MISSION: From very early age, Nicole Armbruster stated she was attracted to protest. Her activism has challenged the far-right and also led come multiple arrests. audioeditorfree.com/Jim Urquhart

In Donald Trump’s presidency, the Antifa movement achieved a mythical status, illustrated by the previous president and his supporters as terrorists. One Antifa activist’s journey, from college honors college student to on-the-ground combatant, offers rare insight into this far-left movement and also its motivations.

You are watching: How many antifa members in the us

Nicole Armbruster, 37, poised for a operation in a park this spring, donned an Ironman cap from her triathlon days, black color running shorts and gray Brooks running shoes. She reached over come restrain her dog Azuri, a muscular Catahoula hound through pale eyes, so the wouldn’t follow a squirrel.

You wouldn’t understand it, yet Armbruster, 5"5" and also under 130 pounds, is a militant activist in the far-left Antifa movement. She has clashed on the streets with the rightwing Proud guys extremist group, with the alt-right movement and also with police.

Her arrest record – in Washington, DC, Arizona, Virginia, Minnesota and Florida – dates to 2003, for charges of unlawful assembly, fail to disperse, violating the revolt Act and also assaulting far-right leaders and a police officer. Many of she prior charges to be dismissed by judges or prosecutors; she faces three pending cases.

“We are ready to placed our bodies on the line in the occasion of police or fascist or racist violence,” she said. “And the really, like, a duty to humankind to execute that, right?”

Militant Antifa activists hardly ever speak publicly. Some have actually been hostile to journalists, shoving them, bright laser needle at cameras and using umbrellas come thwart videography.

Armbruster agreed to talk with audioeditorfree.com after ~ conferring through family and also her lawyer, and also said she was willing to talk about anything other than her continuous criminal dues in Washington, DC. One situation stems native December 12, once DC police charged she with assault for spraying be afflicted with repellent throughout brawls through the Proud Boys near the White House. In another case, police fee her with assaulting far-right activist Jack Posobiec in June 2020 by shoving him. Over months the interviews, she and some colleagues opened up a home window into the Antifa movement and also its motivations.

Antifa, quick for “anti-fascist,” completed a mythic and also mysterious stature in Trump’s America, serving together a whipping young for the president and also his supporters. The far-right Proud Boys company often defined itself by its opposition come Antifa, depicting its adversary as a dark and also dangerous enemy.

In reality, Antifa is no a well-structured organization, but rather a loose organized, secretive movement of like-minded far-left activists. There space no leaders, no hierarchy and no formal membership. Instead, the activists to organize in little units referred to as “affinity groups.”

They say your aim is to confront those they view as racist and fascist, v the activists use anything from social media campaigns to windy protests to street violence versus their adversaries.

During his presidency, Trump endangered to designate Antifa as a residential terrorist group, though there is no mechanism for such designations. The U.S. Department of Justice claimed this year that white supremacist groups, not Antifa, stand as the most far-ranging domestic terror hazard to the country.

Extremists ~ above both end of the spectrum, however, have been much more aggressive, a hallmark that the trump era. The facility for Strategic and International studies cited 73 domestic far-right terror plots in 2020, the highest due to the fact that 1994, and also 25 residential terror plots by the violent far-left, likewise a height in that period.

The former president alternated between warning about Antifa and mocking it. “Their arms are this big,” he said once, make a circle through his finger to underscore the lack of bicep development of Antifa activists, in contrast to the brawny “Bikers for Trump.”

Armbruster’s arms are without doubt slim, with a tattoo that a dog adorning her inner left forearm. “Antifa has become, like, the boogeyman,” she said.

She once lived a an ext conventional life in Washington, DC. Also as she engaged as an Antifa activist, she functioned for six years together a job camp coordinator because that the Girl Scouts of America National funding Region. She’d been a enlightenment herself together a girl and also can quiet recite the “God and Country” creed. “Camp,” she said, “is such an important part of kids’ growth.” Over the years, she has operated as a children’s camp director, nonprofit fundraiser and also swim coach.

Armbruster now lives a nomadic lifestyle with another Antifa activist, plus she dog and cat, operating from a vintage canned-ham camper she tows native campground to campground. In one RV she periodically lives in, a needlepoint sign on the window announces: “Come earlier with a warrant.”


house SWEET HOME: A overcome stitch on Nicole Armbruster’s recreational auto signals she feelings toward law enforcement. audioeditorfree.com/Jim Urquhart

She speaks the language of revolution. Her allies are “comrades,” the police “pigs,” and far-right protesters “Nazis” or “the fash,” for fascists.

That said, few of her views align with groups she opposes. Like numerous on the right, and millions in the American mainstream, Armbruster fiercely support the U.S. Constitution’s second Amendment and the best to bear arms. “If the government can have something, we should have the ability to have that too, right?” she asked.

