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Understanding Antifa

How can black clad provocateurs wearing jackboots claim to be champions of democracy and “the people?” How is rioting and looting considered virtuous behavior? Why is there support for this anarchy among many Western elites?  In 2017, for example, Keith Ellison, then the deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee and now the Minnesota Attorney General, spoke at a Netroots conference and promoted a book that is a handbook for violence in the Antifa movement. He tweeted that this guide to violence would “strike fear in the heart of @realDonaldTrump.”    

The anarchism of Antifa embodies the revolutionary outlook, common in the West since the 18th century, that reviles traditional institutions, that seeks to undermine authority through random violence and that assumes any violent spark that creates a popular uprising will usher in a utopian world of equality and justice. Antifa, like many revolutionaries before them, see themselves as midwives of true democracy, and violence is important in making certain that a new world is born. As one historian of anti-fascist movements wrote in Jacobin magazine, anti-facist movements begin as defenders of the vulnerable in society against fascists, but their positive goal is “a new, egalitarian economic system.” 

For more than two centuries, two theories of democracy have competed and clashed in the West. One theory of democracy, embodied in British constitutionalism and the American Constitution, was realistic about human nature and therefore assumed that the spontaneous popular will had to be checked, refined, and enlarged through a constitution. Under this view, unchecked popular passions are, in reality, a tyranny.  

As Alexander Hamilton said in a 1788 speech: “It has been observed that a pure democracy, if it were practicable, would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies, in which the people themselves deliberated, never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.”

The philosophical assumption of the Framers’ constitutionalism is that all human beings, and therefore the larger society itself, have a dangerous part of their nature that needs controlling and a healthy part that must exercise control. Human beings are torn between a higher and lower self, as each individual must struggle to impose discipline upon their own impulses and desires. In religious or philosophical terminology, the Aristotelian wants to conform to the “law of measure,” the Christian seeks to “follow their conscience,” the Confucian must align one’s own will with a “higher will,” and the Hindu must exercise an “inner check.” 

With this view of human nature, the democratic theory that emerged in The Federalist Papers is one of elaborate constitutional mechanisms to slow and prevent popular excesses, to allow the better angels of our nature to serve as our guide. Power must be divided in a multiplicity of ways so that no one in the system can exert their will unrestrained. This democratic theory also supports a variety of intermediate and traditional institutions, such as churches and local civic organizations that may help to mold orderly and responsible citizens and leaders. This type of constitutionalism requires leaders of a certain moderate temperament who will seek compromise and consensus.  

In the West, this constitutionalist theory of democracy has been losing ground in competition with the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who believed that human beings are naturally good and that any internal struggle within the human psyche is artificial. For Rousseau, human nature is not divided between a higher and lower self; in fact, impulse and spontaneity are the equivalents of virtue. In Emile, Rousseau advises parents to avoid instilling any habits in their children, precisely the opposite of Aristotle’s advice.  

With Rousseau’s outlook, democracy becomes skeptical of constitutional checks and balances: Rousseau wishes to unshackle popular sentiment not refine and enlarge it. Rousseau’s “General Will” of the people is a magical and mystical force for good and there exists no higher law above it. Traditional institutions, in Rousseau’s view, repress the natural goodness of “the people” and make the political order artificial. True democracy, Rousseau said, will liberate the natural sentiments of the “the people” that are held down by retrograde institutions.  

For Rousseau, therefore, any institutions that impede, slow, and hinder the flowering of popular passions are viewed as malevolent enemies of democracy. Rousseau wished that civilization itself could be swept away so that human beings might return to their virtuous aboriginal condition, that of the “noble savage.” In his Confessions, Rousseau exclaimed that, for human beings, civilization is “the true source of his miseries” because any institutions designed to check impulse and passion are unnatural and illegitimate. Revolt against traditional institutions is built into the DNA of Rousseau’s ideas and is the great common goal of all Western revolutionaries to this day.

Western civilization itself is a gigantic conspiracy against “the people.”

One French critic of Rousseau, Gustave Lanson, argued that Rousseau’s thought “exasperates and inspires revolt and fires enthusiasms and irritates hatreds; it is the mother of violence, the source of all that is uncompromising; it launches the simple souls who give themselves up to its strange virtue upon the desperate quest for the absolute, an absolute to be realized now by anarchy and now by social despotism.”

With Rousseauism, we see a window into the modern progressive revolutionary mindset and Antifa. Like the Jacobins, who were so much influenced by Rousseau, Antifa objects to institutions that, they believe, are repressing the downtrodden. “Institutional racism” must be overcome, they say, by attacking those who protect it, such as the police.  Antifa does not offer a platform of positive change. In the fashion of Robespierre, they seek to overthrow “the privileged” and they assume that this violence and destruction will inflame an uprising that will usher in a pure democracy of equality.  

