Last weekend a Twitter account with the handle ANTIFA_US encouraged its followers to commit acts of violence and destruction. On its face, the account and its messages seemed to underscore President Trump's narrative that antifa is a terrorist organization. Only, the account wasn’t run by anyone associated with the antifa movement, and was instead linked to a white nationalist organization attempting to spread disinformation and chaos. Twitter has since removed the account from the platform.
Twitter did not comment when asked how many followers the account, which was created last week, had amassed at the time that it was removed. The company did note that it had published a tweet that received a fair amount of engagement and was relatively widespread. The tweet read, “Tonight’s the night, Comrades. Tonight we say 'Fuck The City' and we move into the residential areas... the white hoods.... and we take what's ours," and included #BlacklivesMatters and #FuckAmerica hashtags. A screenshot of the tweet, provided by Twitter, shows it receiving more than 500 retweets and 200 likes.
"This account violated our platform manipulation and spam policy, specifically the creation of fake accounts," a spokesperson for Twitter tells Mic. "We took action after the account sent a Tweet inciting violence and broke the Twitter Rules." Twitter's rules on platform manipulation and spam forbid users from misleading others on Twitter by operating fake accounts.
The real operators behind the ANTIFA_US account appear to be Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group founded in 2016, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group is known for being quite internet savvy, using Discord to organize and working to attract and recruit new followers with memes and other online content. Twitter tells Mic this is not the first time that Identity Evropa has been behind fake accounts on the platform. The company says the white nationalist group has previously posed as other movements and engaged in hateful content on issues of race, religion, and sexual orientation.
While the account was deleted, the damage had already been done. Right-wing politicians and commentators have been targeting antifa as the driving force behind the violence and destruction that have followed largely peaceful protests over the past week, and on Sunday President Trump announced that he would declare antifa a terrorist organization. Experts are unsure if he has the authority to do that. Still, the tweet circulated by the white supremacist-operated ANTIFA_US account did its job of helping to push the narrative that antifa is a dangerous and violent organization.
It's worth noting that both the President's declaration and the fake Twitter account seem to misunderstand what antifa is. Antifa, short for anti-fascists, is not really an “organization.” There are no leaders or membership structure. Rather, antifa is an amorphous collection of like-minded activists. It is often associated with "far-left" political ideologies ranging from socialism to anarchism, but the only real unifying principle is opposing fascism. People who identify as being part of the antifa movement are often involved in other forms of political activism, campaigning against actions they believe to be authoritarian, homophobic, racist, or xenophobic. While people who consider themselves antifa often engage in nonviolent acts of protest and community organizing, many involved in the movement believe that violence against racist and fascist groups is justified.
Antifa's lack of organization makes it nearly impossible for those associated with it to actually be identified. It also has arguably made it easier for people like President Trump to pin actions on the “group” that they may not be responsible for. Since the resurgence of antifa during the Trump presidency, conservatives have used the term to apply to basically anything that they view as left-wing extremism.
The ANTIFA_US account is a good reminder to be careful with stories that circulate on social media, especially at chaotic times when things move fast and information is often not vetted. Disinformation surrounding the ongoing George Floyd protests is only going to continue, so be sure to check for legitimate sources and verify information before sharing.