Leftist student club rejects Antifa moniker

Students for a Democratic Society distances itself from Antifa title

Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), an anti-fascist ASU student club, has a clear message: don't call it Antifa

Antifa and anti-fascist movements have entered public consciousness with their sometimes-violent protests of far-right political figures and their followers. They have received criticism from both sides of the aisle for their tactics. 

University of California at Berkeley became a ground zero of sorts for Antifa groups when protesters became violent in response to conservative speakers, most recently in late August. Antifa organizers in Berkeley even have a Twitter page

In February, President Donald Trump threatened to withhold federal funds if the university did not start protecting conservative speakers' freedom of speech on campus. 

Antifa is short for anti-fascist. Fascism is a political ideology that supports extreme nationalism and often racial superiority. But according to SDS Co-Chair Tanzil Chowdhury, the definition of fascism is ever-changing. 

“SDS is an Anti-Fascist org, that is inherent in everything that we do," SDS Co-Chair and english and philosophy junior Falen Leyba said.

The organization recently shared a Facebook post that detailed how to "Build a Campus Antifascist Network."

Member's of United Student's Against Sweatshop's protesting photo courtesy of USAS

"We would advocate self-defense and defense in various forms of those who are being threatened by fascists, but not violence," Stanford professor David Palumbo-Liu said in the post.

But Leyba said SDS is different than Antifa for many reasons. First, the club does not employ the now-infamous Black Bloc tactic, dressing in all black with face coverings, a uniform that has become synonymous with Antfia. She said it was difficult to reach members of the community with their faces covered, noting that it would not be well received on a what she called a "conservative" college campus. 

“I can’t attest to whether or not any of our members participate in Black Bloc outside of SDS," Leyba said. “That’s the nature of Black Bloc, that no one knows that you’re in it. But we certainly support people’s rights to do that if they choose.” 

Leyba also said she did not condone the violence at UC Berkeley. She said she disagrees with anything that hurts innocent people. However, she strongly supports minority groups' rights to defend themselves against “Nazis” or far-right extremists, calling it “community defense.” 

"It's not community defense when you are hurting anyone in the community," Leyba said. “Reporters were being hurt, Trump supporters who were not white nationalists were being hurt ... If those people are being hurt, who are a part of our community, then it's not community defense.”

Leyba chooses to practice community defense as a street medic at protests, washing pepper spray from peoples' eyes and assisting anyone who is injured.  

But Leyba and Chowdhury disagree on almost all issues regarding Antifa. Chowdhury said Antifa was not a violent group, and that those who call themselves Antifa are “quite positive”.

“Whatever violence there was was instigated by right wing nationalist fascists who were planning to instigate violence in the area.” Chowdhury said “(Antifa was) acting in self defense.” 

Chowdhury also said he did not mind SDS being associated with Antifa, while Leyba made it clear she feels there is a distinction.

Andrew Sypher, a political science senior, disagreed with Chowdhury’s claim that Antifa isn't a violent group. He said the group’s attempt to silence its political opponents is bad for the community, citing the violence in Berkeley, and that Antifa’s violence actually makes them similar to alt-right movements. 

“The way they carry themselves is very similar to any fascist group I am aware of,” Sypher said. “They are violent, they incite violence, and these type of actions are not positive to a democracy.”

In an attempt to maintain their status as a student organization, Leyba said SDS tows the line of radicalism, attempting to stay clear of the “Antifa” label. SDS said it will also continue the campaign to stop tuition increases, which it said is anti-fascist because affordable tuition makes ASU more accessible. 

"Guaranteeing access to the University and being allowed to learn is one of the best ways to not only prevent fascism directly, but also in the future," Chowdhury said. "A more educated populous is one who will move less toward fascism."

Reach the reporter at brookehanrahanreports@gmail.com and follow @brookehanrahan1 on Twitter. 

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