Revolutionaries of this type are persuaded of their own innate virtue, justifying violent antinomian acts because they are tearing down artificial and conspiratorial institutions. Western civilization itself is a gigantic conspiracy against “the people.” In the view of Antifa, traditionally powerful groups, such as white men and capitalists, conspire to suppress the natural nobility of underrepresented citizens.  

Where once virtue was bound up with self-control, virtue is now found in humanitarian rioting against traditional institutions.  Therefore, a signature feature of this revolutionary outlook is the worship of rogues. Society is broken down into two groups, one virtuous and one retrograde: criminals willing to attack and destroy are sublime while those who defend tradition or the status quo, such as the police, are wicked. The gangster regalia and black outfits of Antifa signal their virtue, not their vice.   

In his time, Rousseau pointed to the monarchy, clergy, and aristocracy as the conspirators against the popular will. But modern progressives view traditional institutions as illegitimate because they view Western history as a tyranny of race, gender, and class. Even non-violent progressives generally accept the revolutionary premise that traditional hierarchies need to be torn down and replaced with rule by “woke” underrepresented groups. California Governor Gavin Newsom was a pitch perfect Rousseauist when he recently said that the violent riots were not caused by individuals; instead he insisted, “Our institutions are responsible.” Many progressives are ambivalent about criticizing the violence of Antifa because they retain this sympathetic worldview. While all on the left are not active in violent revolution, many liberal mayors and governors struggle to condemn it outright. Might that be because of shared sympathy?  

The current politics of Western democracies are so roiled and divisive because strident elements on the left have adopted this revolutionary outlook and traditionalist and populist parties of the right, some genuinely suspect and some very healthy, have sprung up to resist it. The political order of Western democracy hangs in the balance.

Reader Discussion

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on June 05, 2020 at 08:17:27 am

I learn more valuable history on this and the Mises.org site than any place else on the web.

Thanks for posting.

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OH Anarcho-Capitalist
on June 05, 2020 at 09:19:55 am

"Antifa, like many revolutionaries before them, see themselves as midwives of true democracy, and violence is important in making certain that a new world is born. " George Orwell had said it all in Animal Farm. This predilection for violence, also shared by populist movements fuelling Trump, is a danger to civilised values of liberal democracy. Tear gassing peaceful demonstrators to clear the path for a president to march with military escort, pitting the army against fellow citizens, to allow him a photo opportunity standing before a church holding the bible without opening to read it is an example of where violent thugs, unless nipped in the bud by an alert electorate, are allowed to capture power. .

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Disgusted
on June 05, 2020 at 09:53:24 am

Uhhhh! would you name those "populist" organizations that are currently engaged in violence.

Duhhhh! Did ya know that those "alert: citizens had recently burned down an historic church.

Duuuhhhh! Well, next, our *disgusted* fellow citizens will call for the dissolution of the Police and the military.
Oops, i forgot, these "alert" citizens are already doing so.

Good luck with that.
And, BTW, when THAT happens, you damn well better be alert because the thugs will not stop to ask how virtuous you are.

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gabe
on June 05, 2020 at 10:12:21 am

The Left is all about projection, the psychological defense mechanism by which one would deny undesirable attributes, intentions or desires which he actually possesses by attributing them to others.

I'd say that Disgusted seeks desperately to escape the pain of hating his deplorable self by vehemently deploring others.

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Paladin
on June 05, 2020 at 12:52:55 pm

The Left is all about projection? It is frankly embarrassing that the Right is so pathetically obsessed with “Antifa“, projecting and inflating their imagined fears of this organization onto just about everyone on the Left. Pretending that Antifa is so incredibly important is the real projection here. That’s a way to vilify everyone.

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Mann83
on June 05, 2020 at 10:37:01 am

I agree that "the thugs will not stop to ask" before unleashing their violence. That was my point. Thugs when they are allowed to capture power become a threat to civilised values.

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Disgusted
on June 05, 2020 at 21:25:47 pm

Standing armies and police forces have traditionally been the biggest threat to human liberty and Constitutional Republics. Classical liberal scholars in the past used to point that.

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Jeremy Glen Snyder
on June 05, 2020 at 21:29:56 pm

The “populist” movements engaged in armed violence would be white nationalists. Many of whom support conservatives.

