Antifa: The Hard Left's Call To Arms
Donald Trump's inauguration as US president a year ago reinvigorated many right-wing groups, including white supremacists. Now the militant left is fighting back with some shock tactics of its own.
Photo: The Silver Valley chapter of Redneck Revolt in North Carolina is one of more than 30 nation-wide.
By North America correspondent Stephanie March
Updated about 3 hours ago
Redneck Revolt members practice at a firing range.
ABC News: John Mees
As the sun sets over rural North Carolina, Dwayne Dixon peers through black-rimmed glasses down the barrel of an AK-47.
Abandoned cars and rusted-out trailers dot the overgrown property; cows graze in a nearby paddock under the gathering shadow of pine-clad hills.
Softly-spoken and slight of build, Mr Dixon is a vegan who spends his days lecturing in anthropology at a local university.
Today he's preparing for the moment he may raise a deadly weapon on the streets of a US city.
"Guns are a tool," he says between bursts of crackling gunfire.
"You'd rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it."
Half a dozen of his friends watch on.
Nearby on the grass lies a small arsenal of assault rifles, handguns and body armour.
Across the range, a paper target with the shape of a human torso printed in black ink is stapled to a makeshift wooden frame. An X marks the bullseye.
His finger settles on the trigger. Shots ring out across the valley.
The rise of Antifa
Dwayne Dixon, a member Redneck Revolt, poses with a gun on a North Carolina property.
Dwayne Dixon, a member Redneck Revolt, says he's not "willing to abdicate" the responsibility for his security to the state.
ABC News: John Mees
Mr Dixon, 45, is a member of the far-left group Redneck Revolt, whose chapters have multiplied in the past year from just a handful to over 30 across the United States, they claim.
Their ranks are swelling in response to a resurgence of white supremacist groups, in part emboldened by President Donald Trump's election victory.
Redneck Revolt is part of the rapidly-growing "Antifa" movement — short for anti-fascists.
Many are wary about showing their faces in public or talking to the media, for fear of a backlash from the police, the far right and even their own families.
[A member of Redneck Revolt aims at a target at a gun range.]
[A patch saying 'white trash against facism']
[A Redneck Revolt badge]
After lengthy persuasion, the Silver Valley chapter of Redneck Revolt in North Carolina allowed Foreign Correspondent rare access to their world of guns, resistance and camaraderie.
"We want our story told because it's ordinary people standing up against fascism, facing down fear, and attempting to reshape our small corner of the world into a space of egalitarianism and shared efforts for our needs and desires," Mr Dixon says.
He is articulate, friendly and disarming, even when holding an assault rifle.
Dwayne Dixon carries an assault rifle in Charlottesville.
Mr Dixon says a willingness to use firearms is a wise deterrent against white terrorist violence.
Supplied: Abdul Aziz
For the past decade he has lived in Durham, an urban, progressive bubble in the conservative south.
He speaks with a sense of urgency, especially when on the subject of white supremacists and the activities of the far right.
These are people with clearly stated intentions to carry out violence against people of colour, against queer folks, against women," he says.
"They're not just speaking — they're marching. They're marching in a way that's intimidating, as we all know is harking back to the torch light rallies of the Nazi era."
While the term "redneck" is often derogatory — a stereotype of poor, uneducated, racist whites — the group wants to reclaim the mantle.
Mr Dixon wants to instil honour in the word as a tribute to America's working class; people who, they say, may not realise they are being hurt by big business and government.
Redneck Revolt members stand at a street corner in Charlottesville.
Redneck Revolt's signature item is a red bandana.
Supplied: Abdul Aziz
Redneck Revolt's signature item is a red bandana, the same cloth worn by coal miners in West Virginia during an uprising against mining companies and the state in 1921.
Members say the group has a broad agenda: to help communities take care of themselves and reclaim the freedoms they believe are being eroded by the state and corporate America.
They have food-sharing programs and do first aid training, but their most striking feature is their readiness to bear arms.
