Antifa has been in the news lately. Donald Trump recently tweeted out his intention to declare “ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization,” while Attorney General William P. Barr blamed the group for inciting violence and sowing discord. Right-wing media websites are suddenly using the term much more. These discussions appear to have had real-world consequences, as armed right-wing militants have taken to U.S. streets to counter the antifa threat. But no substantial evidence suggests that dangerous antifa terrorists are threatening public safety, or even that any antifa “organization” exists.Because antifa is a loose ideology that lacks any formal or centralized structure, others can easily use it to demonize individuals who may have little in common except their opposition to far-right actions.
I collected material from 29 U.S. right-wing or far-right websites, ranging from Fox News and Breitbart to lesser-known outfits like Liberty Nation or the Western Journal that present themselves as alternative news sources.I collected a total of 437 articles posted between May 25 and June 4 featuring the term “antifa” via the Media Cloud database and scraped them with the Python package Newspaper3k. Aided by text analysis software, I applied a coding scheme aimed at understanding how this media network was characterizing antifa.
How does the right wing describe antifa?These right-wing websites use a variety of terms to characterize antifa, even some we might consider mutually exclusive, using “organization” or “movement” interchangeably — and using the vague term “group” most often. Out of 430 articles, I found only 18 mentions of an actual person or institution, and almost no direct quotes by anyone identifying themselves as antifa.
It’s possible the right-wing media ecosystem is conducting a coordinated and deliberate disinformation campaign. Although the 27 websites ranged broadly across the spectrum from far-right to mainstream conservative, they were strikingly in sync in creating the impression of a menacing, indistinct threat tied to the same targeted individuals and groups.Right-wing websites are creating a “floating signifier” around antifa, which might serve as convenient catchall scapegoat for those intent on criminalizing dissent.
Read more at: NewsBusters.org