AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Twice when speaking about violence in Charlottesville, President Trump has placed some of the blame on antiracist counterprotesters. Trump seems to be referring to a group calling itself antifa. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann has this look at that group.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: When neo-Nazis and white power activists streamed into Charlottesville, they were met by crowds of angry counterprotesters.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Punch a Nazi in the mouth.
MANN: Americans are seeing these kinds of protesters on their TV screens more often. Some refer to themselves as anti-fascists, or antifa. The most militant wear masks and carry red and black banners. Antifa members say they trace their history to an anti-fascist street movement that's existed in Europe for decades. Some claim inspiration from anarchist political ideas that are broadly anti-authoritarian and often anti-capitalist. In Charlottesville, they clashed repeatedly with neo-Nazis and white power activists. Video of one brawl was posted to YouTube.
(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Yelling, unintelligible).
MANN: In the video, counterprotesters run, fists flying, at white nationalists who carry Confederate flags and plastic shields. Daryl Lamont Jenkins runs a website for the anti-fascist movement and is one of the few antifa activists willing to identify himself with his real name. He acknowledges, yes, some left-wing protesters went to Charlottesville ready to trade blows with neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
DARYL LAMONT JENKINS: The only thing we knew to do - we had to oppose them. We had to come out and say, no, you cannot go no further than this.
MANN: Jenkins argues antifa protesters stepped into a void left by mainstream politicians and police throughout the country. They've failed to stop the rise of racist hate groups, he says, so antifa has to act.
JENKINS: No one seems to either want to or know how to handle the situation. And we really, really have to. And folks are lashing out.
MANN: In a press conference this week, President Trump implied that left-wing activists who lashed out are in part to blame for Charlottesville.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?
MANN: This equivalence putting neo-Nazis and white power groups on par with those pushing back against them angered people across the political spectrum. But the president isn't the only politician raising concerns about far-left militants.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
CHARLIE HALES: We also had some anarchists who hijacked that event and did terrible damage to our neighbors and friends.
MANN: Portland, Oregon's former mayor, Charlie Hales, a Democrat, spoke at a press conference about street protests that turned violent shortly after Trump's inauguration. Hales put much of the blame for the clashes in Portland on the far-left.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
HALES: And they spread violence and fear and detracted from the legitimate exercise of that First Amendment right.
MANN: Critics on the mainstream left have argued these tactics help the far-right. Street clashes draw media attention that raises the profile of neo-Nazi and Klan groups. Daryl Lamont Jenkins rejects that criticism. He says it would be wrong for antifa to sit on their hands while neo-Nazis marched through American cities.
JENKINS: We cannot ignore them. That is what they want to do. Ignore them allows them to grow.
MANN: Antifa activists and members of the alt-right agree on one thing - street battles like the one in Charlottesville will happen again. White power groups will keep fighting to push long discredited ideas about race and white superiority back into America's political conversation, and members of the militant left vow to stop them even if that means more violence. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.