By some accounts spreading online, the civil war begins on Saturday, when far-left radicals will gather in America’s streets. The only problem: That’s simply not true.
For weeks, rumors have circulated among conspiratorial conservatives on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and some right-wing news sites that the loose coalition of anti-Trump demonstrators known as “Antifa” are plotting a revolution to begin on Nov. 4. A website called Silence is Consent, citing “sources,” reports that “Antifa … is planning to purge every single Trump voter, Republican, and conservative American in this country… raiding houses, seizing weapons, and causing absolute chaos.”
To be blunt, that’s not true. At all.
Many doomsday conspiracies have some kernel of truth — there really was a “Y2k bug” in computer systems 18 years ago, though it failed to bring down the global tech infrastructure as predicted — but this one is pretty far afield from its origins.
There will indeed be anti-Trump rallies in 20 cities around the U.S. on Saturday, from Atlanta to Honolulu, organized by a left-wing political action group called Refuse Fascism whose goal is unseating Trump. But its tactics — including but not limited to a “passionate speak-out with music and participatory art” — are a far cry from violent insurrection.
Nor is it likely that the streets will be teeming with angry mobs: only 990 people have said that they’re attending the demonstration in New York, according to the event’s Facebook group.
(It’s also worth noting that “Antifa,” contrary to what many on the right believe, is not a single group. Rather it’s a broad term for a very loose confederation of left-wing activist types, acting both individually and under the aegis of smaller political groups. They’re all tenuously strung together by nothing more than an opposition to Trump and a willingness to make it known publicly.)
That these protests have metastasized in the far-right mind into a literal coup d’etat is a case study in how the internet alchemizes anxiety and immediacy to produce disinformation. Mainstream outlets like Fox News have amplified it, devoting airtime to the impending “Antifa apocalypse.” (President Trump himself has vilified the Antifa protest movement before, referring to “bad dudes on the other side” after the white nationalist demonstration in Charlotteville, Va. in August.)
Snopes, the urban legend fact-checker, has a thorough analysis of how this specific conspiracy germinated. It started with a person named Jordan Peltz, whose social media platforms carry photos and videos of himself dressed in paramilitary uniform. His work, he says, is #fugitiverecovery. In a video posted in late August titled “ANTIFA Has To Go!”, Peltz insinuated that the leftist movement was planning a “civil war” in November.
In late September, the rumors made it to InfoWars, the online paper of record for far-right conspiracy theorists, which conflated them with the non-violent protests planned by Refuse Fascism. From there, the prospect of an insurrection on Nov. 4 snowballed — helped in part by wry left-wing commentators having a laugh at undue paranoia.
The reality, as is always the case, will likely prove anticlimactic. In an interview with the Washington Post, Andy Zee, one of Refuse Fascism’s organizers, laughed at the idea of a “civil war.” The idea, he told the Post, is akin to the massive nonviolent demonstrations in Seoul late last year that led to the impeachment of South Korean president Park Geun-hye.
The endgame? “Impeachment, the 25th Amendment — they will determine the means and ways when it becomes clear there is a tremendous crisis of confidence,” Zee told the Post.