And as a politics anarchist opposed to hierarchies, she is naturally anti-government, speak she would never cooperate v police and opposes both politics parties.

“Antifascism is more than simply punching Nazis in the face,” she said. Nonetheless, she to trust violence have the right to serve a purpose. “You have the right to embarrass Nazis, which makes it harder because that them to recruit,” she said. “You can beat castle up and also then lock embarrassed.”

‘Gotta obtain myself ready’


FLAG BEARER: The activist together a boy marching in a Brownies parade. Photo courtesy of Nicole Armbruster

Armbruster was born come a well-off family members in suburban new York. She says she was a Girl Scout native kindergarten v high school. Then, she packed up because that college at St. Lawrence University, a liberal arts institution developed in the 1800s in rural new York State, a fifty percent hour native the Canadian border. There, she engaged as one activist if a global studies major.

Professor Kenneth Gould, a sociologist now at CUNY Brooklyn, to be on the faculty, and also recalls Armbruster together a spicy student and “far-left progressive.” she honors thesis focused on the “organizational structures” that protests versus the cost-free Trade Agreement. Gould recalls Armbruster at one on-campus protest, where demonstrators had chained the main door the the economics building. A professor, upset by the picketing, got hold of Armbruster and also hoisted her the end of his way, Gould recalled.

“I simply remember this large dude choose me up,” Armbruster said. “And ns was among the smallest people there.”

Armbruster said the seed of she dissent to be planted early. Once she learned about World war II and Hitler’s Germany as a child, she arisen a revulsion for Nazis, fascists and state wrongdoing. “My family is from Germany. And you discover all the awful things.”

She first witnessed protest violence two decades ago, once she join a demonstration in Ottawa versus the totally free Trade Area that the Americas. “The police simply opened increase front through tear gas,” she said. She wore a vinegar-soaked bandana to assist her breathe between the gassing. “And it no work,” she said.

“I was a teenager, and also after your first time as soon as you experience this, she like, ‘Holy shit! ns gotta obtain myself ready.’ ”

She was more angry, she said, than scared. She trained in martial arts, fitness and also emergency medicine, questioning herself: “What have the right to I carry out to protect myself for this reason that ns can continue to occupational with mine comrades to safeguard our community?”

In 2007, she claims she marched against a Ku Klux Klan rally in ~ Harpers Ferry, wherein abolitionist man Brown released an equipped attack against slavery. A year later, as soon as the nationwide Socialist motion marched towards the Capitol, flying swastikas, Armbruster claims she joined various other leftists in protest.

Arrests started to mount. She states her an initial arrest was for unlawful assembly in 2003 in Miami in ~ a cost-free trade protest; records present the charge was dropped. She gained busted in DC in 2005 for unlawful entry including a protest at a school; the misdemeanor situation was dismissed in a sentencing agreement. Climate in Minnesota in 2008, she to be arrested because that unlawful assembly throughout the Republican national Convention. Prosecutors dismissed the misdemeanor case, court records show.

In 2012, she was charged v assaulting a police officer after ~ a civilization Bank and IMF protest. Though the charge was dismissed, a federal judge later said Armbruster had actually tried to pull a friend totally free from the police, through the arm, together the friend was gift arrested. Two police officers held on come the girlfriend in a tug the war. Armbruster sued the police for excessive force; her situation was dismissed.

These days, she travels with her friend and fellow Antifa activist Jesse Schultz, a bearded former building worker and IT administrator who just turned 70 and also is no shy come scuffle v the far-right.

Antifa activists see their mission as “deplatforming,” a an approach of blocking adversaries from dispersing their message.

There is no main organization, however one Antifa network lists details “points the unity” the Armbruster and other activists speak they share. Vital points include: “We disrupt fascist and also far best organizing” and “We don’t depend on the cops or court to do our job-related for us.”

Schultz said that while some in Antifa use social media come deplatform foes, by exposing far-right members online, he and Armbruster “deplatform with our hands and also feet, maybe a item of lumber or something. Girlfriend know, that means punching or kicking.”


DESERT LAND, open up SKIES: Antifa activists Nicole Armbruster and Jesse Schultz anchor in ~ a camp in desolate terrain in Arizona. audioeditorfree.com/Jim Urquhart

‘You discovered the Antifa bus’

Last year, Armbruster bought a job of land in Arizona, a lot of in the barren desert v no signs or roads causing it, no house and also no water or sewage. Ranchers let their beef livestock wander, grazing ~ above clumps the needlegrass. As soon as audioeditorfree.com visited in July, a black color cow chewed on a windblown plastic tarp 50 yards away.