"I think for us having access to weapons and having the skill and competency with them ... allows us to at least consider that among a diversity of possible tactics," Mr Dixon says.
"It doesn't mean that they're going to be used all the time, but recognising the moment we're in, when real white terrorist violence is a fact of American life.
I wish we didn't have them, didn't need them, but I think a wise deterrent is not something to scorn.
"None of us think about firearms in a cavalier way," Mr Dixon insists, before heading back to the firing line to help his friends reload their guns.
We asked you to leave your thoughts on the "Antifa" movement and the rise of hardline groups in the comments below.
A watershed moment
A man directs a lighted spray can at a white nationalist demonstator.
A counter-demonstrator uses a lighted spray can against a white nationalist demonstrator at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Virginia.
AP: Steve Helber
It was the violence at a white nationalist Unite the Right event in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August that galvanised many anti-fascist groups, including Redneck Revolt.
Car plows into protesters in Charlottesville ABC News
After hours of clashes, a car ploughed into a group of leftist protesters, killing one woman and injuring scores. The alleged driver was an avowed white nationalist.
Police failed to intervene to stop the clashes and were later pilloried for their inaction.
In the days that followed, the "alt-left" was thrust into the global spotlight by Mr Trump's denunciation of "both sides" in the Charlottesville tragedy.
Among the Antifa ranks were "bad dudes", the President said, who used violence in the same fashion as those promoting neo-Nazi and white nationalist ideologies.
[US President Donald Trump addresses a press conference.]
[US President Donald Trump addresses a press conference]
Redneck Revolt had their guns in Charlottesville but never fired them.
Even so, their weapons drew shock and in some cases, disgust, from many on their own side.
"We knew we were being intensely scrutinised," Mr Dixon says.
"My personal rejoinder would be like, well, who's worrying about optics when people might actually be killed? What really is our priority here?"
Mr Dixon describes his feelings in the hours after the killing as akin to leaving a battlefield, shocked and distraught.
Clearly, no-one could have predicted what it had turned into, this really striking, watershed moment in contemporary US history," he says.
"I think it's made people have a much higher degree of vigilance, to recognise that dangers might be much closer to home than they imagined."
Within days, the violence in Charlottesville began to take effect on activists like Mr Dixon.
Dwayne Dixon confronted by other activists at a rally after Charlottesville
gfxs_DwayneCar_1101.jpg ABC News
Rumours swirled around his hometown that a Ku Klux Klan rally was coming to their streets.
Mr Dixon claims police were nowhere to be seen. So, fearful of a repeat of Charlottesville, he joined counter-protesters on the street with his assault rifle slung over his shoulder.
The KKK never came, but police charged Mr Dixon with multiple offences.
"I insist upon my rights as a citizen to have the means for my own self-defence when the state is absent or unwilling to actually intervene," he says.
Along with the charges, there are calls from some who want Mr Dixon sacked from his job as a lecturer at the University of North Carolina. Yet he says he has no regrets.
"I would definitely do it again," he says.
Members of Redneck Revolt sit in Charlottesville.
Redneck Revolt had their guns at the Charlottesville clashes, but did not fire them.
Supplied: Daniel Hosterman
A growing division
Like many groups in the wider Antifa movement, Redneck Revolt suffers from an image problem.
Far-right activist Richard Spencer punched on camera ABC News
Mr Trump's inauguration drew black-clad Antifa activists who smashed store windows and set a limousine on fire in Washington, DC.
One protester punched white nationalist Richard Spencer on live television while he was being interviewed by the ABC.
"We don't need the Antifa to come and make a spectacle out of it," says Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Centre, a group that tracks hate crimes in the US.
It emboldens [far-right activists]. They love it. That's why they came with helmets on and shields. They want to portray themselves as martyrs; portray the white race as being embattled.
Mr Cohen believes that kind of behaviour plays into the hands of the far right.
But there is evidence the hate speech and spread of racist propaganda is starting to bear ugly fruit.