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Jeremy Glen Snyder
on June 05, 2020 at 11:29:35 am

Your facts are at best twisted or worse completely wrong and intentionally misleading. There was no tear gassing of peaceful "protestors" and some of the demonstrators refused to move when told to do so. The radical elements turned violent. The President did not "march" with a military escort and did not "pit" the army against any citizens. Trump represents the civilized values of a democratic republic organized and ruled by law (the rule of constitutional law.)

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J. Clark Bongaardt
on June 07, 2020 at 18:22:12 pm

Oh, look over there, a squirrel. Ignore the looting and riots in the street, the other guy said some mean things. Feelings matter, facts don't Well done.

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Forbes
on June 20, 2020 at 10:39:25 am

Sore loser. If the public demands a right to stand and chant in Lafayette Park, the President has a right to at least walk through it safely.

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Alexandra O.
on June 05, 2020 at 09:24:30 am

This is a succinct, well-stated summary of a distinct ideology which combines both the strategic political objective of 18th century Jacobinism (to eliminate traditional institutions and overturn government) and the operational tactics of 20th century Leninism (deployment of random violence and targeted physical destruction against the symbols and assets of traditional institutions and government.)

There are distinct, important differences between then and now which render Antifa less effective and less dangerous politically than Jacobinism and Leninism while, perhaps, making it more amorphous and more difficult to counter and defeat. Jacobins and Leninists were institutionally-organized, hierarchical and deployed a command and control structure with designated leadership, all of which are eschewed by Antifa. This is most certainly a deliberate decision undertaken so as to make more difficult the law-enforcement tasks of gathering intelligence on Antifa's plans of destruction, identifying and apprehending Antifa's social justice warriors, disrupting its offensive operations and destroying its ability to function.

Smart phone technology makes it possible for Antifa to operate in such a structureless, non-hierarchical form. Yet, while this amorphous form and reliance on smart phone coordination makes it harder to infiltrate Antifa and to thwart its operational planning and prevent its destructive street tactics, one would think that it also renders Antifa strategically insignificant as a force for institutional destruction, far less tactically effective and, thus, less dangerous ultimately than it might otherwise be.

One would think, as well, that cooperation between law-enforcement, community residents and university students so as to separate protesters from thugs would go a long way toward stymying Antifa's protest disruption tactic of inciting mob violence. And, also, one would think that intelligence-gathering by infiltrator spies and electronic eavesdropping should go a long way toward disrupting Antifa's financing, operational planning and street tactics.

Finally, political, community and university leadership must decry all sympathy for Antifa and shame any media or politician's attempt yo euphemizing its activities as mere "political protests." And they must strongly advocate and support aggressive law enforcement efforts to stop Antifa's mob violence tactics, capture and arrest its followers, deny bail to the perpetrators of violence and punish them as harshly as the law will allow. Laws against mob violence that are not harsh should be amended.

And the American public together with its political and community leaders and law enforcement should, indeed, call it a "terrorist organization," but one known not as Antifa but rather as "Fantifa," meaning Fascistic anti-fascists.

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Paladin
on June 05, 2020 at 12:46:52 pm

Yours is a succinct, well-stated summary. I copied it.

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Antisocialist
on June 06, 2020 at 01:07:09 am

"This is a succinct, well-stated summary of a distinct ideology..."

It may be useful to note that the words "ideology" and "ideal" share a common origin. If a course of action is ideal, it has no unintended, undesirable consequences; if it did, it would not be ideal. From this, the ideologue extrapolates the notion that any decision that is based on ideology cannot have unintended and undesirable consequences, because ideologies, like ideals, exist is hazy state of make-believe in which all badness in the world originates with the unenlightened. This notion has many readily accessible examples: the ideological decision to require nursing homes in New York to admit COVID-19 infected patients without testing was the unintended (giving the decision-makers a generous benefit of the doubt) result of ideological tenets of non-discrimination that had disastrous results. Ideology is unavoidably concerned with a future world that never was; it is aspirational, and is therefore dismissive and contemptuous of institutions and traditions, and the wisdom and experience that they contain. The true ideologue is self-deluded into believing that his thoughts represent the truth, and cites as proof the fact that he believes them. He thus has no need for the wisdom of the ages. While he may not think that history did not begin the day before he was born, he does believe that it may as well have.

Since ideologies have little use for history and experience they have room for magic. An idealistic Antifa member's ideas of society and government and justice contain a Deus ex machina component. It is as though an idealist, disapproving of some glass figurine, dashes it the floor expecting the resulting crash not to result in a pile of useless shards, but rather in a "perfect" figurine.

