Imaginary ‘Antifa’ buses, real life impacts

What is truly concerning about the mostly-phantom menace of Antifa is that it may not need to be a real flesh-and-blood threat to be a motivating factor for Donald Trump, William Barr or rank-and-file Republicans.

To the extent that it is real, Antifa is happening in the information world to a larger degree.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is capturerita.jpg
This is not ‘Antifa’ but a black bloc anarchist group in Washington, DC in 2009. Photo: CC/Ben Schumin

And Republicans wanting Trump to win in 2020, agree that Antifa is real.

The latest version is that buses loaded with Antifa members are coming small towns to riot and destroy them.

From AP: “In the days since President Donald Trump blamed antifa activists for an eruption of violence at protests over police killings of black people, social media has lit up with false rumors that the far-left-leaning group is transporting people to wreak havoc on small cities across America.

“The speculation was being raised by conservative news outlets and pro-Trump social media accounts, as well as impostor Facebook and Twitter accounts.”

US-based researcher JJ McNab has watching this space and noted the preponderance of Antifa-on-buses stories.

And Josh Russell, another US-researcher note endorses that view.

The mere utterance of “Antifa” nags at the conservative mind.

We live in a time when, because of the peculiarities of the internet, social media and the way they’ve been deployed to society, there is no built-in veracity filter.

The possibilities of using the internet to promote a tactical mass hallucination is unchecked.

Hillary Clinton, for example, didn’t need to be dead, or using a body double, or involved in a child exploitation ring, for the rumors to weigh on her campaign. They diverted and absorbed precious attention during the 2016 election.

Jade Helm didn’t have to be Barack Obama’s instituting martial law for people in Texas to worry that the US president was doing that.

As the voices close to the Kremlin have said, there can now be regime change without war. Likewise, there can be perceptions online with no correlation IRL (in real life).

That doesn’t mean Russia is actively promoting the Antifa talk. This could be a form of collective Trumpian paranoia, that is crystallized into a meme online, that takes on a momentum of its own.

During the Vietnam War, for example, LBJ was reportedly told by Secretary of State Dean Rusk that widespread campus protest was linked to the “Communist apparatus”.

Looking back at history, few now doubt the organic nature of campus protest in the 1960s.

Probably an organic anti-war protest in 1967. (Photo US Army)

In Trump, there is a person exceedingly prone to conspiracy theory. He sees grand conspiracies in nearly every direction (except perhaps Moscow) and he has an enormous platform to promote them on.

In a time when the public remains in a state of near-constant mobilisation through social media – not to mention agitation through political anger -politics simply feels different than before.

If you want to see a phantom menace, be it Jade Helm or Hillary’s decaying health, the charged environment is more conducive than ever to see it. Thus Antifa on buses, everywhere, but especially out of the way places.

If an outside power, such as Russia were involved, however, the prospect of phone calls being part of the campaign shouldn’t be discounted. They were used in 2016.

But if, say, Russia were involved, you would have to ask how many resources they would be able to deploy with the coronvirus crisis, and the Putin political power grab underway in Russia. Those issues could require state-directed resources, too.

In any case, for a functional democratic future, political leaders and publics will have to make efforts to refine an accurate reality through the online prism of paranoia and conspiracy.

The Pay Off in the time of information chaos

In the new rules of this era, the White House and its partisan allies can serve up the spectacle and scandals faster than the rules-based society can respond to them.


Citizens of Western democracies need to have a central goal beyond reacting to the daily outrage of certain politicians. Ideally, the civil society needs a positive political goal for the future.

I suggest that the goal for all citizens of Western democracies should be the return to productive, centrist politics for their sovereign nations in the 21st Century.

The goal would be the Pay Off.

The point of having a goal in a time of information chaos is that it creates a way to speak over the partisan divide. Eventually, The Pay Off can create a momentum of its own to rival the constant spectacle. Thanks to the internet, the public now is easily split. It needs an agenda that unites and renders politics productive.

  • The Pay Off provides a broad, non-partisan goal to the public, that is relevant to any participant in the democracy. It counters the runaway emotionalism of online propaganda today by offering a needed focus of hope and unity – for citizens of all walks of life.  The goal of the Pay Off can locate other issues and be applied across a lot of different domestic political debates.
  • Working towards The Pay Off means accepting fewer false choices in political arguments (“only racists voted for Trump”, “only Hillary fans care about Russian meddling” – both untrue). The focus is from this moment forward – rather than this moment and the meaning/blame-game of the recent past. (It is here where so much damage is done from misinformation).
  • The goal of The Pay Off transcends any single issue. It also counters other notions of nostalgia for days gone by. For example, the idea that the US used “to win” in the past is not because of the ethnic make-up of the nation, rather because there was a culture of functional, centrist politics.  In these days, the most pressing priority is chasing out voices in the information sphere that actively court controversy, conspiracy theory, arguments that hinge on false conclusions. The Pay Off offers a rhetoric that can do this by isolating the merchants of outrage and division.
  • Further, it gives a rhetorical rallying point that seeks to galvanize the broad middle. It will move discussion away from predictable/easy to incite left-right gulf and take US/ Western democratic citizens to a place relevant for the 21st economic, social and technological realities – which are in flux.
  • The Pay Off – achieving a productive, fair political outcome – is an open-ended effort that gets away from a person’s relative view on the day’s latest outrage or spectacle. Entire open-ended political discussions can occur independently of the self-selected protagonists of outrage who are daily amplified.
  • Importantly the goal of the Pay Off should be incompatible with those using information to sow confusion in the Western information sphere – because the stated point of the Pay Off is unity, political productivity, economic security and fairness.