A member of the Colorado Springs Anti-Fascists says alt-right individuals or organizations are impersonating her group and others like it in order to falsely portray the antifa movement in general as ultra-violent and morally bankrupt. She adds that the fields of battle include the Internet, where a bogus Colorado Springs Antifa Facebook page remains online at this writing, and the streets, via methods such as fake fliers, bogus letters and dubious graffiti intended to rile up and confuse both the mainstream media and the citizenry as a whole.
These charges, originally published by the Colorado Springs Independent, come on the heels of news that the El Paso County Sheriff's Office infiltrated the Colorado Springs Socialists earlier this year — a tactic unmasked when a scene made by an undercover officer at a rally was recorded on police body cameras. In the words of attorney David Lane, "The only asshole at the protest was a cop."
In regard to the Colorado Springs Anti-Fascists, suspicious incidents include the spraying of supposedly anarchist graffiti at John Venezia Community Parks; local officials denounced the perpetrators, who did an estimated $80,000 in damage. There was also a letter posted to a bulletin board at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs that called for all veterans to be banned from campus. The Indy suggests that the missive may have been a parody, but some local media outfits treated it like antifa overreach.
For more information on this phenomenon, we reached out to a Colorado Springs Anti-Fascist spokesperson who goes by the name of Rosa Luxemburg — a nom de plume that nods to a historical figure she describes as a "famous German anarcho-Marxist." The following Q&A, conducted via email a few days before seven reputed antifa representatives were arrested for rock-throwing amid a demonstration in Portland, Oregon, digs deep into alleged instances of alt-right disinformation in the Springs and Denver — where the Rocky Mountain Antifa is said to have been targeted — as well as nationwide. The conversation is illustrated by images provided by Luxemburg, including a Facebook screen capture that sports a line intended to undermine the Colorado Springs Anti-Fascists: "Capitalism is evil and anyone who holds to it needs to be converted or die. No stop, bar none."
Westword: Do you believe so-called alt-right groups are engaging in an active campaign to undermine the Colorado Springs Anti-Fascists by committing acts that are intended to improperly point the finger of blame at you?
Rosa Luxemburg: We definitely think that the efforts against us are part of a larger disinformation campaign against anti-fascist groups nationally. We don't feel they're trying to target us specifically, although the Colorado Springs Antifa FB page appears to do so. One of the drawbacks of "antifa" as a movement is that because it is local, non-hierarchical and less of an organization than a series of regional affinity groups, it is easy to paint us all with a wide brush. Antifa became a national thing after actions in Berkeley, California. Berkeley Antifa and Colorado Springs Antifa are two completely separate entities with separate tactics and procedures. Even regionally, the anti-fascist groups within Colorado operate autonomously from one another. We often come together for common causes — the June 10th March Against Sharia in Denver being one. But usually we do our own thing in our own neighborhoods or cities. So when someone in Colorado Springs reads some story of "antifa violence" that is composed of images spliced from Berkeley or the J20 protests in D.C., they automatically assume that Colorado Springs Anti-Fascists are the same group. The right is taking advantage of that with these disinformation campaigns.
What are some examples of this phenomena?
The Twitter account @antifachecker tracks bogus antifa accounts and maintains a list of legitimate ones. Here is a story from GQ about the fake accounts. Some regional examples are the "Antifa" graffiti that caused a stir here in Colorado Springs at Venezia Park in Briargate and the recent anti-veteran letter at UCCS, which a bunch of local news sources ran as a legitimate story and we immediately called a hoax. Rocky Mountain Antifa, in Denver, has reported on fake fliers posted in neighborhoods.
Why do you suspect that the new Colorado Springs Antifa Facebook page is the work of people with alt-right beliefs who want to make your organization look bad?
The right's narrative is that "antifa" are violent thugs (or delicate snowflakes — we're fucking Schrödinger's leftists over here). These fakes sites make outrageous calls for violence in the kind of tone used by caricatures of Stalin from the 1950s: "Capitalist, racist swine that needs to be slaughtered." GTFO with that nonsense. We don't issue calls to violence. We don't make grandiose accusations about who deserves to live or die. We'll confront white supremacists marching and organizing in our streets, we'll dox active racists and white supremacists, and we'll try to keep those people out of public spaces and platforms. We're not Marxist street thugs looking to attack hapless Trump supporters, but the rhetoric of these fake antifa accounts is designed to portray us that way to those who don't know.
Are there any groups or individuals that you see as likely culprits — and if so, is part of their plan to play on the gullibility of mainstream media outlets, as in coverage of a letter calling for veterans to be banned from the UCCS campus?
A lot of the Internet content, FB pages, memes, etc., tend to originate with places like 4chan, the Daily Stormer, The Right Stuff and pages like that. The extreme right has long been an advocate of "leaderless resistance," which inspired guys like Timothy McVeigh and Dylann Roof. Richard Spencer just mentioned it recently as well, so pinning these kind of things on any one specific group is difficult. That being said, groups like the Proud Boys and the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights — the Proud Boys spin-off group started by "Based Stickman" Kyle Chapman — have pretty strong ties to the sketchier parts of Internet culture.
Do you see a correlation between these tactics and the sort of bogus stories and posts used by the alt-right in the run-up to the 2016 election?
