Community Bonds and Mutual Aid Sustain Anti-Fascists Targeted by the State

The past four years have seen terms like “antifa” hit common parlance around the U.S., but have also seen confusing distortions of what that term means. Right-wing pundits try desperately to paint every left-leaning protest as antifascist. reframe anti-fascism as a series of nefarious terrorist plotsThis has led to a shift in the climate towards suspicion of anti-fascist activist. Despite the violence related to 2020’s protests being largely from far right vigilantes and the police, the mythology of “antifa violence” has still been spurred on by rumors, conspiracy theories and dubious allegations. This has given cover to the far right, who uses it. claims of “community safety”To attack anti-fascist protesters in cities, as was seen in a series of confrontations between far-right and anti-fascist demonstrators, such as the one in Portland, Oregon. This perception, together with attempts to crackdown on activists through state suppression, has led many to claim excessive sentences that were disproportionately to the charges being charged.

Activists were facing prison sentences in cases across the country, including David Campbell in New York City. They claimed they were acting in self-defense against violence from far right groups like the Proud Boys. For many activists who have made it their job to try and prevent far right groups from parading into marginalized communities, threatening further attacks, they are finding that prosecutors’ offices see them as the antagonist in the situation.

Alexander Dial, a Portland resident, was convicted of a string of serious felonies following a confrontation at an anti-fascist demonstration on August 19, 2019. After photos of Dial taking a hammer from a member the fascist group American Guard surfaced, Dial rose to national prominence. Anti-Defamation League refers to as “hardcore white supremacists,”People on the scene called it an attack. Dial was wearing a mask and a shirt that said “Beta Cuck 4 Lyfe,” a play on the insult that far right internet trolls try to use to demean leftist men.

Dial stated that he attended protests throughout his adulthood and attended the August 17th event to show support for the antifascists being attacked. The event was organized by Pop Mob, an anti-fascist organization, and a coalition from other leftist and progressive groups in response to a Proud Boys protest. The Proud Boys planned the event after another protest a few weeks prior, where Pop Mob had organized a dance party as a response to two planned far-right demonstrations. One was by the Proud Boys, the other by Patriot Prayer affiliates. The dance party was named the “milkshake” after the then-recent “milkshaking” of English Defence League founder Tommy RobinsonHe is well-known for his activism in promoting Islamophobic hatred within Britain. To humiliate him and ruin his clothes, activists threw milkshakes at him. Andy Ngo, a far right media figure, was attacked at the event and had milkshakes thrown at him in a well-publicized incident that made him a right-wing celebrity. The Proud Boys, in response, planned a rally “against domestic terrorism,” and hundreds were set to descend on Portland.

The event was peaceful, as Pop Mob created a carnivalesque atmosphere less that a mile from the Proud Boys but in the same waterfront park. Black bloc activists, often dressed in black head-toe, as a protest tactic, and sometimes take on more militant strategies, seperated the two groups so that the Proud Boys couldn’t attack those who were there. The police allowed the Proud Boys access to the bridge that separates East and West parts of town. The American Guard members were allegedly bussed back to the Westside near the antifascist demonstration where they were met with anti-fascists.

“[I thought]These guys are out to cause trouble. Something is going to happen wherever they are,” Dial told Truthout.He joined a group of activists he didn’t know to stop the American Guard reaching other demonstrators. “They started to brandish weapons from inside. Knives. A clawhammer. They had guns,” said Dial.

Dial claims that one of the American Guard members fell while they were coming out. He was then approached by another person and the Guard member dropped his clawhammer. Dial grabbed it and threw the clawhammer at them. Dial was then arrested by multiple police officers after the American Guard bus left. It wasn’t until days later that he found out that he was being charged with multiple felony counts, including assault in the second degree and a riot charge. Five additional people were also charged for riot offenses, making six total, which is the legal requirement in Oregon to prove that an unlawful riot occurred. Dial was taken directly from his arraignment to Multnomah Country Jail, where they sat for 11 more days until his bail was issued.