Hate crimes mainly targeting African-Americans, Muslims and immigrants have increased two years in a row across the country and they're on track to rise for a third.
White supremacists clash with counter protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Reuters: Joshua Roberts
Antifa groups like Redneck Revolt believe Americans are foolish if they dismiss the rise of white supremacist groups.
"Back 10 years ago there were a handful — today there are many more," says Mark Bray, a left-wing scholar and author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.
"You organise against these small groups as if they could be the starting points of future murderous movements or regimes, and you stand up to them by any means necessary."
In the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy, police have had a bigger presence at confrontations between right and left protesters, and have mostly managed to keep the two sides apart during the official rallies — but there has been some violence once police left.
The hard left looks for new allies
A Redneck Revolt member takes aim at the gun range.
Redneck Revolt say they have never fired at a protest, but they are prepared to.
ABC News: John Mees
Back at the range in rural North Carolina, Mr Dixon is chatting to an unlikely ally in Chance Allen.
Mr Allen is a member of the American Pit Vipers constitutional militia, an armed group that is committed to aiding law enforcement and defending free speech — including by the far right.
Chance Allen, a member of the American Pit Vipers constitutional militia.
ABC News: John Mees
He first encountered Redneck Revolt at a pro-Trump rally when one of his members tried to assault one of theirs.
Back then he felt "complete, utter hatred" towards the leftists.
"At one time I was solid 'unite the right'," Mr Allen says.
"I thought originally that they was just 100 per cent anti-Americans."
He attributes that to misinformation in the media.
"Once I started seeing the bullshit out there and wanting to know the facts and get to learn, that's when I started realising 'we the people' means 'we the people'. We're all the people," Mr Allen says.
Part of Redneck Revolt's mission is to win over rural, working-class Americans like Mr Allen, who may be susceptible to the ideologies of the far right.
"I really don't imagine this to be some kind of conversion crusade. But it really is trying to establish lines of affiliation, lines of affection, even," Mr Dixon says.
I'm trying to get them to point their guns in the right direction.
Mr Dixon's friend is having problems with the sight on their AR-15. He walks over and helps fix it.
"Alright, fire when ready," he says.
Swastikas on the streets
Dwayne Dixon explains why the left is willing to use violence.
workshop Dwayne cleaning gun.JPG ABC News
Despite criticism, Redneck Revolt members like Mr Dixon remain defiant about their right to bring weapons to rallies.
"We know that this is a real danger and we're not willing to abdicate our own security to the state," he says.
"So having access to guns and the willingness to discipline ourselves around it I think are crucial features of our contemporary existence.
"I'm not going to be passive or a spectator or fall back behind some kind of centrist line that outsources resistance to fascism, say, to the state, imagining the police will, quote, 'do their job'.
"Because I would argue they have a stake in the far-right ideology — incarceration rates, deportation rates, endless war against people abroad."
Mr Dixon says it is a false moral equivalence to say those on the left who are prepared to use violence are just as bad as those on the right.
[workshop AK guide.JPG]
When the left uses violence, in the rare cases that it happens, it's resistance," Mr Dixon says.
"When those actions are taken, it's because some other kind of threat has already materialised and therefore, that danger coming from far-right action justifies or necessitates some kind of intervention with force.
"Has any left person fired in a protest? No. Has anyone from the left killed anyone?" he asks rhetorically.
Mr Dixon grew up in a military family. His father was a career army officer and his grandfather was a bomber pilot in WWII.
He says his grandfather would be appalled at the rise of fascism and racism in America today and he has vowed to carry on the fight that began generations ago.
"I'm not going to let people fly swastikas freely on the streets of the United States," he says.
"I'm never going to stand by and let people get hurt."
Reporting: Stephanie March
Video: John Mees and Aaron Ernst
Photography: John Mees, Abdul Aziz, Daniel Hosterman, agencies
Posted Sun at 11:50am
contribute to this article
contribute to this article
add comment to discussion