Absolutely. These tactics are classic counter-intelligence. They're muddying the waters, obscuring the truth, and covering everything in moral ambiguity. They generate outrage over "free speech" while largely ignoring the content of said speech. They cast "antifa" as violent communist aggressors instead of community self-defense teams largely composed of LGBTQ+ folks. The media coverage of "antifa," which disingenuously paints the issues as "both sides are bad," ignores the glaring fact that anti-fascist groups are standing against people who are advocating for genocide. The right's strategy has long been to drum up moral outrage (civil rights, gay rights, trans rights, etc. etc.). They're doing to antifa what they did to Hillary over Benghazi. Average people who are not overtly political don't know what to think about antifa, except that all these right-wing sources show pictures of people in black smashing windows.
Colorado Springs is widely viewed as a conservative community. Does that factor in to what's been going on, and if so, how?
Probably. We have a large military population (we actually have a couple of veterans who are active in our group), and there is also a lot of wealth for such a small city. The more radical leftist groups have been growing in the last year, and we're becoming more vocal. Obviously, there is going to be push-back from conservatives who don't necessarily want change and who feel threatened by it. You can see it in the type of rhetoric they're spreading: The "White Genocide" narrative, the idea that multi-culturalism is really a Jewish conspiracy to destroy the Aryan race, is popular among the alt-right. The "You Will Not Replace Us" chant at Charlottesville was a reference to that, and fliers have shown up in town with that same message. At its heart is that 100 percent conservative "things are different now and it scares me" rhetoric. If it were just rhetoric, just some people blowing off steam or exercising free speech, that would be one thing, but this crazy conspiracy theory is used by the far right to justify things like Charlottesville and other hate crimes.
We recently wrote about the infiltration of the Colorado Springs Socialists by an undercover law enforcement officer. Have local police tried anything like that with the Colorado Springs Anti-Fascists?
So the infiltration actually occurred during a time when the anti-fascists and socialists were kind of organizing together. We needed numbers and were lax about organizing on Facebook and things like that. Some folks showed up to a planning meeting and started coming to things. Shortly after we found out that they were cops, both we and the socialists worked to distance our two organizations. Colorado Springs Socialists is a political party; Colorado Springs Anti-Fascists is a loose activist network. Ideologically I guess the anti-fascists skew more toward the anarchist side of the leftist spectrum as well, as opposed to socialists, who are working within the existing political framework. We haven't had anyone else try to infiltrate since then, and we've been much more paranoid and security-minded.
What is your opinion about such tactics, and do you think groups like yours will be increasingly targeted by them?
I think you could draw a parallel between anti-fascist and other anarchist groups and "outlaw" or 1 percenter motorcycle clubs. I don't mean that in any way other than superficially. We're both closed societies with our own specific cultural norms. We're suspicious of government and hostile to law enforcement. I imagine that tactics used to harass and entrap MC members will also be used against "antifa" groups, and we could learn a lot of lessons from MC culture and the lessons they've learned during their battles with the DOJ and the ATF. We will probably see greater attempts at infiltration, especially in newer, less-established affinity groups or activist organizations. CSPD has been planting plainclothes officers at rallies, specifically at the Charlottesville Solidarity rally a few weeks ago and the DACA march we just had, but it's hard for them to effectively infiltrate within our affinity groups and blocs. The undercover officers who were found out didn't learn anything of significant law enforcement value, they just wasted taxpayer dollars. Much like the government's investigations of motorcycle clubs. I think in the future, "antifa" will be targeted and policed much more like street gangs than like terrorist organizations, despite all the rhetoric from the right about us.
What are the largest misconceptions about the anti-fascist movement in general and your group in particular?
The big one is that we just go to rallies and break stuff. We do a lot of things. You can read about our actions on our blog, but mostly what we do is keep track of and monitor white-supremacist activity. Our whole raison d'être is to fight Nazis and keep them from organizing. We're not going after Trump supporters because they're conservatives. We're not trying to fight everyone all the time. We're trying to keep our communities safe. We also do a lot of community outreach stuff; we feed the homeless and are working on starting a harm-reduction program. A bunch of our comrades from the Springs went down to Houston to donate supplies and help with recovery efforts. We do a lot of things, but all anyone wants to talk about is masks and black bloc and how we're domestic terrorists.
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Have misinformation campaigns caused you to change your approach to events, actions or accepting new members in any way?
Yes. We're very aware of the potential for false flags. We keep an eye on local graffiti and bulletin boards to look for anything suspicious. We monitor social media to see who is using our hashtags or images. Black bloc, the tactic of all black and masks, is particularly vulnerable to infiltration, because anyone can just throw on a hoodie and blend in. So we're working on ways to distinguish "legit" members from those who just show up. We also don't accept new members, but we're totally supportive of folks who want to start their own affinity groups with their own circles of friends.
Have you thought about using similar tactics against alt-right groups — or would doing something like that be both hypocritical and counterproductive?
Not really. The alt-right's tactics involve a lot of online stuff. We're more focused on being in our communities and on our streets. People we interact with know what we're about and what we do. People online will criticize, as people online are wont to do. The alt-right's values and ideas are objectively terrible, so we don't really need to make propaganda to make them seem worse, you know? Richard Spencer wants a white ethno-state. Gavin McInnes of the Proud Boys called trans people "Gender Niggers." What more can we do to make them seem like terrible people? It's already pretty evident.