It’s not really a “handbook,” but it has its moments. We can forgive a small press a little pizzazz. The back cover refers to the author, Dartmouth lecturer Mark Bray, as an “insider”—which he’s not, he’s an interviewer—but he’s probably as close to an insider as we’re going to get for awhile. (He believably says anti-fascists are not going to allow embedded reporters.)
Bray writes “antifa” is “shorthand for anti-fascist in many languages,” and he doesn’t capitalize it. He also points out the antifa don’t have a central authority.
Much of the book is a welcome history of anti-fascism. America spent most of the twentieth century hoping fascism couldn’t happen here, but it had already happened here. After the Civil War Jim Crow laws comfortably fit the definition of fascism, and the KKK was and is very much a fascist organization (the word “fascist” didn’t exist until 1919).
Bray then addresses free speech and violence. To defend antifa from accusations of quelling free speech, he borrows from talk radio and social media the ever-popular Yeah, but what about [some other person or group who, in their way, is doing or has done roughly the same thing] counter-offensive, a litany that in this case includes prisons, corporations, and even homeowners associations. (Buried in the book is antifa’s goal of ending prisons.)
And the violence. Bray is like the people I’ve debated/argued with on Facebook regarding punching Nazis: in these people’s vacuum, no one makes a mistake. No, no, I’m only talking about punching people we know are Nazis. Bray the lecturer is something of a hawk, subtextually casting his vote for antifa violence. A limousine is set on fire in Washington D.C.’s Logan Circle the day after Trump’s inauguration and Bray calls it an “iconic moment.” The reader is left to wonder whether anyone was inside the limousine.
But what do we do about fascists, then? Waiting around is never a good idea. Bray describes the steps a group of Dutch anti-fascists used in 2009 to mobilize people who didn’t necessarily identify as antifa—call them civilians—to oppose fascist marches. The steps—which any anti-fascists unclear of how to proceed can duplicate—worked well, inspiring an impressive number of civilians to show up as opposition.
But then those Dutch anti-fascists started throwing dog shit at the fascists. What would a bystander unfamiliar with fascist history think about that scene? One side throwing dog shit, the other side not throwing dog shit. Which side is that bystander going to conclude offers the better solution? –Jim Woster (Melville House Publishing, mhpbooks.com)