With the Antifa growing more extreme, Donald Trump’s rhetoric against peaceful protesters in general intensifies to provide White supremacists and neo-Nazis justification for their violence, extremism and racism
This is a tale of extreme polarisation.
Two extremely polarised groups in the United States – far-right Proud Boys and far-left Antifa – have been in the constant media limelight for some days now.
These two groups have caught sporadic media attention through their street faceoff for quite some time. But following the first presidential debate on September 30 when Chris Wallace asked Donald Trump if he condemns the far-right white supremacists and militia groups, all eyes have turned on them.
Donald Trump in his response asked the Proud Boys to "stand back, and stand down." However, the US President did not stop there.
Taking an immediate swipe at the anti-fascist Antifa movement and the Left, Trump said, "Somebody's got to do something about antifa and the Left because this is not a right-wing problem."
The debates and controversies surrounding these two extreme groups continues.
So, who are the Proud Boys and what is Antifa?
Antifa is not a well-defined organisation. According to FBI director Christopher Wray, it is rather an ideology or a movement.
The core objective of this movement is to preclude the emergence of "another Hitler", as Antifa argues that had there been protests in Germany at the inception of Nazism, Hitler could not have taken Germany where it ultimately went during the Second World War.
Proud Boys, which is more of a formal organisation unlike antifa, with somewhat of a leadership structure, claims to promote an unapologetic pride in "Western civilisation" without - what they claim to be - the onslaught of liberalism-infused sense of guilt or political correctness.
Ali Riaz, a distinguished Professor of Politics and Government at Illinois State University said that the white supremacist Proud Boys group has supportive media bases (Breibart for example) and unlike the Antifa movement, they are functioning in the US and Europe in an organised way.
"As they are typically Trump supporters, the president's rhetoric works as 'dog whistle for them'," the Professor added.
"The Antifa movement, on the other hand, is 'a loose conglomerate of anarchists' and consequently it is difficult to put them in one banner," said Professor Riaz.
These two groups, with different polarised missions, faceoff each other in the US streets.
While the Proud Boys are often pictured wearing helmets "antifa hunting permit" printed on them and regularly engage in violence, the Antifa also engage in violence. But they justify their actions as necessary to thwart the rise of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The second amendment of the US constitution, which grants individuals and militias to bear arms, certainly does not help the situation.
Shafquat Rabbee, based in Texas, is a faculty at the University of Dallas and a geopolitical columnist. Rabbee said, "If you look at who the actual supporters of these two organisations are, you will find that people with xenophobia, islamophobia, anti-Semitism, white supremacy, paranoid beliefs in conspiracies are filling up a large part of the Proud Boys ranks."
"And those with deep-rooted anarchic tendencies, dreams of violent social upheavals with extreme socialist and communist undertones are filling in the ranks of antifa," Rabbee added.
Ali Riaz, however, does not believe that these two are equivalent.
"But irrespective of Antifa's principal argument, their extreme actions are leaving a damaging mark," he added.
Rabbee also agrees that there are major disconnects regarding what these loosely defined organisations hold as their core ideologies versus what their supporters are actually doing.
Serving the same purpose
Through the Antifa's history of street fights and violence, many in the US believe that they have given the white supremacists excuse to emerge in an organised way.
The agenda and tactics of Antifa have been counterproductive.
Since the beginning of the Trump presidency, many peaceful movements for social and racial justice faced difficulties as the Antifa, sometimes, would sabotage these social movements and turn them into violent street faceoffs.
With the Antifa growing more extreme, Donald Trump's rhetoric against peaceful protesters in general only intensifies, providing white supremacists and neo-Nazis justification for their violence, extremism and racism.
"Antifa is problematic and counterproductive to the movements against racial inequality because they are extremists and so are the white supremacists. At the end of the day, you cannot thwart one extremism with another extremism," Professor Ali Riaz said.
In a country where people are predominantly anti-communist, where many people do not trust even the social democrats, the rise of far-right dogmas and prejudices can only be thwarted through peaceful social movements.
But the violent protests against the prejudices of the far right, as the Antifa does, could only justify their rise among the US citizens, especially when a divisive, opportunist president like Donald Trump is at the helm of the White House.
"Antifa is not equivalent to Proud Boys, but due to unintended consequence of their attitudes and actions, the Antifa may end up serving Proud Boys' purposes and privilege Donald Trump," added Professor Ali Riaz.
Could Antifa and Proud Boys influence the November elections?
Shafquat Rabbee does not think so. "The good news is that neither of these organisations are widely popular, with both having only several thousand active participants in their movements, at most."
"There are not too many undecided voters left in this election cycle. People have largely made up their minds. In that sense, it is unlikely any of these organisations will have much of a direct electoral impact unless the election ends up in total chaos and uncertainty."
"You will surely see these guys fight under such a scenario on live TV," Rabbee added.
Professor Ali Riaz, however, believes that the presence and attitude of the white supremacists may influence the November elections as they are intimidating the voters.
But what about the Antifa?
"How Antifa could influence the elections is hard to tell. But their presence will only legitimise the existence of the white supremacists," said Professor Riaz.