A sociologist who studied antifa activists reports on their motivations:
For most people, fascist activism and organizing are abstractions removed from their daily lives; images on television and news reports, cartoonish villains. For the antifa activists whom I researched, fascists represented an intense and immediate threat.
Many militant anti-fascists become involved in this form of activism because aspects of their identity are directly targeted by fascist violence; they are queer, transgender, gender non-conforming, people of color, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and certainly identified in ways that intersected across these categories.
For them, anti-fascism was a means of ensuring their safety from a movement that threatens their very existence and venerates violence as the highest form of action. Even the antifa activists who identify as cis heterosexual white males are the targets of fascist violence as “race” and “gender” traitors.
Antifa activists routinely describe both verbal threats and physical assaults made against them by fascists. Those who suffered from physical assaults often struggled from PTSD as a result of fascist violence.
What about the police? Aren’t they there to protect the peace?
From a militant anti-fascist perspective, the role of the police has been either ineffectual or outright complicit in fascist violence. It is a criminological truism that police rarely arrive to an incident in progress. A great deal of anti-fascism is informal and spontaneous response to fascist presence in a subcultural or public space. Such “everyday anti-fascism” intervenes against an immediate threat long before any law enforcement could arrive on the scene.
In the case of protest scenarios, especially in Portland, there is evidence of collaboration and collusion between far-right protesters and police with officers engaging in friendly banter with far-right leaders via text message and police logs indicating the targeting of anti-fascists while ignoring armed alt-right activists.
In this context, antifa activists view their actions as the only means of defense against a demonstrable threat from fascist activists. Militancy becomes a move designed to match the violence of far-right activists with a counter-veiling force. I noted after Charlottesville the danger of drawing an equivalency between the violence of the far-right and militancy of antifa activists, and it rings true today.
In response to fascist organizing and even threats of violence, antifa activists mobilize public shaming and confrontational protest. They do so as part of a countermovement strategy designed to demobilize the fascist movement, and in doing so secure the safety of themselves, vulnerable populations, and their communities.
Stanislav Vysotsky doesn’t make excuses for the fascists, unlike far too many people who are promoting the “never punch fascists under any circumstances” approach.