This is the noble view of Antifa. A more realistic observation will suggest that there is no unified motivation, theory or ideal applicable to all people who consider themselves "anti-fascists." There are, observably, in their ranks, psychopaths, nihilists, people with thought disorders, personality disorders and mood disorders. There are people who do not need to be for anything as long as there is something to be against. There are people bored of their parents' affluence, and filled with self-loathing. There are incels with nothing better to do.

The human brain retains a primitive accommodation of disorder, destruction and violent action. There is a certain hybristophilia aspect to the romance of revolution completely apart from any identifiable political goals. Destruction and rioting is an "experience," an end in itself.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about Antifa is not that they believe any specific thing, but rather that politically cynical and opportunistic people find them potentially useful, regardless of whether they believe anything at all.

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z9z99
on June 10, 2020 at 17:09:59 pm

Useful analysis of motivation or the lack thereof.

For insights as to the motivations for what would seem to be mindless destruction it is best to view this as an aspect of fallen human nature and then evaluate it through both psychological and political lenses. Hoffer's "The True Believer" uses both, Freud's "Group Psychology etc" sees it as a psychological/herd phenomenon and Ernest Becker's "The Denial of Death" using Freud views it as an expression of the innate desire of a dying, insignificant animal to find cosmic meaning through transference to a cause, even the cause of destruction. St. Augustine's "Confessions" also provides insight as to the human nature of irrational evil, especially his story of boys stealing the pears just because they could do so.

And, as you say, the opportunity for cynical political exploitation of such death and destruction merely compounds the evil by profiting from it, as do the race hustlers, BLM and the Democrat Party which has made a career out of racism, race-baiting, racial discrimination, race manipulation and, now, the flaming and exploitation of racial violence.

It's like Crassus who owned an insurance entity, set fire to neighborhoods and employed crews to go into the burning neighborhoods, sell fire insurance policies and put out the fires of his customers houses.

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Paladin
on June 05, 2020 at 11:42:36 am

In Charles Murray's latest, "Human Diversity.....", he covers a (reported) phenomenon known as epigenetic transformation, an unsubstantiated proposition that external / environmental influences upon an individual may result in genetic changes that may be passed on to one's offspring. Proponents of this hypothesis infer that epigenetics may therefore be deployed to further advance the human condition and spirit via repetitive instances of such controlled interventions.
It strikes me that what we are witnessing with the rise of a new and vocal Jacobin sect is a form of Social Justice Epigenetics. If we continue to forcefully intervene, if we continue to make such environmental (not EPA BS) interventions, consciously and knowingly that will alter the epistemological DNA of the deplorable mass of humanity, then, Good God Almighty, we shall change the very DNA of our rotten society by a process of genetic methylation which will induce changes in how we process information and cause "world changing" alterations in our thinking and behavior.
Beware the New Man - same as the Old Man.
All that is needed is a New School of Phrenology.

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gabe
on June 05, 2020 at 12:50:57 pm

I saw the TED talk on epigenetics. Interesting perspective. Thank you.

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Antisocialist
on June 16, 2020 at 13:54:59 pm

It may be that the US is disintegrating into its individual constituencies. Over the last 10 years, Congress has abandoned all of its constitutional responsibilities except for passing massive and completely unfunded spending bills without roll-call votes aimed only at keeping the government open and the welfare state, armed forces and the internal police funded.

To my eye, the governing regime in the US has lost both the domestic consent of the governed and the international mandate from heaven.

I don’t think the end is very far off as all we have to look forward to is either more befuddled incompetence from Trump and the monumentally corrupt Republican Party or an oligarchy ultimately controlled by global vulture capitalists with Biden as a puppet executive controlled by the revolutionary elements of the monumentally corrupt Democratic Party.

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EK
on June 05, 2020 at 11:56:53 am

https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/what-experts-cant-tell-us

What the experts have not been able to tell us is why The United States and Europe has so many fatalities, while for China, Russia, and other atheistic materialists overpopulation alarmist globalists type Nations, Covid 19 did not result in deaths consistent with a pandemic.

What all who desire to destroy Liberty have in common is the erroneous belief that you can be protecting Liberty and the freedom to have a Happy Death, and thus affirm The Sanctity of all human life from the moment of conception to natural death, while promoting violence in the street, the destruction of a beloved son or daughter in their mother’s womb, and euthanasia.

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Nancy
on June 05, 2020 at 15:14:26 pm

A challenge to those who would promote violence and undermine the inherent Dignity of all those who have suffered due to racism.

https://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2020/06/dean-marcus-cole-i-am-george-floyd-except-i-can-breathe-and-i-can-do-something.html

How Blessed The Notre Dame Community is to have Dean Marcus Cole!

