Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.
If there were Old North Churches in cities across the United States, their steeples would have shone brilliantly over the past fortnight, signaling “One if by land, two if by sea.” But not for British soldiers, as in Paul Revere’s time; this time around, the warnings would have been about an Antifa invasion.
As protests, riots and over-militarized law enforcement responses played out in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a White Minneapolis police officer, alerts flashed out via social media like sparks from a towering oak struck by lightning.
Antifa is bussing in agitators and counter protesters to stir up trouble and start riots, went the fiery bursts from people around the country, including the inept occupant of the Oval Office himself.
Rumor, innuendo and baiting have been ruling social media throughout the ongoing upheaval. People appear to feel they are in the right when decrying violence and property damage by “outside agitators.” They seem to be saying, collectively, “This isn’t anyone from our city. Blame the outside extremists!”
That concerned me, as I wrote last week. It does still.
The “outside agitator” narrative seems intended to distract people from the bigger picture, the cause and effect, the true meaning of what’s really going on. It’s not a new tactic. Google “history of outside agitator” and read some of the results from reliable sources, like this one from The New York Times.
Speaking of news media, they, too, have been rife with reports of “Antifa-led” agitation, counter protesting and violence. There are all kinds of problems with that, but here’s the most basic and obvious:
There is no group called Antifa. One cannot visit Antifa’s U.S. or international headquarters. You cannot pay dues and get an Antifa membership card.
Rather, “Antifa” is an anti-fascist movement, a political statement.
The Anti-Defamation League defines it this way: “These violent counter-protesters are often part of ‘antifa’ (short for ‘antifascist’), a loose collection of groups, networks and individuals who believe in active, aggressive opposition to far right-wing movements.”
Subtract the violence and every U.S. citizen should be antifa.
Even so, this illogical assertion has made it into print and online news media repeatedly in various contexts. Here’s one courtesy of Seth Abramson, a professor, attorney and author, along with his breakdown of its nonsensicalities. (I recommend reading the full thread.)
It happened in my city, too.
In a piece titled, “Anarchists threaten to destroy Fargo City Hall; Mayor uncertain if threat is credible,” a reporter from a local radio station wrote, “(Fargo Mayor Tim) Mahoney says threats have been found on social media, made by anarchists called Antifa, a loose knit (sic) group known to create violence during demonstrations.”
“Anarchists called Antifa”?
First, anyone speaking or writing about a specific group that identifies with antifa should name that group rather than lumping together all groups aligned with a loosely defined movement. To do otherwise is misleading at best.
Second, antifa is anti-fascism, not anarchy. An anarchist is “a person who seeks to overturn by violence all constituted forms and institutions of society and government, with no purpose of establishing any other system of order in the place of that destroyed.” Antifa, on the other hand, refers to a movement opposed to one specific ideology – fascism.
Since “anarchists” and “antifa” are not synonymous, reporters should not use the terms interchangeably or as modifiers for one another. To do so is just plain wrong.
Finally, journalists should never take the words of a public official as gospel and print them as facts. There was a time when journalists took statements like the one from Fargo’s mayor, checked it to confirm its validity, establish that it was not true or conclude there was no evidence that either proved or disproved the claim. Only then did they write print stories or broadcast pieces for public consumption.
Like hard-boiled Sgt. Joe Friday used to say on “Dragnet” in the days of black-and-white television, “Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.”
While many journalists still work that way, too many don’t.
Trump, his cronies and his enablers want us to believe there is a group called Antifa whose members have been causing all the damage since Floyd’s death. They desperately need another “other” to blame for… well… everything. He’s gone so far as to pledge to designate Antifa a domestic terrorist organization.
Unfortunately for Trumpsters, neither the #OrangeMenace nor anyone else can do that. A president cannot “designate” an organization out of thin air, any more than a magician can conjure one.
Just as Revere never yelled “The British are coming” and Friday didn’t utter the facts-only line, there is no Antifa in the form presented over the past 15 days. To use a MAGAt term, they’re all “fake” assertions intended to create useful myths.
This is no longer the time of lanterns in church steeples or absolute faith in cops seeking truth, but of unsubstantiated claims disseminated at the speed of light and reporters who are almost as quick to take elected officials at face value.
Meanwhile, the dangers for U.S. democracy and citizens are all too real. Which is why, minus the violence, I say…
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