Armbruster and also friend Schultz have a trailer and an RV rigged v solar panels. They have a 25-year-old bus they expect to retrofit into a huge RV therefore friends deserve to travel through them. That was once a las Vegas party bus; they gotten rid of a stripper pole native the middle. Bus seat they’ve dismantled are spread the end in the desert, their “amphitheater.”

“You deserve to tell everyone you found the Antifa bus,” said Schultz v a grin, referring to an metropolitan myth that Antifa agitators arrive in urban by the busload.

Armbruster claims she doesn’t much care whether democrats or Republicans hold power. Yet from the early on days the the presidential gyeongju of 2016, an alliance of trump supporters came to be natural targets the Antifa.

One pro-Trump activist, Richard Spencer, was a prominent “alt-right” leader that aspired to create a white “ethnostate.” “America was till this past generation a white country designed because that ourselves and our posterity. The is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us,” Spencer has said.

On Saturday, November 19, 2016, much less than 2 weeks ~ Trump’s election, Spencer’s organization, the nationwide Policy Institute, had actually a conference plan in Washington. Antifa activists learned the group had plan a Friday dinner in ~ an Italian restaurant in Northwest DC.

“We’re, like, sort of top top this hunt about the Friendship Heights area,” Armbruster recalled. They uncovered the restaurant, Maggiano’s small Italy, where Spencer’s group was conference upstairs. The Antifa activists rushed up the big staircase, explode in and shouted in ~ the attendees, all the when trying to patience the various other guests, Armbruster said.

“Everyone was telling the diners, ‘We have nothing versus y’all. We’re not below to protest you, yet there’s Nazis upstairs!’ ”

The DC Antifascist Coalition hoisted signs saying, “No to Racism and also Fascism.” Someone within tweeted a photograph of part at the dinner increasing the Nazi salute. Spencer and also the NPI fled the restaurant.

Two job later, Maggiano’s corporate headquarters apologized because that hosting the group. “We to be not mindful that NPI to be dining with us or what the team represents,” a statement said.

Spencer, who now lives in Montana, called audioeditorfree.com the remembers the fracas vividly. “That was one of the actions whereby things started to acquire violent,” he said. Spencer has actually dropped the end of active extreme-right organizing, and he claims Antifa aided push that off the general public stage.

“Any occasion was impossible since they were willing come fight,” that said. “They made points so violent and also toxic that I can never walk to these events again.”



Affinity groups

Antifa human being refer come their major battles by the an initial letter the the month and the day they occurred. January 20, 2017, the day Trump was inaugurated, is “J20.”

That day, Armbruster joined hundreds of Antifa members dressed in “Black Bloc,” a european protest tactic in i beg your pardon demonstrators wear every black. The idea is to job solidarity and also make it tough for police to identify individuals come arrest. Antifa activists cluster right into “affinity groups,” informal units of 3 to eight people who trust and also protect each other throughout protests.

Schultz stood prepared with a bicycle as Bikers because that Trump motorcyclists headed under an alley. “I got this bicycle if castle attack. I’ll just throw it in ~ them,” the said. Prior to he can act, police relocated in from 2 locations. “And climate they just pepper injected me. Really good spray.”

Across together Street and also 12th, as Ambruster joined hundreds holding indications that claimed “Make Racists afraid Again,” the activists were surrounding by police. She claims her affinity team had spent months planning for the day, and also the police procedure shut them under fast.

Armbruster and also Schultz were among over 200 arrested the day, mostly for violating the riot Act, a rarely offered DC regulation that enables prosecutors to lug charges in cases where an ext than 5 protestors gather. Month later, the bulk of cases were dismissed, ~ 21 world agreed to take pleas. Armbruster’s situation was dismissed in march 2019.

“Nobody cooperated with the state due to the fact that anarchists do have a feeling of solidarity,” she said.

Schultz is lead plaintiff in a class activity federal civil lawsuit versus the district of Columbia government alleging wrongful arrest. His lawyer and also those for the city have actually filed court records saying they setup to settle for $995,000 split amongst plaintiffs.

PUNCHING, KICKING: Jesse Schultz states violence is sometimes necessary when confronting foes. audioeditorfree.com/Jim Urquhart

In 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, together white supremacists gathered in throngs in an notorious alt-right rally, a rightwing activist journey his auto into a crowd of people, killing a nonviolent protester.

Armbruster to be there. She states she remained in a permanent relationship in ~ the time, and also with various other criminal fees pending, she promised her then-boyfriend she would not interact on the street. Instead, she says she activate in Charlottesville out of a church, dispatching emergency medical aid for activists together she monitored police scanners.

In January 2019, she focused on Jovanni Valle, a pro-Trump activist holding a protest in prior of the White house in assistance of James Fields, the self-described neo-Nazi charged v killing the mrs in Charlottesville. Valle has actually been videotaped attract a swastika necklace. “I do appreciate the purposes of national Socialism,” that told audioeditorfree.com. The swastika, he said, is “a prize of love and also peace.”

