Antifa, QAnon, and News from Another Perspective


Reading that he is a professor of journalism at the University of Memphis made me instantly skeptical of an essay by Joseph Hayden appearing in today’s Newport Daily News.  Just a few days ago, I observed on Twitter that the people most vehemently demanding that we believe anonymous sources about something that President Trump said two years ago were journalists, former journalists, and journalism professors.

But Hayden’s essay denying that a group called “Antifa”actually exists is worth a read, nonetheless, because anybody who can muster even a semblance of objectivity is bound to notice more evidence of our mirror-image reality:

Antifa, as a code word used to rile up fear and paranoia, has been lobbed especially at Black Lives Matter activists. Trump and Attorney General William Barr have repeatedly said that demonstrators leading the protests for racial justice are antifa, even though independent analyses of federal arrests of protesters by National Public Radio and The New York Times don’t actually show anyone with these connections. …

Indeed, Fox News might as well change its name to the Antifa Network, because over the past few years, according to a Lexis-Nexis search conducted in early August, it’s broadcast the word 520 times, versus just 24 for CBS, 37 for ABC and 66 for MSNBC. In one July 2019 episode of Laura Ingraham’s program alone, she or her guests said the word 59 times.

At least in broadcast, CBS and ABC produce shows, but aren’t 24-hour news networks, so one would have to break the numbers down by, say, number of Antifa mentions per hour on air.  The importance of such adjustments is made obvious by the fact that it took just one on-air Fox personality to have a show about Antifa to rack up 59 mentions.  As for MSNBC, that’s a far-left network, so the disparity with Fox could be more an observation about bias than evidence that the topic isn’t worth discussing.

But it’s Hayden’s suggestion that Antifa is a bogeyman “used to rile up fear and paranoia” that caught my attention, because that’s exactly the impression I’ve been getting about QAnon.  As I pointed out a couple weeks ago, the Providence Journal went out of its way to shoehorn QAnon into an article about the Trump boat parade in Rhode Island.

New York Times explainer by Kevin Roose pretty much creates a conspiracy about the existence of a conspiracy group:

QAnon was once a fringe phenomenon — the kind most people could safely ignore. But in recent months, it’s gone mainstream. Twitter, Facebook and other social networks have been flooded with QAnon-related false information about Covid-19, the Black Lives Matter protests and the 2020 election. QAnon supporters have also been trying to attach themselves to other activist causes, such as the anti-vaccine and anti-child-trafficking movements, in an effort to expand their ranks.

We’ve seen this play out before, with suggestions about the “Alt-Right.”  As the new term spread, people understood it to mean different things — some of them us taking it to be “non-Stockholm-syndrome conservative” — until the mainstream media happened upon it as a way to connect mild-mannered conservative pundits with the worst racists they could find, using the fear-riling “code word” to connect them.

Just so, Roose defines “QAnon” as “the umbrella term for a sprawling set of internet conspiracy theories,” which is exactly how the Providence Journal’s Laura Damon manages to bring them up in her article, saying that a couple of somewhat ambiguous statements she heard during the RI Trump event “are tied to QAnon.”

That’s a very convenient tool for creating accusations and tarring disfavored people with them.

Personally, even as somebody who pays more attention than the average, particularly to conservative media, I had to research what QAnon is supposed to be after hearing about it from mainstream journalists.  As far as I can tell, to the extent it’s actually anything other than progressive wish fulfillment or a few independent online writers, it could be a spontaneous meme-and-Internet joke that most people are in on, with some taking it too seriously as truth and some taking it too seriously as a threat.

Observing the partisan parallels between Antifa and QAnon, however, isn’t the end of the inquiry.  Even if they are precisely mirror images in their public handling on each side of the aisle, we have to ask what the reality is.  If QAnon is an MSM myth, that doesn’t automatically mean Antifa is a Trumpkin myth, or vice versa.  One of them could even been a construct deliberately designed to throw the public off the scent of the other.

How can we possibly figure this stuff out in a polarized environment with no recognized objective authorities?  It’s nearly an epistemological paradox.  Of course, one could always review the work of conservative journalists like James O’Keefe, but that brings us back to distrust of disagreeing sources.  Or one could observe that there are social media accounts under the Antifa brand explicitly soliciting action even here in Rhode Island.

One place to start is with Joseph Hayden’s insinuation that Antifa could actually be a “false flag operation” by “white nationalists.”  Imagine the world as Hayden presents it:  Organized racist groups are orchestrating a secret campaign to make it appear as if left-wing riots are actually being conducted by their non-existent radical counterparts.  Even if you believe that to be plausible in the abstract, can we believe that such a broad network would exist without generating overt and open support from some prominent politicians?

