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Antifa Supporter On How People Misunderstand The Movement

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Demonstrations in front of the White House have attracted a diverse group of protesters over the last eight days - students, health workers, clergy, families. On a curb along 16th Street, there's Lacy MacAuley.

LACY MACAULEY: I am just a Washington, D.C., activist, antifascist - antifa.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Antifa.

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JILLIAN MELE: Also breaking right now, police warn of an antifa protest today.

ROBERT O'BRIEN: Radical militants that are coming out under cover of night, traveling across state lines.

PETE HEGSETH: And once again, they came to fight, dressed in black, wearing masks and armed with smoke bombs, shields and pepper spray. Take a look.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That from Fox News. MacAuley, who is white, is wearing a tight black shirt and a face covering, but most people are now because of the pandemic. Hers is a black-and-white paisley bandana.

MACAULEY: There aren't a lot of people who are public who can explain antifa who are kind of in it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She's 41 and says she's been an active protester since 2003 and the invasion of Iraq. By 2016, she had focused on Richard Spencer and counter-demonstrated at his deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.

MACAULEY: He's a white nationalist and a eugenicist and everything. And that is what I was doing when some, you know, right-wing people decided to basically find me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Most antifa are anonymous. But the group Project Veritas filmed MacAuley in 2017, publicizing her name and contact information. She says she got death threats, that there was a mysterious fire at her home. And so for the past few years, to protect her family, she's not spoken publicly. She says people misunderstand what antifa is.

MACAULEY: Antifascism is more like a set of practices and a philosophy than it is an organization. No, actually, we don't have any kind of, like, big, giant hierarchy. It comes from your heart. It comes from your sense of justice. That's real. That's what's real.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Justice Department has a different understanding.

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WILLIAM BARR: We have evidence that antifa and other similar extremist groups, as well as actors of a variety of different political persuasions, have been involved in instigating and participating in the violent activity.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Attorney General William Barr on Thursday, name-checking only antifa. According to the Anti-Defamation League, far-left antifa has its roots in 1960s Europe and the belief, shared by some right-wing thinkers, that if German civilians had been armed and violent in the 1920s and '30s, the Nazis would have never come to power. The ADL says antifa's embrace of violence can be self-defeating but notes that there have been no murders related to antifa in the U.S., and most domestic terrorism in the U.S. is linked to right-wing extremists.

Lacy MacAuley is six months pregnant and has a toddler in a stroller with her. And she supports the use of force.

MACAULEY: In pretty much every, you know, people's uprising, you're going to see, you know, rioting and looting and everyday people destroying the symbols of power.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, we've seen arrests of people self-describing as antifa, antifascist or other sort of - you know, under the leftist anarchist banner, you know, that have been armed in some places. There have been accusations that they are involved, at least in some sense, in sort of the violence against property. What would you say to that?

MACAULEY: I think that, you know, I'm not very interested in talking about looting or the smashing of windows compared to the actual loss of human life that black people are experiencing every single week, every single day in this country. I think that that's what we need to keep focusing on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've seen over the past few days that the protests have become a lot less violent, with a lot less confrontation. And that seems to be a deliberate tactic that is being developed in some places. Is that something that someone from antifa could embrace?

MACAULEY: Antifascists actually protest quote-unquote "peacefully," like, when it's actually effective to do so. Remember, people of color have been protesting against oppression in this country for decades and centuries. And has anyone listened? Like, I mean, only - you know, people are listening right now. But if that police station had never been burned down, would we be talking about this right now in Washington, D.C.?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: MacAuley says she's decided to speak out now because of the administration's focus on antifa.

MACAULEY: Donald Trump absolutely would love to see all of us in jail. He would love to see all of us political refugees in another country or persecuted into silence. And if you can start with a group like antifa that is actually, like, not very well-organized or anything like that, well, you can label everyone antifa.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Lacy MacAuley, an antifa protester in Washington, D.C. And elsewhere in the program, a new generation of young black activists joining and organizing these demonstrations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.