On Wednesday a number of anarchist Facebook accounts, some of which were associated with the antifascist movement, were removed without warning. These included It’s Going Down — a widely followed news and media platform publishing original content and reprinted analyses about “anarchist, anti-fascist, autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements” — and the longstanding anarchist group CrimethInc, which describes itself as “a decentralized network pledged to anonymous collective action.” The removal of these anarchist accounts was part of a general purge, which also included many far right accounts, including those associated with paramilitaries and conspiracy theories that have inspired violence.
In a vaguely worded statement, Facebook said it was removing “accounts tied to offline anarchist groups that support violent acts amidst protests, US-based militia organizations and QAnon.” The purge is part of a new policy change that targets what Facebook describes as “growing movements that, while not directly organizing violence, have celebrated violent acts, shown that they have weapons and suggest they will use them, or have individual followers with patterns of violent behavior.” Facebook states the action will include those “that have demonstrated significant risks to public safety but do not meet the rigorous criteria to be designated as a dangerous organization.”
Facebook said it removed almost 800 groups and 100 pages connected to QAnon, a popular far right conspiracy theory that has been linked to many acts of violence, including murder, arson and kidnapping. Additionally, “For militia organizations and those encouraging riots, including some who may identify as Antifa,” almost 1,000 groups and over 500 pages were removed. A larger number of accounts and hashtags in all three categories also had restrictions placed on them.
This is the first time a coordinated removal of multiple U.S. anarchist and antifascist accounts has happened on Facebook. In addition to It’s Going Down (IGD) and the CrimethInc Ex-Workers Collective, banned accounts include the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front, which has organized some of the recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Portland, Oregon; Enough is Enough, a German anarchist news platform; various chapters of the John Brown Gun Club, an armed left-wing community defense group; a number of members of the anarchist think tank Center for a Stateless Society; and accounts for the radical musicians Sole, Time, and Calm (the latter two belong to freelance writer Chris Steele, who has been published in Truthout). News about more may emerge later.
Condemnation swiftly followed.
Some have questioned whether the purged anarchist and antifascist accounts were sacrificial lambs thrown to conservatives in order to stymie claims that Facebook is discriminating against them. The Rhode Island John Brown Gun Club said, “Facebook has deleted our page as part of this ridiculous ‘both sides purge.’” (Far right accounts that were banned included armed groups like the Oath Keepers, New Mexico Civil Guard and 3% Security Force.) Others, however, analyzed the situation differently.
In a joint statement, CrimethInc and It’s Going Down claimed, “This has nothing to do with stopping violence and everything to do with cracking down on social movements and everyday people getting organized in their communities.”
They drew attention to how Facebook’s language mirrored recent statements from Donald Trump, saying the president has “demanded this crackdown in a series of social media posts explicitly blaming anarchists and anti-fascists for the countrywide wave of protests precipitated by persistent police violence in the United States.”
The joint statement from CrimethInc and It’s Going Down also accuses Attorney General William Barr of attempting to “muddy the issue” by “lumping anarchists and anti-fascists together with far-right militias who explicitly support the state and especially the current administration.” This enables the Justice Department “to demand resources with which to crack down on those who are on the front lines of defending communities” being attacked by those same militias and conspiracy theorists, the two groups argued.
Indeed, Facebook’s statement alternately refers to “Antifa” and “anarchist” groups; but while there is overlap between these movements, the two are not synonymous. Trump, however, has referred to them interchangeably in recent statements. (The situation was not helped when in late July, Democratic candidate Joe Biden also called for “anarchists to be prosecuted.” In the United States, you can not be prosecuted based on political ideology.)
Cooper Brinson, an attorney at the Civil Liberties Defense Center, told me that “Equivocating collectives like IGD and CrimethInc with violent fascists and white supremacists is ridiculous. The far right has killed hundreds of people in the last few decades and nearly 40 people just in 2019. Anarchists and antifascists, on the other hand, have not been linked to a single murder in at least the last 25 years.”
David Neiwert, a long-time far right monitor, wrote “This is outrageous. Equating antifa with QAnon betrays how Facebook fundamentally doesn’t grasp the issue. The far right thrives by spreading disinformation. One of the underrated aspects of Antifa is that [it] spreads accurate information about the bad actors on the far right.”
It’s Going Down pointed out that it is “a news platform — not a group — we cover, interview, and publish reports about contemporary autonomous social movements. Violence is coming from the State and the far-right — we don’t ‘aspire’ for more of it, we’d like to see it end.”
Writer Kit O’Connell tweeted, “Great to see Facebook is finally cracking down on the scourge of… *checks notes* rappers that are into permaculture.” (In a video, the rapper Sole says he is an anarchist who supports Black Lives Matter, but “I haven’t broken any laws, I haven’t called for any acts of violence.”)
NYC Antifa claimed, “Facebook doesn’t care about ‘violence’ or its role in spreading bigotry and literal genocide,” noting the platform recently refused to hand over documents to the United Nations about its role in facilitating the 2016 Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.
Elsewhere, Facebook has been condemned as a vector of misinformation about COVID-19 in addition to numerous other conspiracy theories.
Facebook is not a favored platform for antifascists in general, and there have been a number of calls over the years to move antifascist accounts off the platform to more secure ones, but many have nevertheless relied on it.
Brinson said, “it was bad form to organize on these platforms in the first place. While Facebook may be an effective medium for some types of organizing, it has also been one of the State’s biggest tools to identify, track, and target anarchists and leftists. If this is the moment liberation movements resign Facebook to the collective dustbin, we may all be better off for it.”
Whether this initial purge is the harbinger of larger things to come remains to be seen. But Mark Zuckerberg’s repeated pandering to Trump does not bode well — especially if the president ramps up his election rhetoric against antifa and anarchists. And if a second Trump term comes, it is likely to unleash not just more bans from platforms eager to curry favor with the administration but also increased attention from Justice Department and local prosecutors intent on repressing progressive social movements.