Armbruster and two others were busted because that hurling balloons filled through red paint at Valle. She was charged with attack for throwing the balloon and “attempted possession of a prohibited weapon” for moving it. After ~ hearing indigenous witnesses, a judge acquitted her.

In 2020, who “doxed” Armbruster, posting information around her ~ above a website referred to as “antifa watch.” The posting contained her age and a mugshot and also photo the her emerging from a swim, apparently after a triathlon.

‘Violent tendencies’

After the may 2020 killing of George Floyd, protests spend the country. Through the United states aflame in unrest, Ambruster and other Antifa activists join in assistance of black Lives matter protests.

President trump blamed Antifa for inciting riots throughout the country. “It’s ANTIFA and the Radical Left,” that tweeted. “The United states of America will certainly be designating ANTIFA as a terrorist Organization.” No together designation followed.

Some cities, consisting of Portland, were gripped by violence including leftwing extremists that clashed through police in intense polite unrest. Small evidence has actually emerged, though, to assistance Trump’s sweeping claim of a central Antifa function in triggering disturbances roughly the US.

Armbruster, who is largely based upon the eastern Coast, claimed she has not been involved in Portland.

Her alleged assault on far-right activist Posobiec came on June 26, 2020. The southerly Poverty Law facility says Posobiec “collaborated through white supremacists, neo-fascists and antisemites for years.”

Posobiec, for his part, has actually written in his publication The Antifa: story from inside the black color Bloc, the Antifa’s “ultimate goal is the destabilizing that our country and the undermining of ours democracy.” A spokesman because that Posobiec called SPLC’s characterization false and “preposterous.”

In some protests, Black stays Matter and other teams tried come topple statues of general Robert E. Lee and other Confederate leaders. A statue in Washington’s Emancipation Park reflects a black man kneeling before Abraham Lincoln. Civil rights activists because Frederick Douglass have actually objected come the statue, citing the abject portrayal of the black man, and BLM protestors thrust to eliminate it.

That’s wherein Posobiec verified up in June 2020, at the moment working for the far-right news outlet One America News. Police to speak Armbruster was standing nearby, wearing a helmet, goggles, black clothes and also a backpack.

In his book, Posobiec said he was “surrounded by a swarm of black-clad Antifa adherents” that “attempted to push me under the steps.” despite Posobiec doesn’t name her in his book, Armbruster shoved him, police allege. A DC police report describes her as D-2 (defendant number two) and also Prosobiec as V-1 (victim number one), and also says: “D-2 shoved V-1 in the chest, causing him to stagger backward down the steps.”

DC police arrest forms incorporate a section titled “caution and also medical conditions,” through headings such together “armed and also dangerous.” for Armbruster, who has been arrested in ~ least five times in the U.S. Capital, there is a checkmark for “violent tendencies.” She to be charged through assault and also has pleaded no guilty.

Posobiec did no respond come texts and also emails requesting comment.

At war v the Proud Boys

For four years, the Proud Boys and also Antifa have actually scuffled. “Fuck Antifa” came to be a Proud boys mantra. The group’s chairman, Enrique Tarrio, told audioeditorfree.com the Proud boys oppose Antifa because of the “mass unrest they room causing.”

In December, Proud guys descended top top Washington just days before various says were booked to certify their election results.

On December 11, the day prior to a big rally in assistance of Trump, Armbruster stated she was walking through friends to black Lives matter plaza. They were passing Archibald’s, a piece club top top K Street, when they encountered Proud guys in their telltale Fred Perry yellow and black polo shirts.

“Whose streets?” Proud guys shouted. “Our streets!” One Proud Boy reached out come taze Schultz v a cattle prod, Armbruster and Schultz said. Another, she said, lunged at her.

The next day, trump backers thronged DC together the outgoing president flew end the crowd in the naval One helicopter. Armbruster to be arrested when, police said, she sprayed someone through pepper gas and also carried seven packages the “commercial grade” fireworks and also two can be ~ of lighter fluid. In the street war of extremism, the not inexplicable for dueling teams to throw firecrackers at every other.

Armbruster claimed her human body armor safeguarded her from a beating during her fracas through the Proud Boys. “I was being kicked in the chest and also in the head, and I’m a 120-pound girl.”

She to be charged v assault, pleaded no guilty and also spent 2 nights in jail. After she release, she said, she was diagnosed through COVID, for this reason she self-isolated in a campground in Florida v her dog and also cat.

See more: How Many Americans Have Already Voted, 75 Million Americans Have Already Voted

Back on her feet, she’s primed because that the following engagement. “We’re no done,” she said.