“The left is seeking progress, and that means changing institutions in ways that better more people. And if you are running the institutions that are capitalizing off of marginalized populations, you are going to fight back with all the powers of the system,” says Dial. “So overcharging anti-fascists is the easiest, cheapest thing to do.”

Dial states that the increased charges were partly due to the release of video taken that day by Elijah Schaffer who is a media representative for the right-wing outlet The BlazeAndy Ngo was also present, hosting the video on his YouTube Channel. Two of the charges that had come down were what are called Measure 11 crimes, those that carry with them “mandatory minimum” sentences of more than five years. Measure 11 passed in Oregon in the mid-1990s as a way of getting “tough” on violent crime, and one of the cases that was used as an example of the time was when an antiracist skinhead shot and killed a neo-Nazi when defending himself during a New Year’s Eve attack.

Because of the current bail system, and the charges that had been tacked onto his case, Dial’s bail of over half a million dollars meant that he had to put up $54,000 to get out. Fifteen percent of that money, nearly $8,000, is kept by the county permanently, and he had to solicit donations from friends and family to get this money, clearing out his savings and “financially ruining” him. Once he was free, he was required to wear an ankle monitor for several months. He also had to adhere to a curfew. He was unable to work because his court case had been extended for more than two years. He had to live on very limited pretrial release conditions. His ability to work was severely limited and he relied heavily upon many anti-fascist organisations to provide much of his support.

“[We] knew that what he needed most was a good criminal defense lawyer,” says “Walter,” an administrator of the International Anti-Fascist Defense Fund, which raises money for anti-fascist activists facing legal or medical costs. To avoid retaliation, Walter is hiding behind a pseudonym. “All mutual aid in anti-fascism is important, but we believe the Defense Fund fills a gap by ensuring that anti-fascists who run into trouble don’t ever feel like they only have themselves to rely on.”

International support was provided by donations from all over the world and thousands signing a petition calling for the dropping of the charges against Dial.

Dial eventually took a plea agreement, and then in November of 2021, he had all but two charges dismissed by the judge, and he was given “time served,” three years of probation and 80 hours of community service, which Dial says he will try to complete by working with a nonprofit that helps upgrade the homes of people with disabilities to make them more accessible.

“No matter what you’re choosing to organize or whatever actions you want to take, [you need to] develop and maintain strong community ties with people you trust,” says Dial, who points out that this means real-world relationships and not just virtual ones mediated through social media. “You need connections with people who have your back and who know how to reach out to other people who might be able to help you in ways they can’t. What got me through all of this … was my community.”

These bonds are what many anti-fascist organizations are creating and can be sustained by many activists when they are targeted by state agencies. These bonds are what make community organizing possible. As we saw during the 2020 Black Lives Matter demonstrations and other similar events, mutual aid and fundraising support are key components of the organization’s sustainability. State repression without such levels of support for individual activists or long-term solidarity organizing could have a chilling impact on other organizers, making it seem too expensive and dangerous.

The International Anti-Fascist Defense Fund meets these needs by raising money and distributing it where it is needed. Walter reports that the fund has distributed more than $19,000 to 15 recipients who have suffered financial hardship as a result of their activism or were targeted by the far right since 2017.

“[We]We all know that it is important to stand up against bigotry [and] fascism is dangerous but necessary work, which is why it is important for everyone to stand behind anti-fascists when they run into trouble,” says Walter. “We believe that this is real solidarity and is true to the saying, ‘We keep us safe!’”

Dial’s story shows that it is these community connections that get activists through these situations, which may become more necessary as leftist protesters deal with the fallout from intense policing practices during the 2020 protests. Social movements can become sustainable by connecting different movements through the bonds of resource solidarity. Individuals can also overcome these challenges with enough stability for them to continue.

Dial said that he would work to repeal Measure 11 Oregon. This has reinforced a carceral cultural that has been in use. disproportionately against marginalized communities. He shares his story to help others who are facing similar problems.

“You need connections to people who have your back and who know how to reach out to people to help you in ways they can’t,” says Dial. “That’s the whole point of why we’re all doing this in the first place. It’s about community.”