Reason published an interview yesterday with Erin Smith, a trans woman who is also a Trump supporter who worked in Republican politics. After encountering Antifa in at a 2016 protest in San Francisco, Smith became interested in the group and spent time going to rallies and livestreaming them. She spoke with many people at these events and got used to talking with them. Then last weekend she decided to dress in black and show up at a black bloc event in Portland, essentially going undercover in the midst of a group of people who hate her.
I’ve studied them for a bit, watching videos and stuff. I wrote a piece on antifa tactics for a monograph that’s coming out next month, for the Center for Security Policy. And I have an advantage, having gone to the rallies. But they know who I am. When antifa hates you and know who you are, the best way to hide is right in the middle of their black bloc. That’s the last place they think to look. It’s one of the advantages of dressing in black and wearing your mask.
Reason reporter Nancy Rommelmann knew in advance what Smith was doing and was there to observe. On the night that they showed up, Antifa arranged a meeting spot and then marched to the Portland Police Associate building and set it on fire. Smith describes the strategy behind that action:
Strategically what they’re doing is, they’re forcing a dilemma action. A dilemma action is when you put your opponent in a no-win situation. Your enemy has to react. If they don’t react, they look weak; if they do react, they have to react in a certain way where it looks like it’s an overreaction.
When the feds were in Portland, they were presented as overreacting, a presentation helped by innumerable people with PRESS written across their clothing flooding the internet with images that presented protesters wholly as victims of an authoritarian regime.
That’s their [antifa’s] objective. It’s not a tactical thing. That’s why all the “press” is there, the sympathetic press. They’re trying to create propaganda. They know how the police are going to react, so they carefully calibrate what they do to try to provoke the police into reacting and then filming it. They want to try to push public opinion in favor of removing the police. The police aren’t perfect, but what a police force is, it’s putting force under an objective third party, under government control. Antifa wants to separate the police from the populace.
This is basically guerilla warfare. They’re trying to undermine legitimacy of the state. The police right now, I think some of them are catching up. There’s a playbook for how police respond to riots and they’re not actually doing it; it’s not an actual riot. I mean, it is a riot, but at the same time, it’s a specific type of riot that’s trying to make the police respond in a certain way.
Smith expanded on the riot/not a riot idea. Antifa’s goal is to maintain a constant, low-level of violence, i.e. violent enough to be intimidating and to silence people who fear being subject to it, but not violent enough to leave a body count. Smith compared to it to a constant, irritating push.
If you just go in public and pick someone and start pushing them, if you keep pushing them, they’re going to slug you; it’s just how it’s going to work, at the individual level but also at the group level too. I’m also speaking metaphorically, in a sense. Of course if you hit them, they’re going to fall down and go, “Oh, God, you’re violent. You’re a Nazi!”
Of course Portland’s Antifa hasn’t been able to keep their violence from crossing the line. Michael Forest Reinoehl, who described himself as “100% Antifa” murdered Aaron Danielson in the street last month. Is that a sign that Antifa’s violence will continue to spiral out of control?
Smith says because Antifa genuinely see themselves as the good guys, they are highly motivated not to create a body count. According to Smith, becoming too violent would hinder their ultimate goal which is to control the city in place of the police. She’s not talking about going out in uniforms with guns and walking a beat, she means having effective control through fear and intimidation:
It’s not so much a matter of ruling the whole city, it’s the sense that antifa [moves] the Overton window. “If this person is advocating for something we don’t agree with, we can go punish them and we can punish their friends and family.” It’s a self-censorship. If the cops are a token force now, and they can’t stop anyone, and antifa can destroy your life, then people are going to know that.
In other words, they don’t need to threaten or harass or beat up everyone, they just need it to be clear anyone could be next on their list and the police won’t be able to stop them. At that point, most people will choose to silence themselves.
It’s a really excellent piece at Reason. There’s more to it so if you have time the whole thing is worth reading.