According to The Economist, the “word Antifa has its roots in Anti-Fascist Action, a name taken up by European political movements in the 1930s” which was revived in the 1990s, particularly in Germany. Peter Beinart writes that “in the late ’80s, left-wing punk fans in the United States began following suit, though they initially called their groups Anti-Racist Action, on the theory that Americans would be more familiar with fighting racism than fascism.” Antifa groups are known for militant protest tactics, including property damage and physical violence. Antifa focuses more on fighting far-right ideology directly than on encouraging pro-left policy.
The first group described as Antifa was the Antifaschistische Aktion which formed on July 10, 1932 by the Communist Party of Germany. Anti-fascists were involved in battles against Benito Mussolini’s Blackshirts, Adolf Hitler’s Brownshirts, Francisco Franco‘s nationalist army, and Oswald Mosley‘s British Union of Fascists. Outside of Europe, anti-fascist tactics were used as a model for anti-Japanese resistance in occupied-China during World War II.
Anti-Racist Action (ARA), which came from the punk and skinhead scene of the late ’80s, is the main precursor of many if not most contemporary US antifa groups. Other antifa groups in the US have other genealogies. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a group called the Baldies formed in 1987 with the intent to fight neo-Nazi groups directly.