Meanwhile, Portland rioters (among whom was the guy who murdered a Trump supporter and asserted that he is “100% Antifa”) write phone numbers of sources of bail money on their arms, and celebrities proudly donate money toward the cause of protester bail nationwide.  That isn’t to say that the celebrities are knowingly part of an Antifa organization, but it does illustrate a level of tolerance and general support of activities overlapping with Antifa that simply doesn’t exist for “white nationalists.”

That an organization like Antifa could exist to take advantage of that tolerance and general support makes sense.  Meanwhile, to imagine a broad conspiracy of actual white supremacists requires one also to imagine secret support among a broad swath of the public.

Of course, many academics, activists, and journalists do believe that this global cult of whiteness exists, and those true-believing leftists make good livings coming up with ways to explain to the world why their faith should spread.  But that is why more and more of us are skeptical of their op-eds when they self-identify.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    I think I am as conservative as anyone here, without in anyway engaging in antisemitism, racism, or plans for tyranny. QAnon puzzled me for quite a while, I even looked to see if it was a website. Then lost interest. I am reminded of a conversation I had with a local woman, at least a year ago. She demanded to know if I was “Alt-Right”. I tried to explain that I wasn’t even sure what that meant, so she screamed at me louder.

    • ShannonEntropy

      If I had to sum up QAnon in one sentence it would be:

      Within our gum-mint there exists a “deep state” of lifer employees who are out to deliberately sabotage the Trump administration**

      You don’t have to be a card-carrying QA member to know that’s trve… you just have to have been paying attention the last five years

      ** all the other stuff like leftie pedophile rings etc are just the icing on the MSM cake of discrediting them

  • bagida’wewinini

    While on planet earth

    • Rhett Hardwick

      I read through your link, and have these reactions. “Intelligence”, by it’s nature, is subject to various interpretations. One may “find” and “weight” according to predilections. While I seem to have heard little of Russia lately, Chinese expansionism proceeds at a great rate; from buying up Africa to building islands which they then weaponize. “White Supremacists”, I don’t see them burning our cities. In contradiction of “White Supremacy”, look at this list. Members of other races rise to high position in America. Nobody cares. The CEO of IBM is Arvind Krishna; of Google, Sundar Pichai; of Microsoft, Satya Nadella; of AMD, Lisa Su; of nVidia, Jenson Huang; the founder of Facebook and cofounder of Google.

    • Justin Katz

      Your linking to that with the insinuation that it’s the obvious reality illustrates exactly the problem. Whether I made it well or not, my argument is that there’s very little evidence in perceived reality that white supremacists are a broad and organized force. You present “accusations” of a single whistleblower promoted by an anti-Trump news network.

      The bias shimmers off the page on that article. If one takes the view (as I do) that these threat reports have overemphasized the threat of white supremacists while downplaying that of leftist groups, then the Trump officials would be attempting to reign that in. We have two sides in a story, and you’re simply picking the one that suits you to believe, aided with the language of the CNN writer, who has picked a side for you.

      • bagida’wewinini

        There is enough to find objectionable about QAnon but at the very least they could be original in their craziness. I wonder where they came up with the idea that a wealthy international organization would sexually prey on children for decades all while presenting themselves as moral arbiters

    • ShannonEntropy

      I keep reading all these articles about how “white supremacy” is
      the ‘most persistent and lethal’ terror threat in the US. Example:

      I have a new theory: this year’s move by gum-mint — including our own Queen Gina — towards authoritarianism needs “boogie men” enemies-of-the-State that need to be cracked down on

      For now, it’s all the “Rules” they keep issuing about the Kung Flu. When eventually there are some gaps in their authority, they’ll blame the “white supremacists” for why our Freedoms need to be curtailed ever furthur

      Note that this is straight outta Orwell’s 1984, in which a totally fictional “enemy of the State” is used to justify the brutal regime:

      • Rhett Hardwick

        I believe I saw a white supremacist last week. I was tipped off because he was wearing MAGA hat. Perhaps you recall when “skin heads” were the chief threat to the security of the nation, making the cover of Time and Newsweek.

  • Christopher C. Reed

    The only “actual white supremacists” are found in prison gangs (or alumni), where they fight over turf with actual black supremacists and actual Mexican supremacists. The progressive belief in a global cult of whiteness is an example of what is known in Marxist praxis as ‘false consciousness’. Disprove its existence with this little gedanken experiment. Walk around wearing a little badge sporting the slogan ‘it’s ok to be white’. Better yet, carry such a sign at a BLM riot rally.

    You go first.

    Don’t forget to vote for the Alzheimers guy.

    • bagida’wewinini

      Alzheimer’s is really funny you jerk.