iannarone, who’d tweeted “I am Antifa” and refused to denounce the group’s savagery. During this period, Antifa activity in Portland centered largely on the federal courthouse – and since Wheeler wouldn’t let cops protect U.S. property, over a hundred federal agents were sent in to guard it. They suffered major injuries, and when Governor Kate Brown ordered Oregon state cops to take over their duties, clueless blue-checkmark journalists from New York and Washington, D.C., treated it as a victory by virtuous Davids over evil Trumpian Goliaths.
In addition to reporting from the nutty Pacific Northwest, Ngo delves into Antifa’s history, which began in 1932, when the German Communist Party formed Antifaschistische Aktion – Antifa for short. The postwar formation of East Germany showed what Antifa ideology looked like in practice; under its secret police, the Stasi, “no activity or space was free of spies,” with informants numbering in the hundreds of thousands. It was, of course, the East Germans who put up the Antifascistischer Schutzwall, or “anti-fascist defense wall,” known in the West as the Berlin Wall, and it was the Stasi that lent critical support to the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction, or Baader-Meinhof Gang), formed in 1968, which killed dozens of innocent West Germans. Antifa’s Portland branch was its first in the U.S., blending the Communism and anarchism of its German parent with the American academic focus on social justice and intersectionality – meaning that American Antifa isn’t fighting (or pretending to fight) for workers but for transsexuals and POC (“people of color”), among other favored minorities.
There’s more here. Ngo names the radical bookstores in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and elsewhere that serve as Antifa fronts; he sums up the rap sheets of Antifa hooligans who’ve committed murder; he examines Antifa’s practice of publicizing its critics’ addresses while calling them Nazis; he explains how journalists parrot Antifa propaganda while people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Keith Ellison use their elected positions to try to mainstream Antifa.
Around the world, so-called journalists make millions for sitting in TV studios and reading establishment talking points into a camera. Then there are other journalists – real journalists – who, usually for chump change, risk danger, even death, to uncover the truth about Islamic terrorists, Mexican drug cartels, Russian oligarchs, and the like. Needless to say, Andy Ngo belongs in the latter group. One of the most damning indictments of today’s mainstream media is that while Antifa ran amuck all over America for months on end, highly paid talking heads routinely whitewashed the ferocity, leaving it almost exclusively to one man, Andy Ngo, to tell the world what was really going on.
Where did Ngo get his cojones? In a moving passage at the end of his book, he tells us: his parents, who endured poverty, prison camps, and “re-education” in their native Vietnam, emigrated to America, where “they cherished the new freedoms they had” and raised their son to cherish them too – and, ultimately, to recognize in Antifa everything his parents had fled. To Antifa’s misguided followers, Ngo has one message: “look to where their ideas have been put into practice. No one inherits a utopian civilization. They inherit ash, blood, and feces-stained rubble.” Alas, too many Americans today have been brainwashed by radical professors not to cherish their country but despise it, and hence to view the pestiferous vermin of Antifa as, heaven help us, heroes.