Remember when there was supposed to be an antifa coup last year? The extremely online far-right conspiracy-theory crowd has spent the past several days warning that anti-fascist activists would once again threaten democracy, this time by wreaking havoc at the polls.
The current idea appears to have gotten its start, at least in part, from Q, the mysterious online figure at the center of the stubbornly persistent QAnon conspiracy theory, which claims that the Mueller investigation is really an effort for President Donald Trump to arrest a vast Democratic pedophile ring. On Sunday, just two days before Americans cast their ballots, Q warned that antifa could show up to ruin Election Day, writing in one of his or her (or their) regular missives, “If you witness members of ANTIFA or any other people or organizations stationed at ‘key’ voter locations making threats or attempting to use scare tactics [voter intimidation] please contact local authorities immediately and report the incident(s).” It went on to detail how there may be buses dropping off antifa members with a guide, or how there could be “voter prevention” activities afoot, such as odd behavior from officials or faulty voting machines. It urged QAnons to be prepared to take photos and videos of suspicious activity. On Monday, multiple Q followers posted videos to YouTube about the antifa warning. One is 30 minutes long and has racked up nearly 57,000 views. Another, at 19 minutes, has been watched more than 44,000 times.
The same day, a post on the pro-Trump Reddit board The_Donald offered a PSA. “If you see ANTIFA stationed at key voting locations trying to intimidate voters call the authorities,” it read. “Watch for any suspicious activity with staff, officials, machines, unusual groupings of people being dropped off on buses w/guide and/or instructor. See something Say something.” It closely paraphrases the Q post. Redditors seem to be taking it all rather seriously, imploring others to report if they see any problems and offering advice on what to do. “Call the authorities and get photos and video,” one user suggested. “Back all of it up on a PC and then to a thumb drive if you can. Do not keep politically sensitive things in ‘my documents’ or any of the presets and do not rely on the cloud.”
It’s true that the far right does have something to fear from antifa, and not just because some antifa activists have resorted to violence against white supremacists at their demonstrations. People affiliated with the decentralized group have been known to lurk in private alt-right Facebook groups and chatrooms in order to keep tabs on white supremacists. While members of the far right might imagine antifa as their left-wing equivalent, it’s a false equivalency, since antifa isn’t a hate group but rather aims to weaken and disband hate groups. But the idea that it would cause trouble on Election Day is not only inconsistent with its purpose; there’s also been absolutely no evidence that it’s happening.
Which makes the way others have apparently reacted to this far-right antifa hysteria just perfect. “Walked into my polling place wearing a baby and they gave me a 2nd ballot for him. Neat! Anyway off to join my ANTIFA comrades in intimidating the elderly,” reads one tweet from Tuesday. Another tweet from early Tuesday afternoon is even funnier: “just got back from my polling site where antifa had painted a tunnel on the wall and put a sign that said ‘Republicans vote here’. my nose is critically bruised; cant believe chuck schumer, the leader of antifa, would allow this fraud.”
If this was a roast of the QAnons’ dire warnings, it was an apt one. “Wow! I’m not even a citizen and they let me vote! They even gave me a ride to the polling place and some money for doing it! Antifa is alright with me! #ElectionDay #IVoted #VoteBlue #BlueWave,” one read.
Another, from a student-run Democratic Socialist club, reads, “a big thank you to all the antifa running my polling place today! thanks to ya’ll my grandmother was able to cast a vote for the green party from her dead husband.” There are dozens of these.
Look around and you’ll see some Twitter users wondering earnestly where the reports of antifa election meddling are, with a few perhaps even spoiling for a fight. And no one should forget that Q supporters have been known to take things too far in the past. In June, one adherent drove an armored truck to the Hoover Dam with two rifles, blocking traffic while demanding a copy of the “OIG Report,” which Q had promised would bring down the Democrats. But the report in question was already out, and it didn’t really hurt Democrats at all.
So for now, it makes sense to take the QAnons’ dire warnings with exactly as much seriousness as they deserve: none.