COLUMBUS, Ohio — Dr. Karl Kaltenthaler studies terrorism and political extremism at the University of Akron.

He says Antifa is a movement— an ideology shared by like minded individuals — but Antifa isn't an organization.

What You Need To Know

  • Protests after the Death of George Floyd spread across the globe and many officials, including the President, have blamed the violence on Antifa

  • There is no evidence proving those who have been arrested for violent protest across the country are affiliated with Antifa

  • Antifa is not a group, but an ideology that was made popular in Germany in the 1930s and rose in the U.S. in the early 2000s

The roots of the modern movement began in Germany during the 1930s.

“Typically left-winged youth started movements to oppose fascism. They viewed fascism as a direct threat to democracy, to workers' rights, things like that. I remember as a kid, I grew up both in the U.S. and in Germany, as a kid seeing Antifa signs in Germany, and then it struck me when I saw the signs here. I was like, wow, those are the same kind of flags that I saw in Germany as a kid,” said Kaltenthaler. 

Dr. Kaltenthaler says anti-fascists oppose authority, so they would be against people or ideas they see as a danger to democracy or people's freedom—in his opinion, an extreme form of left Libertarianism.

The typical profile is young, white, educated males who tend to be left-leaning politically.

He says Antifa took hold in the U.S. beginning in the early 2000s and they've grown in strength and numbers to counter the rise of white supremacy. 

“I don't think there's much question that there are people who would probably self-identify as Antifa who've been involved in rioting and violence. They wouldn't see it as kind of pointless violence. They would see it more as violence to get a political point across, violence to resist the system as they see it, which they see as oppressive,” said Kaltenthaler. 

Dr. Kaltenthaler says people within the Antifa movement know what they don't want government to look like, but they don't have a game plan for changing anything or overthrowing the system, so they're not revolutionaries.

Just recently, President Donald Trump criticized a 75-year-old protestor in Buffalo who was pushed down by police and injured in a protest—and accused him of being involved with Antifa. 

The president has also threatened to designate Antifa as a terrorist group, but that is likely unconstitutional.

But one academic who has long studied Antifa has his doubts about some of the allegations lodged against the movement. 

“As an organized entity that's somehow driving violence around peaceful protestors just isn't true,” says Professor Brian Levin. 

Levin is a professor of criminal justice and the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino. 

He says while Antifa remains active in areas of the Pacific Northwest and the Bay Area, there's no evidence showing they're behind the rash of violence across the country. 

Initial arrest reports show they are independent individuals with no group or movement affiliation.

“Extremist movements also get their energy and their recruits based on what's happening in the mainstream, and the fact that so many progressive leftists now are making peaceful change, is knocking the wind out the sails of the hardened Antifa folks who might want to recruit,” said Levin. 

And when it comes to the opposite side of the spectrum, Levin says on the far-right we're seeing decentralization, which makes it difficult to label certain entities as groups when their associations don't rise to that level.

“When the president talked about labeling Antifa as a terrorist group, interestingly enough, it happened around the same day that the far-right Boogaloo Boys, who are looking for a Civil War, were mopped up by the feds on federal charges,” said Levin. 

Both men agree the protests and division aren't going away anytime soon. And it could be a long summer and fall, setting the tone for the November election.