Payment processing giant PayPal terminated accounts belonging to the far-right Proud Boys organisation and its founder, Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, this week in what seemed to be a response to their involvement in a street brawl in New York and well-documented history of violence elsewhere. But it also banned a number of anti-fascist groups across the country, including Antifa Atlanta, Antifa Sacramento, and the Anti-Fascist Network. The company has declined to comment on why aside from citations of its TOS and vague comparisons between antifa and others it has banned, like far-right activist Tommy Robinson.
As the Daily Beast noted, a statement from PayPal appeared to describe the anti-fascist groups in “the same terms” as the Proud Boys, citing provisions of its terms of service banning hate groups and promotion of violence:
“Striking the necessary balance between upholding free expression and open dialogue and protecting principles of tolerance, diversity and respect for all people is a challenge that many companies are grappling with today,” the company told The Daily Beast. “We work hard to achieve the right balance and to ensure that our decisions are values-driven and not political. We carefully review accounts and take action as appropriate. We do not allow PayPal services to be used to promote hate, violence, or other forms of intolerance that is discriminatory.”
In a statement to Gizmodo, PayPal director of corporate communications Justin Higgs said the company would not discuss the accounts in question, though added the decision was based on “extensive due diligence and analysis.” However, he also compared prior removals of antifa accounts to the company’s decision to ban Tommy Robinson, the infamous co-founder of the English Defence League and anti-Muslim activist:
We cannot provide additional account information as it relates to these groups.
We work hard to be rigorous and fair-minded when reviewing PayPal accounts. In doing so, we carefully review accounts and only take action when it is deemed appropriate.
Our teams perform extensive due diligence and analysis and we stand by the actions taken by the company.
As you have seen with accounts like Tommy Robinson or the other Antifa groups that were previously (some of the reports named additional accounts) actioned, we have and continue to remove accounts that we deem to be promoting hate, discriminatory intolerance or those that are involved in perpetuating violence.
Asked for more information about the due diligence reports, Higgs reiterated that the company would not “provide account specifics or additional information.” It’s thus unclear why these specific anti-fascist organisations were banned.
The Atlanta anti-fascist group in question posted to Twitter claiming that PayPal did not give any reason as to why their account was terminated beyond statements to media. The Anti-Fascist Network tweeted that it is “Completely outrageous that people taking a principled stand against racism are lumped in together with the fascists.”
— Atlanta Antifascists (@afainatl) November 9, 2018
So @PayPal have taken down our account in their purge against the far-right Gavin McInnes, Tommy Robinson etc Completely outrageous that people taking a principled stand against racism are lumped in together with the fascists. Tell them they got it wrong.https://t.co/Z8xegmHx1i
— Anti-Fascist Network (@AntiFascistNetw) November 9, 2018
Per the Guardian, anti-fascists and their allies are labelling this a clear example of false equivalency, suggesting that PayPal essentially picked some left-wing groups out of hat to provide cover for the decision to ban the Proud Boys:
“I’m really tired of the equivalence of anti-fascists and fascists,” said Zoé Samudzi, an Oakland writer who has supported anti-fascist protests. She noted McInnes’ history of promoting violence, adding: “You cannot compare that to the anti-fascists who are trying to defend communities from that violence. It’s really cowardly to not attempt to make a distinction between the two.”
…“By removing antifascist & Proud Boys accounts at the same time, Paypal seems to be making a false equivalence & lumping completely different groups together as ‘intolerance’ and ‘hate’,” the Atlanta Antifa group said in a statement.
… “It’s just pandering to the far right,” said one member of the Atlanta group, who requested anonymity. “We are a grassroots group … Paypal helped offset our expenses. Nobody in our group is rich, and most costs come out of our pocket.”
Anti-fascist movements have sometimes come up in news reports as harassing journalists, and a group of protesters that recently vandalised Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s house was reportedly at least partially associated with Smash Racism DC. But anti-fascist groups are usually organised locally, meaning that any individual group’s actions are not necessarily coordinated with others. Anti-fascist groups also tend to lack access to the channels of influence boasted by some far-right organisations. For example, the Proud Boys started those New York street brawls after they were invited to the Metropolitan Republican Club, and the NYPD only sought to arrest members of the group after pressure from the City Council and governor’s office—despite the fact that they’ve been linked to events like the disastrous far-right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, which ended in three deaths.
No one would claim anti-fascists to be traditionally non-violent (the Sacramento Antifa group was reportedly involved in a riot in 2016), though those groups that do get physical usually characterise it as self-defence against more violent white supremacist groups. A member of the Atlanta anti-fascist group told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “We are not going to tell these people, ‘Use moral force against that knife.’ There is a difference between responding with physical force to someone whose stated policy is your extermination.”
As Snopes noted, right-wing groups are responsible for the vast majority of deaths related to political extremism in the U.S. The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism senior research fellow Marilyn Mayo told Snopes that of 372 such deaths over the last decade, 74 per cent were committed by right-wing groups and just two per cent were committed by left-wing ones.
“I don’t want to give moral equivalence to the two sides because one side is fighting against white supremacy,” Mayo told Snopes. “On the antifa side, they’ve never murdered anyone but there have been many murders done by white supremacists, so we have to be concerned about that movement… There’s always the potential for violence when you have hate groups going out into the streets.”
KQED reporter John Sepulvado told Snopes that far-right groups deliberately announce rallies that they know will attract a strong response and then show up to them armed. He added, “And then when someone… pushes them or spits on them, they’ll use that as an excuse to strike out. Then the leftists will strike out, and the media won’t know who’s who.”