Small Wars Journal

The Parallels between Radical Islam’s ISIS and Antifa

Mon, 11/02/2020 - 3:24pm

The Parallels between Radical Islam’s ISIS and Antifa

by Lisa Merriam


ISIS and Antifa much alike. “Mass movements are interchangeable,” said Eric Hoffer in The True Believer. From Hezbollah to Al Qaeda, from Occupy Wall Street to the Revolution Abolition Movement, these groups share more than an anti-American philosophy. They use the same marketing techniques.

We explain how ISIS retails its ideology in our book Weaponized Marketing: Defeating Islamic Jihad with Marketing that Built the World’s Top Brands. Antifa is going to market the same way.


Antifa and ISIS Share Marketing Goals

  1. Position and propagandize the ideology. “No justice-no peace” is real in riot-torn neighborhoods.
  2. Amplify reach and project strength. Just a few blocks may be affected, but all of Portland is synonymous with rioting.
  3. Unnerve and dishearten enemies. Mayor Ted Wheeler cowered, then fled from Portland mobs.
  4. Create confusion and insecurity. Burned out blocks, sparse police protection and upcoming election fraud create uncertainty.
  5. Boost morale of supporters and sympathizers. The riots energize and attract supporters like the  Oregon Health and Science University and Kamala Harris.
  6. Influence and intimidate decision-makers. Defunding police and “cancelling” opposition voices are prominent examples.
  7. Recruit believers. Action is persuasion. You do first, then believe.


Segmenting the Market

Antifa and ISIS have similar market segments. From the committed core supporters and sympathizers radiate out to impact the confused and vulnerable, surrounded by apologists and enablers, “useful idiots” like CNN’s “fiery, but mostly peaceful” reporting and Jerry Nadler’s riots are a “myth” assertion.


Committed Core: Appealing to Extremists

Both ISIS and Antifa claim they are movements of the oppressed. That is rarely true in mass movements. Saul Alinsky notes in Rules for Radicals, it is the middle class that produces radicals like Fidel Castro, Mao Tse-Tung, Nikolai Lenin, and Adolf Hitler. ISIS and Antifa leaders come from the same comfortable social strata.

Olivier Roy studied jihadists behind 140 European terror attacks. He describes a and ISIS recruit that is remarkably similar to Antifa rioters. Both attract the frustrated, bored, those with low self-esteem, and petty criminals.

  • Frustrated people are easiest to radicalize. Eric Hoffer says: “A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding.” Antifa rioters come from the spoiled middle class; educated, “privileged,” yet frustrated by underachievement. Consider Matthew Banta. His dead-end day job was “office worker” at the Oshkosh Counselling Wellness Center. But when not making copies and fetching coffee, he was Antifa, the swashbuckling “Commander Red” of United Action Oshkosh. He was arrested with a flame thrower at a Green Bay riot.
  • Boredom motivates activism. Universities are shut, bars closed down, borders sealed to back-packer through Europe. “There is no more reliable indicator of a society’s ripeness for a mass movement,” Hoffer writes, “than the prevalence of unrelieved boredom.” Clara Kraebber studies “Women, Gender, and Sexuality” and “Native American History” at Rice University (tuition $49,112/year), while living with her parents in their $1.8 million home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Litchfield, CT country estate. She spent her summer protesting for Black Lives Matter and was recently arrested for felony rioting in New York, to break the tedium of attending university remotely.
  • Low self-esteem fuels the fanatic. A generation that earned trophies from showing up has a deep yearning to matter and a desperation for power. In place of achievement and ability, people seek  meaning and power through the near-religious virtue signaling as thousands of white people kneel on 6th Avenue and swarms of white people bully other white people in restaurants.


  • Petty crime is a precursor to extremism. Dr. Roy notes ISIS recruits “have a past of petty delinquency and drug dealing.” The same is true for Antifa. Samantha Shader, who allegedly attempted to kill New York City police officers, faced charges going back years in eleven states, from drug busts to assaults. Petty crime made her pathetic. Taking a stand  against police elevated her into a heroine.

The brand attributes that of ISIS appeal alike to Antifa. For the discontented underachievers, those escaping the tedium safe spaces, the purposeless with low self-worth, for misfits who can’t stay out of trouble, the appeal of a mass movement can be irresistible. Dr. Roy explains: “They are people who feel devalued, despised and by becoming terrorists they suddenly become supermen, heroes.”