ANTIFA has been all the over the news lately. After the violence that erupted in Charlottesville last month, their name has been thrown around quite a bit. Some call them a hate group. Others call them heroes.

Both sides are missing the point. They are vigilantes.

It is important to understand what ANTIFA is: The name is short for Anti-Fascism. Born as a resistance group in Nazi Germany, it is a broad organization that has been around since the 1930’s.

ANTIFA aims to stop fascism as their name says, but more broadly they are against racism, sexism and all forms of bigotry. They fashion themselves as a sort of militant group that fights for those who don’t fight for themselves. In some ways, they are similar to black power groups that used violence to achieve gains towards racial equality.

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The history of these types of groups in America is complex. On one side our forefathers themselves used violent methods to protest things they didn’t agree with, such as tarring and feathering British tax collectors. One could also consider dumping the tea in the Boston Harbor a riot, although a relatively non-violent one.

These are the sorts of protests that ANTIFA can and does engage in. It’s important to note that they are not always using violent means, it is just one subsection of a large network of activists who have resorted to using more extreme measures. Unfortunately for all involved in ANTIFA, this group’s more public displays have always been destructive.

Supporters argue that, if alt-right protesters are going to engage in violence and murder, similar to what occurred in Charlottesville, then it’s necessary to have a militant group on the left to protect the groups being attacked. Cornel West, a renowned social activist, said he felt safer in Charlottesville because of the armed ANTIFA supporters there.

This is the crux of what makes ANTIFA a vigilante group. Relying on armed civilians to protect protestors in these situations is akin to lighting up the bat signal and hoping Batman shows up. We all love the Batman movies, but as Americans we have agreed to a social contract that says law and order must be preserved by our police officers and justice system.

I am not naive enough to believe that our justice system and policemen are perfect, far from it. In many cases, they are the ones doing the oppressing. The deaths and subsequent trials associated with Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and Trayvon Martin, to name a few, have taught me about the flaws of our current system.

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This is why reformation of our justice system and continued education and training of our police officers needs to happen now. Because when we can’t trust our cops or our courts, we take matters into our own hands.

We end up having far left and right protestors staring at each other through rifle scopes, instead of productive discussion or peaceful protest.

I don’t hate ANTIFA. I hate what caused them. It is sad that we even need an anti-fascist group in 2017, it seems like it should be redundant at this point. My grandfather fought in Germany to end fascism. I shouldn’t be seeing headlines about armed protesters fighting for the same thing in Charlottesville.

ANTIFA is fighting the good fight, but going about it the wrong way. By stooping down to violence and rioting, they create the opportunity for a false equivalency between them and neo-Nazis. ANTIFA becomes the alt-right’s war cry whenever they are asked to question their methods. Look at Trump’s statement about both sides if you don’t believe me.

I beg of ANTIFA to keep fighting for what you believe in. But no more violence. No more assault rifles at protests.

Violence only begets more violence.

Eric Hilkert ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in finance.