On November 4th, an activist group called Refuse Fascism says it will hold rallies in 20 cities, aiming to remove Donald Trump and Mike Pence from office through persistent mass protest. Refuse Fascism compares its project to last year’s South Korean protests against President Park Geun-hye, which ended with Park’s impeachment in March. It’s aiming to start with “at least several thousand people” in the rallies, and continue with semi-permanent encampments.
Alternately, according to certain sectors of the internet, a unified anti-white terrorist group known as “Antifa” will launch a violent civil war, possibly backed by billionaire George Soros and shadowy forces within the US government, who are quietly organizing a mass electrical blackout to coincide with the uprising. This is the theory that’s been incubating online since August, and it’s blown up this week, thanks to coverage by InfoWars and other conspiracy sites. Compared to saying the world is flat, it’s not the most unbelievable internet conspiracy theory in recent memory, but it’s one of the most potentially dangerous ones — because even if the facts don’t hit anywhere close to reality, the effects might.
The “antifa civil war,” to make things absolutely clear, isn’t a real thing. Snopes has refuted news of both the supposed uprising itself and the blackout drill. But the theory has become a bizarre meme over the past several days, as jokesters make clearly ridiculous claims about antifa bogeyman, only to have them co-opted as evidence of a terrorist plot. Right-wing blog The Gateway Pundit posted a copy of a joke originally by Twitter comedian Krang T Nelson, claiming that “millions of antifa supersoldiers will behead all white parents and small business owners.” (The post was later amended, though it still condemned the tweet as “normalization of anti-white violence.”) A press release from “Anti-Fascist Action LLC Co. Inc.” announced the group would “execute all Trump voters and gun owners,” directing questions to an official “antifa media liaison” named Mohammed Markstein. Most people called the joke, but at least a few seem to have reposted it seriously.
2) No, really, Antifa issued a press release and everything: pic.twitter.com/W7zKWsZkeu— RespectableLawyer (@RespectableLaw) November 2, 2017
This has been taken as evidence of gullibility, but some conspiracy theorists just seem to want antifa super-soldiers to be real. Unlike with the similarly internet-fueled Pizzagate and Seth Rich “cover-ups,” which involved unknowable power brokers with vast resources, acknowledging the November 4th uprising theory is an excuse to gloat about its inevitable failure. The far-right characterization of antifa is a sort of third-rate anarcho-communist ISIS run by non-gender-conforming hipsters (although apparently George Soros and the Deep State think they’re worth paying), not anything legitimately scary. Infowars doesn’t seem to take the so-called “civil war” as a serious threat, despite writing several articles about its existence. The covert blackout operation seems tacked-on and barely related, a throwback to more traditional government takeover panics like Jade Helm.
The antifa conspiracy theory provides a built-in excuse for violent reprisal, based on the vague threat of an attack somehow related to the rallies. Conservative actor James Woods mused that protesters might face “catastrophe” in places with open-carry gun laws, quoting a tweet that paired rally locations with the hashtag #LockAndLoad. “Good, a reason to blow them away,” wrote one Twitter user beneath a tweet that repeated the beheading story. One person reposted the ludicrously fake press release with a comment about antifa “asking for a fight.” Many other posts on Twitter, YouTube, and other platforms echo this refrain. It doesn’t necessarily matter how much anyone believes tomorrow’s nationwide protest is a civil war — the point is that some people are hoping it will become one.
The biggest thing that could help deflate “antifa super soldier” claim’s popularity might be that its core premise feels downright banal right now, compared to a Russian uranium faux-scandal, alleged real misconduct in the DNC, or a rogue employee kicking Trump off Twitter for 11 minutes. Despite the supposed Soros connection, there’s also not much mystery to the theory. You either believe that Refuse Fascism’s heated rhetoric demanding an end to the “Trump/Pence regime” sounds violent, or you don’t.
We won’t know until tomorrow how big the Refuse Fascism rallies — or any counter-protests — will be. The largest event listed on the group’s Facebook page, the New York rally, has slightly over a thousand protesters; most have far fewer. It can also be extremely difficult to distinguish between genuine supporters or critics, apolitical trolls, and politically motivated disinformation agents; there’s evidence of Russian-linked Facebook users organizing fake online controversies and even fake rallies.
But we’ve already seen the death of peaceful protester Heather Heyer, as well as the injury of several others — and seen violence justified by the idea that there’s an all-out war between far-left terrorists and loyal Americans. There’s tremendous public confusion around the term “antifa,” especially after a number of fake social media accounts have cropped up in the past few months, and the more nebulously threatening the movement seems, the easier it will be to justify violent crackdowns on all protest. More than the claim that a pizza parlor is hiding captive children in hidden tunnels, an “antifa civil war” is a very useful thing to believe in.