The idea of “Antifa” (short for anti-fascism) has become a fixture in America’s popular imagination in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election, albeit in a way that tends to have very little basis in reality. The group—which has no formal organizational structure, and is best defined as a tactic associated with protesting against the threat of fascism—has been falsely blamed for everything from the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas to covert collaborations with the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). Now, “antifa” is apparently plotting a civil war in the United States that will begin on November 4, according to a pervasive right wing conspiracy theory.
This story, which can be found across social media, sometimes attached to the hashtag “#CivilWar2017,” is not only utterly fake, it’s also potentially dangerous, according to half a dozen left wing activists who spoke to Newsweek, expressing concerns that it could inspire senseless violence from people who believe it to be true.
GettyImages-854901252 SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 27: ANTIFA protesters demonstrate on the University of Utah campus against an event where right wing writer and commentator Ben Shapiro is speaking on September 27, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
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The spark of this conspiracy, as one might guess, emerged from Alex Jones’s InfoWars website. Paul Joseph Watson, a British YouTube performer who frequently functions as Jones’s sidekick, posted a misleading story with the headline, “CIVIL WAR: Alt-left Plans Anti-trump Riots in Major Cities on November 4.” The August 22 report, if it can credibly be called one, clocks in at less than 400 words, and features no first-hand reporting outside of a link to a page on the website of a far-left activist group, The Revolutionary Communist Party. Regardless, it performed well for InfoWars, generating more than 9,000 shares on Facebook and more than 2,000 comments on the InfoWars website.
About a week later, Yournewswire.com, another conspiracy website that frequently leeches off of content that first appears on InfoWars, posted another loosely sourced story with the headline “Antifa Plan Civil War to Overthrow Trump on Nov. 4.” InfoWars then returned to the content-fertile subject of Antifa-backed civil war on September 29, with a video featuring Jones citing Watson’s one-source reporting, as well as footage purporting to show antifa activists discussing their supposed plot, as evidence that “antifa” members are coming to “kill conservatives.”
“We have a flood of antifa saying that they’re preparing with weapons, knives and guns to kill conservatives, patriots and white people en masse,” Jones warns his viewers.
The idea has exploded online, taking on a proverbial mind of its own. One example of this is a “prepper” YouTube account hosted by a man called “A Glock Fanboy.” The user posted a video of himself talking into his cellphone camera in late September, called, “Antifa to Start the War on November 4th,” in which he talks about the different guns he plans to use during the war he believes is coming next month to American streets.
“If anyone from antifa is listening to this video I want you to think about the consequences of what will occur,” A Glock Fanboy says in the video, which has been viewed more than a quarter of a million times. “You will not survive this. If this is really, really what you want, then that’s fine.”
845395174 Antifa spray silly string at police during a protest to oppose the right wing group 'The Patriot Prayer Movement,' that was having a rally in downtown Portland, Oregon on September 10, 2017. NATALIE BEHRING/AFP/Getty Images
A more obscure example comes from a Twitter user going by the handle @DoesAnyoneGetIt, who writes, “ Why has Antifa chosen November 4th to "begin" their war? Because dates matter to terrorists... ” He then goes on to post a series of screenshots referencing 9/11, Obama’s election, Hitler and something called “#IslamicSocialism.”
What is actually happening on November 4? A protest is being launched by the activist group Refuse Fascism, which is intended to stir a non-violent mass movement to remove Trump from office, according to Perry Hoberman, a professor at the University of Southern California who is a member of the group’s steering committee. The idea is to mobilize people to hit the streets in a peaceful demonstration against Trump’s administration, Hoberman says, stressing that it has absolutely nothing to do with starting another American civil war.
“Right wingers will spin anything into anything,” Hoberman says of the civil war conspiracy. “It’s just an attempt to smear anyone who isn’t a fascist.”
The Revolutionary Communist Party (REVCOM), which according to activists who spoke to Newsweek is an active but not particularly large antifascist group, also issued a statement. On its website, the group said a 2005 pamphlet by its founder, Bob Avakian, called The Coming Civil War and Repolarization for Revolution in the Present Era, was inserted into Jones’s commentary about Refuse Fascism’s planned protests and conflated to be part of the same story.
"This statement being pushed by Jones is a lie,” the statement says. Sunsara Taylor, an activist who belongs to both REVCOM and Refuse Fascism, told Newsweek that the two groups are unrelated, and that the protest is intended to also include "Hillary and Bernie voters" who believe that the Trump regime "must go" if immigrants and people of color are to be protected, and if a nuclear war with North Korea is to be prevented. Newsweek reached out to InfoWars and Yournewswire.com for comment about their reporting, but did not immediately receive a response.