A German reader sends this account of her experience with Antifa back in the 1990s:
Antifa (“Anti-fascist action”) were well-established when I was in high school in the early ‘90s. Not all, but a significant number of our teachers were openly very left-wing, so in school the left-wing students did not have to keep their political opinions a secret.
My boyfriend back then was a member. They would not use such terms, but from my observation, what they had was a class system. The members of the lowest class regularly attended protests, and took part in the organization of those protests, but they were not part of the decision-making process behind them, and held no responsibility whatsoever. I won’t use the term “newbies”, because my boyfriend was active for several years, so technically speaking he was not a newbie.
The members of this class were nice enough; they loved to drink alcohol and talk philosophy and politics, much more so than any “normal” student. Wearing black sweaters and combat boots, and matting your hair in an attempt at dreadlocks, were quite uniform.
Truly higher-ranking members were aloof, and spoken of in great, often overstated, respect. They never socially intermingled. Everyone could join, but not everyone could move up, only the apt pupils; diligence was not enough. The diligent ones did not quite understand that, and the apt ones secretly pitied them. It was very hierarchical, very much like a cult.
Beside plain “Antifa”, there was also the “Autonome Antifa” — squatters — who came out for violent protests. As everyone in Antifa knew ahead of the protests exactly what the Autonome Antifa planned, and vice versa, I think the two intersected personally and organizationally.
At one point my boyfriend was asked, or rather invited, because it was an honor, to attend protests in support of detained terrorists. It was understood that this meant moving up in the hierarchy, and in trust. You would meet higher-ranking members who had contact with actual terrorists. He attended one protest date for that, but could not attend the next one, because, as he told his superior, he had made some commitment for that particular day with me. She suggested that he make up his mind about what was important to him, and told him that the political always comes before the personal. It was true that everyone else had relationships only with other Antifa people, not least because of a quite demanding political schedule; otherwise, you could hardly spend a lot of time together.
My boyfriend had been in a conflict of conscience anyway. The slogans at protests, and what you would say in class, were very much different from what was said at the late-night discussions. There, everyone agreed that “of course it is not democracy or freedom of opinion that we want; are you naive?” When you asked for the reasoning, they said because it won’t work.
My boyfriend had been conflicted about that for a while, and when his superior basically told him to get rid of his girlfriend, it was cause for him to quit. When you are higher in the ranks, you can’t just quit like that, and you also can’t just end a love affair like that. We knew people who had their apartments broken into and searched as if by police, with their computers and documents stolen; and people beaten to the point they were hospitalized; and receiving death threats. One girl made a suicide attempt over it. I have no idea what has become of them, as our ways parted completely after that.