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Nancy
on June 05, 2020 at 16:43:11 pm

I share your admiration for the likes of Dean Cole. Not just the Notre Dame community but the world is blessed because there are such people in our midst.
I wish I could say the same about President Trump or his Attorney General.

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Disgusted
on June 08, 2020 at 11:24:08 am

No one can honestly claim that “Black lives matter”, as all lives matter, while supporting violence in the streets, the destruction of the life of a beloved son or daughter residing in their mother’s womb, or euthanasia. In fact, to condone violence in the street, the destruction of a beloved son or daughter in their mother’s womb, and euthanasia, ipso facto, is to deny the inherent Dignity of the lives of a certain group of persons, thus excluding those groups from the group of persons whose lives matter because they are first and foremost beloved sons and daughters. Every beloved son or daughter has the inherent Right to experience Life-affirming and Life -sustaining Salvational Love, thus every act that does not respect the inherent Dignity of the human person as a beloved son or daughter, is not and can never be an act of Love, and thus undermines the fact that all human life matters.

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Nancy
on June 05, 2020 at 21:03:48 pm

The comment above that there is an irrational obsession with Antifa is appalling nonsense. It is completely refuted by numerous law enforcement reports of Antifa's active involvement in the riots which led to arson, looting, massive destruction of private and public property in mostly Black communities and the homicide and injury of numerous people, mostly African-Americans. I would, however, note that besides Antifa, the public should be concerned with the active involvement in the riots of another demonstrably violent organization, Black Lives Matter.

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Paladin
on June 20, 2020 at 10:48:30 am

Antifa and BLM were both responsible for the rioting and looting, and this time, they targeted 'White watering holes' in Santa Monica and the Melrose-Fairfax neighborhoods and boutique shopping avenues of West L.A. -- the latter in a Jewish enclave -- so it seems that Antifa/BLM conflate rich Jews with rich Whites. Their intent is to destroy 'the elites', regardless of race. Or, maybe the dear souls just wanted to steal a lot of high-end items they could sell on E-bay.

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Alexandra O.
on June 05, 2020 at 21:15:27 pm

"The origins of the word antifa — shorthand for decentralized, militant street activism associated with its own aesthetic and subculture — might be murky to most readers...Today its legacy is almost entirely lost to both so-called left and right" - so comment cautiously.

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Anthony
on June 08, 2020 at 14:31:28 pm

https://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2020/06/china-makes-preaching-patriotism-compulsory-to-reopen-churches.html

I wonder what it would look like in this Nation, in this moment of Time in Salvational History to preach “patriotism”?

No doubt, now that we are no longer One Nation, Under God, and thus Indivisible, With Liberty and Justice For All, would our “patriotism “ be one that reflects a desire to secure and protect The Freedom Of The Church to proclaim that God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, Is The Author Of Love, Of Life, And Of Marriage, or a patriotism that denies our Liberty and our inherent Right to a Happy Death?

God Is The Author Of our unalienable Right to Life, to Liberty, and to The Pursuit Of Happiness, but we choose our final destiny.

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Nancy
on June 09, 2020 at 18:10:52 pm

I call these people neo-philosophs. What is alarming is that these ideals were replanted on our soil by the social sciences. Freud thought civilization was the cause of people’s distemper. This ideal is carried in psychotherapy and is why a cabal of psychologists lobbied to have pedophilia removed as an aberration in the DSM V.

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Andrew Kohlhofer
on June 10, 2020 at 11:57:34 am

Antifa, BLM, Democrats, Leftists, etc. are all regressive tribalists that want to tear down western civilization and return to the darkness, disease, poverty, and violence that was the norm through most of 10,000 years of human history. That is the only explanation for what we see where even medical professionals one day tell us Covid-19 makes it too dangerous to open our businesses and the next day tell us the protests / riots burning those businesses down are more just fine since "racism". Such irrationality and inconsistency can be explained only by understanding the abject ignorance we are seeing. More black people have died from Covid-19 in 3 months than have been by killed police in 30 years yet here we are seeing people that should know better smearing all police and the country as a whole as being systemically racist. Nothing could be more untrue.

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MikeConstitution
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[…] 1. At Law & Liberty, William Smith considers the essence of Antifa. From the essay: […]

on July 06, 2020 at 06:29:36 am

[…] Smith’s excellent essay “Understanding Antifa” offers an account of the origin of thought and action of our present revolutionaries in the […]

on July 09, 2020 at 11:08:19 am

[…] Smith’s excellent essay “Understanding Antifa” offers an account of the origin of thought and action of our present revolutionaries in the work […]

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