- Nat Stein
- Antifa members organized at the UCCS Milo Yiannopoulos speech in January.
You may have seen the flyers.
They're posted around some city neighborhoods, featuring the mugs of various men labeled "a danger to the community." And no — nobody in blue or on the bench made that assessment. Rather, it was a group of vigilante activists, mostly young men, under the banner of anti-fascism. The flyers, and the controversy they've generated, signifies another escalation in the underground battle between local anti-fascists and the so-called alt-right. In other cities, that clash has begun veering into violence.
The Colorado Springs Anti-Fascists, or Antifa for short, have gotten more active with more members since the election of President Donald Trump. The politically inexperienced president, an off-the-cuff right-wing populist, does have some authoritarian tendencies. So far, they've been on display when he fired purportedly disloyal federal officials, expressed disdain for judicial checks and balances and insisted the press is "the enemy of the American people."
Still, the president is not a totalitarian dictator, meaning his regime lacks that defining feature of fascism in well-known historical incarnations like Nazi Germany and the Italian Social Republic. Nonetheless, antifa argue that the movement that put Trump in the White House represents a dangerous step toward fascism that must be halted by any means necessary.
Which brings us to the flyers. Posting them is an analog form of "doxxing" — slang derived from abbreviating the word "document" that means researching your enemies, then publicizing their personal information in order to shame, harass or coerce them. Hackers first began doxxing one another in the '90s, as a form of asserting dominance or directing peer pressure, but the tactic really entered the mainstream when people began cataloging their lives on social media.
The local Antifa's flyers, and a blog post that has since been removed, effectively doxxed members of the Colorado Springs chapter of the Proud Boys — a fraternal organization that self-identifies on its website as "Western Chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world."
Where the Proud Boys fit within the constellation of alt-right groups is touchy. According to the Independent's email exchange with the local chapter's spokesperson, who declined a phone interview: They're not "far right," they're not "white nationalists" and they're sure as hell not "neo-Nazis." Luke Purswell, the spokesperson, describes group members' ideology as traditionalist libertarianism, opposed to globalization with no position on race. And, as their name would suggest, members are masculinists who, he says, are "pro-woman, especially in the context of the family [but] our views often put us in conflict with feminists."
To join the group, aspiring members are asked to get tattooed, agree to abstain from masturbation and recite the brand names of at least five breakfast cereals while getting punched by his bros. Once you're in, being a Proud Boy is mostly about drinking beer together, posting memes and scuffling with lefties.
Antifa doesn't think the Proud Boys are as innocent as their frat boy shtick would seem. "These guys are more idiots than actual neo-Nazis," says Daniel, an Antifa member who requested a pseudonym in print for safety purposes, "but they're very willing to associate."
An incident in Boulder this past weekend is emblematic of that dynamic. At a "free speech" rally held by a northern Proud Boys chapter, the Daily Camera reports attendees mostly wore "Make America Great Again" caps and waved American and "Blue Lives Matter" flags. But also spotted in their midst was a man wearing a shirt emblazoned with a Schutzstaffel skull (a symbol of the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party, abbreviated SS).
Antifa see a slippery slope in this ideological territory, which is why they respond so forcefully to the "alt-lite" — a cheeky, youthful brand of alt-right politics perhaps most notably personified by the now-disgraced shock jock Milo Yiannopoulos. Antifa tried to "shut down" Yiannopoulos, a former senior editor for Breitbart News, during his scheduled appearance at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in January. That was their first public clash with their right-wing counterparts (see "Left turn").
Since then, there have been a few escalations. It began with some intellectual posturing when, in April, the Colorado Springs Socialists and Anarcho-Capitalists launched competing amateur newspapers: the Rocky Mountain Revolution and the Front Range Voluntaryist, respectively. Then, later this spring, the Socialists, whose membership partially overlaps with Antifa, reported trouble at a regular meet-up when a group of young men wearing the symbols of various alt-right groups showed up to taunt and wave fists their way. Video they captured confirms that account. The Proud Boys deny involvement.
- Courtesy Antifa
- City infrastructure, like signs and benches, now plays host to meme swapping.
Last month, some members of Antifa were doxxed online by Antifa Unmasked — a crowd-sourced effort against far-left activists. Shortly after, Antifa received a menacing message from a local man whose Facebook profile shows swastika tattoos, SS memes and a white pride flag. In retaliation, Antifa doxxed him in a blog post that's still up. The following week, an array of swastika and "kiss my white ass" stickers were found on stop signs and public benches, along with related graffiti in the driveway of one Antifa member.
That's when the Antifa doxxed the Proud Boys through the flyers, though the Independent has found no proven link between the Proud Boys and the aforementioned events.
The point of the flyers, according to Daniel, is to "just say to the public, 'Hey, this is who you're hiring or this is who you're living next to, so be careful, especially if you're a person of color or a trans person.'" Included at the bottom of the flyers is Antifa's contact information. He says it was put there to say, "If you need anything, reach out, because we're a community defense organization and we're around."
So far, Daniel says they've received a handful of messages from thankful neighbors and one "cease and desist" letter from Jason Van Dyke — an attorney whose Twitter profile used to brag about being "quite possibly [the] meanest and most right-wing lawyer in Texas." His resumé includes a stint as legal advisor to the Young Americans for Freedom at Michigan State University, the only student organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a hate group, as well as high-profile litigation against a revenge porn website.
The letter, addressed "to whom it may concern" and sent to Antifa's email address on behalf of some Proud Boys, alleges harassment, defamation and public disclosure of private facts encompassing both the digital and analog doxxing. It calls for Antifa to "take appropriate remedial action [including] the immediate removal of [clients'] photographs and contact information from all blogs and social media platforms."
By phone, Van Dyke told the Indy that he hasn't heard from the letter's recipients, but that if a lawsuit were filed, he'd focus on the portion of the flyer that says his clients "should be considered a danger to the community." In a defamation case, it'd be tough to prove the Proud Boys aren't, in fact, "fascist, racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic or misogynist," as the flyers state, since "those words are so hard to define," according to Van Dyke. "I think reasonable people could disagree about what constitutes a racist, but implying they're dangerous crosses a legal line."
Antifa members had no comment on the letter, other than to say they're stepping up security precautions to avoid prosecution. All the information they publicized was found via Google.
Both Antifa and the Proud Boys acknowledge this turf war could be headed toward trouble, especially after clashes between the far left and right turned riotous in Berkeley, California and, more recently, three men were stabbed (two of them to death) in Portland for intervening in racist abuse.
"Our side doesn't want a brawl," Purswell, who is pictured on Facebook making wooden shields, wrote via email, "but with the level of radicalization on the left these days it's almost unavoidable."
Daniel, speaking for his side, anticipates the next confrontation will be in Denver on June 10, when the Proud Boys and other associated groups will participate in a "March Against Sharia Law." He says antifa from around the state will counter-protest, while acknowledging that the people caught in the middle — in this case, Muslims — don't benefit from escalation.
"I think this could end once there's a widespread disavowal of those ideologies, once racists are afraid again," he told the Indy.