On 21 March at a demonstration in Bolton, Greater Manchester Police arrested 74 protestors from the rival English Defence League (EDL) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF). Most of the arrested were UAF supporters. According to the police:
"We have seen groups of people, predominantly associated with the UAF, engaging in violent confrontation...It is clear to me that a large number have attended with the sole intention of committing disorder and their actions have been wholly unacceptable...they acted with, at times, extreme violence."
A UAF spokesman responded with that organization's by now characteristic combination of aggressive assurance and petulant whimpering: "As soon as we arrived at the square we received hostility from police officers. We were certainly not the violent ones, we had come with the intention to protest peacefully against racism and fascism. However, the police stormed into our side of the square and started picking out UAF leaders and arresting them before anything had even happened."
I have never been to Bolton, don't like the look of the EDL and am not defending fascism. I also acknowledge freely that there are many on the left who are agreeable and fair-minded. But anyone who has ever seen self-described 'antifa' activists being, well, active will guess that UAF is being economical with the actualité.
We are so well-informed about the horrors of World War Two that to be an anti-antifascist may seem like perversity. But the problem with antifascists is that usually they are not attacking real fascists - simply people who do not share their peculiar anarchist/Trotskyite views. As well as the EDL, recent targets of antifa ire include the Dutch MP Geert Wilders and the journal American Renaissance - both patently non-fascist. At other times, antifa yahoos have also singled out senior Conservative politicians and respected academics for obloquy and aggression. Antifascists were behind the 2002 killing of Pim Fortuyn and are behind the ongoing bombing campaign in Athens. And there are innumerable earlier examples of antifa intifada - the Red Brigades, the Baader-Meinhof Gang, Black September and the IRA, to name just some.
British antifascists do not generally go to such lengths - although during a recent UAF protest, a so far unapprehended zealot threw darts at the BNP's Nick Griffin. But as was demonstrated in Bolton, once antifascists step out en masse they become emotionally incontinent. Their righteous anger and burning certainty about absolutely everything (but especially race) bubble up constantly and copiously, and spread like a stain on the cultural carpet. As soon as the antifa megaphones strike up like the brazen trumpets of Norse raiders or the bagpipes of a Highland regiment (antifascists are almost always white), the testosterone levels surge. Where there were individuals milling around, suddenly there is a PC pack heaving hungrily like an ocean, swearing and jostling under placards which (as good luck would have it) can double up as weapons. Reasonableness and reservations are subsumed in the myopic madness of the crowd - the herd, the flock, the super-organism that is always strong and always wrong. The antifa-fatheads would not appreciate the comparison, but they are brethren to KKK lynch-mobs, the crowd that wrecked the theatre on first hearing The Rite of Spring or the ignoramuses who recently assaulted an innocent man because they could not tell the difference between a pædiatrician and a pædophile.
Like all warmongers, antifascists claim to come in peace, and say they fight only in self-defence. But they know only too well that where there are large numbers of slogan-stoked, stick-toting protestors (many masked, some probably psychopaths or serial criminals) gathered just yards away from people they would like to kill (who may be egging them on), with just a cordon of frightened police in between, there are likely to be consequences. They always claim that violence, if it comes, is initiated by the 'fascists' and the police. They are picked on, not pickers-on; they are never, ever to blame. (They are admittedly never responsible.) This constantly reinforcing sense of persecution feeds a bizarre belief that they are 'radical' and 'anti-establishment' - as if their organizations were not backed by trade unions, charities and innumerable opportunistic politicians (amongst UAF patrons is one David Cameron, MP) and as if their policies were not just a slightly sped-up version of our present internationalist orthodoxy.
Antifascists boast of their understanding - but all they really understand is how to manipulate the media. They film each other constantly whilst about their Good Work, heaving against the stretching police lines, shouting "he hit me!" indignantly for the cameras whilst modestly neglecting to mention that they may have hit him first, brandishing their bloodstains for YouTube whilst editing out the ichor of opponents. They combine unpleasantness with unmanliness; they are not just vicious, but crybabies too, who usually cannot take the hard knocks they are so eager to distribute.
They profess liberal values, and claim to be on the side of broad-mindedness. But really they cannot bear that someone should hold views that diverge from theirs. They are not so much antifascist as anti-fact. Nor would they ever even consider that opponents may have good intentions or noble personal qualities. The antifa cosmology contains only angels and devils. If you are not wholly with them, you are wholly against, part of the problem, part of the system - at best suspect, at worst subhuman scum (the last one of their favourite words). They are the intellectual and emotional heirs of the Levellers, Ranters and Muggletonians who plagued 17th century England, and thought that Cromwell was a liberal. They are pop-eyed post-Puritans, fixed-idea fanatics, self-appointed avengers of certain historical wrongs (but not others) - wrongs which usually have little to do with the targets of their hatred.
They wear a too-proletarian-to-be-true motley of jeans and T-shirts -- but they are clad in transcendent livery too, a ferrous fervour that preserves them against self-doubt (in fact, any kind of self-analysis). They also often wear masks. They claim that these are necessary to protect themselves against state/'fascist' reprisals (they rarely make any distinction) - but in fact they lend a dark glamour and militant commonality to their preterite proceedings, while usefully preserving the anonymity of activists who have been so very active that the police would like them to help with their enquiries.
The antifa aficionados of the global working class (most antifascists are incidentally middle-class perpetual students of second-or third-string universities) see no contradiction in working out their politico-psychological frustrations on the faces and bodies of working class police officers drafted in from their peacable weekends to ensure that the country's most obnoxious people can exercise their ancient right to bawl imbecilic catchphrases. For the antifa-natics, punched police and battered bystanders are merely collateral damage in their spittle-flecked Kulturkampf against everything symbolic of Christianity, conservativism, capitalism, Westernism and whiteness. They are themselves the victims of arrested ideological development, the special forces of special needs, stormtroopers of perpetual revolution battling to impose their New Model World By Any Means Necessary. They see themselves as a makeshift militia of modernity - scruffy soldiers in a hoped-for holy war of all against all for ever.
If they were honest, Unite Against Fascism would call themselves Unite Against Freedom. If they were really on the side of the angels, antifascists would not need to hide behind hoods. And if they were wise and brave, mainstream politicians would condemn these violent obscurantists who bring neither justice nor peace to any situation, nor insight to any of our increasingly urgent debates.