OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Did you even know what antifa was, say a month ago?
In the aftermath of last month's 'Unite The Right' white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, where a woman was violently killed, the conversation has suddenly shifted from fascists uprising, to anti-fascists who have showed up at Bay Area rallies and counter protests.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, there have been more “mega rallies” by white nationalists in the last two years than in the last 10 to 20 years.
In San Francisco, the recent would-be rally by the right-wing group, Patriot Prayer, was called off by its organizer when local officials cracked down on what was allowed at the Crissy Field site.
The following day in Berkeley, the 'No To Marxism in America Rally' was called off by the organizer who said she wanted to attend alone after the city denied the event a permit. But it didn't go down that way and 13 people, many of which were local to the Bay Area, were arrested in pockets of violent altercations.
So why has much of the discussion turned to antifa and the push to classify it as a "street gang"?
Brian Levin, Director for the study of hate and extremism at California State University, San Bernardino described the push to classify antifa as such, a slippery slope.
He said while many who use antifa's tactics, most notably black clothing and faces shrouded by bandanas; that the gang classification would place significant penalty enhancements and incarcerations for people who aren't even necessarily part of an organization.
“antifa is not a single entity, it’s a broad movement," Levin said, explaining that people could get caught up defending anti-hate causes, benefiting the so-called "gang" by taking physical action against fascism and face heightened repercussions.
“There is a violent core, and some degree of cohesion," Levin added. He said there needs to be "anti-masking statutes" at future rallies like the heated ones we've recently seen in the Bay Area and that shields and sticks shouldn't be allowed. He also called for increased penalties for pepper spray used in non-defense situations.
"They believe oppressed people are under attack and they can use violence as a way to respond," he said.
Watch the full interview for Levin's complete analysis.