Some of the most extreme political bias on Wikipedia involves editors who support the violent left-wing group Antifa and protect the group’s image on the site. This has included downplaying Antifa’s far-left views and violence, even censoring major incidents and involvement in recent rioting. Many Antifa supporters, including self-identified anarchists and socialists, have taken to smearing the group’s opponents to defend violence against those opponents and portray their concerns as paranoia.
Here are five techniques many of these editors have used to exploit Wikipedia in furtherance of an agenda defending and supporting the political violence of Antifa:
1. Downplaying violence and radical views
Efforts to downplay Antifa violence started shortly after the group’s article was created, particularly once President Donald Trump criticized Antifa for violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. At one point in the article’s early history, violence was only mentioned in the headlines of sources the page cited. Later, editors minimized mention of the U.S. government considering Antifa actions terrorism. One discussion last year agreed at the time to remove the terrorism label, which has repeatedly been kept out of the article’s intro. While criticism of Antifa involvement in riots following the death of George Floyd in police custody refocused attention on the group and prompted more terrorism allegations, editors have continued minimizing the label.
The radical nature of Antifa’s views has also been downplayed with Antifa’s description as “militant” and “far-left” strongly resisted by supporters of the group, such as one-time member of Wikipedia’s “Supreme Court” Doug Weller, who has tried to water down its ideology as merely left-wing. Guy Chapman, an administrator with special privileges on Wikipedia, removed “militant” from the Antifa page intro after an Antifa supporter’s Facebook request that he back getting the label removed, an apparent policy violation. Weller and Chapman since got Trump’s condemnation of “left-wing fascism” at his Mount Rushmore speech, interpreted as partly referencing Antifa, removed from Wikipedia’s article on the subject.
2. Censoring most extreme acts of violence
In addition to generally downplaying Antifa violence, notable attacks have been outright censored by the far-left group’s supporters. When Wikipedia editors mentioned Antifa viciously assaulting journalist Andy Ngo, others removed mention of the attack repeatedly. Supporters of Antifa argued the attack on Ngo was unrelated to the group and even that such “protests” were “routine” and thus made the attack trivial. One editor adding material about the attack to the page was subsequently banned from editing about Ngo. Antifa terrorist Willem van Spronsen’s attack on a Tacoma ICE facility was also censored from the page repeatedly and mention of his self-identification as Antifa removed from the page on the attack. Weller argued Spronsen was unimportant to Antifa.
On the Wikipedia page for Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson, editor “Volunteer Marek” attempted to censor mention of Antifa’s attack on Carlson’s home, claiming it was trivial news. Though material on the attack was eventually restored, subsequent discussion and editing whittled it down to simply refer to a “protest” that included some graffiti and was dispersed “within minutes” by police, avoiding the more horrendous and violently threatening details such as the group pounding on the home’s front door, the fact Carlson’s wife was home alone at the time, or the group pledging to “fight” chanting “We know where you sleep at night.” Despite seeking to censor mention of such violence, some Antifa supporters openly praised the group’s attacks on Wikipedia and mocked its victims.
3. Accusing critics of lying
Special effort is devoted by Antifa supporters to discredit critics as liars or conspiracy theorists. A socialist editor started a lengthy section for Antifa’s Wikipedia page on “smear campaigns” due to two minor online hoaxes about the group and anarchist editor Davide King later added to the intro claims Trump officials and conservatives spread “conspiracy theories” about Antifa, with the claims taking up nearly half the intro. Most harsh was Ngo’s treatment after reporting last year on Antifa attacking opponents with a hammer. Critics noted opponents brought the hammer, arguing Ngo distorted facts to falsely paint Antifa as aggressors. While video showed opponents only used the hammer in self-defense, Antifa supporters vandalized Ngo’s page to label him a propagandist and accused him of lying to “wrongly” paint “fascists” as victims with even established editors pushing the smear.
4. Rationalizing attacks by smearing Antifa opponents
Smears of Antifa critics have been used to rationalize or mitigate the group’s violence. Aside from editors characterizing violent incidents as being to “protect” others from “Fascists” or “white-supremacists” in order to defend Antifa violence, Weller has argued any mention of violence must note the group’s opponents generally being “neo-Nazis” as part of the “context” in the article. This rationalizing has included academic sources Antifa supporters use. Weller suggested citing an academic to water down material about Antifa. The academic self-identified as Antifa, claimed any violence against “fascists” was inherently self-defense, and defended the attack on Ngo by calling him a “fascist videographer” who exposed Antifa to danger by documenting their activities. Editors have also rejected any suggestion in the article’s intro that Antifa falsely identifies targets as fascists.
Ngo has been variously smeared by vandals as a “fascist” or “nazi” and even a “white nationalist” despite being Asian, while established editors citing biased sources such as the socialist Jacobin outlet accuse Ngo of “doxing” Antifa members and getting journalists threatened by linking research about their closeness to Antifa. Davide King further smeared Ngo as a “right-wing provocateur” to disparage his lawsuit against the Antifa members who assaulted him last year.
King has also cited academics who defend Antifa violence by stating members perceive Trump as a “fascist demagogue” with one academic downplaying Antifa violence as “spontaneous street brawls” even. King further tried rationalizing the attack on Carlson’s home by citing the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League claiming Carlson’s news commentary advances white supremacy. When an editor rejected those edits, King cited Carlson supporting Trump and his policies as an ostensible rationalization, one of many smears against Carlson on Wikipedia. Editors have also labeled the Proud Boys, frequent Antifa opponents, as “neo-fascists” who promote violence, though such violence was mostly responding to Antifa aggression.
5. Minimizing role in Floyd riots
Antifa’s role in violent rioting over George Floyd’s death has also been minimized as part of broader efforts on Wikipedia to spin the story on the riots. While originally most material in the Floyd protests article on extremist involvement in rioting concerned Antifa, the section was heavily expanded to shift focus primarily to various, sometimes dubious, claims of far-right involvement. Such material on alleged far-right involvement was further expanded to be several more than material on Antifa when the section was moved to a separate page specifically about violence at protests. Some details on Antifa involvement in rioting, such as arrests in Texas or Attorney General Bill Barr noting evidence of Antifa involvement, have been censored on the Antifa page.
Spreading beyond Antifa
Many editors defending Antifa on Wikipedia have explicitly shown support for the group and its violent tendencies, at one point even having an image displaying support for Antifa’s political violence to include on their profile pages, yet continue to edit pages about Antifa to whitewash its actions. Such dedicated and virtually uninhibited pro-Antifa editing on Wikipedia has deeper implications regarding the site’s left-wing bias, which is criticized by Wikipedia’s own co-founder.
Editors defending Antifa on Wikipedia are also involved in general efforts to advance the Black Lives Matter agenda on the site with Chapman having joined a Black Lives Matter group on the site by stating: “You can be one of three things: ally, enemy, or collaborator.” Antifa supporters have further been involved in smearing Trump and various conservative outlets, such as the Epoch Times, that they subsequently help get banned or downgraded with Fox News the latest target. Despite widespread political bias, Wikipedia is still relied on as an information source by media, academia, and Big Tech.
(Disclosure: The author has previously been involved in disputes on Wikipedia with some parties referenced in this article)
T. D. Adler edited Wikipedia as The Devil’s Advocate. He was banned after privately reporting conflict of interest editing by one of the site’s administrators. Due to previous witch-hunts led by mainstream Wikipedians against their critics, Adler writes under an alias.