Gabriel Nadales, former Antifa participant turned conservative activist, delivered a speech Thursday titled “Behind the Black Mask” in Reavis Hall.
In his speech, Nadales discussed the ideology, history and tactics of Antifa, a militant anti-fascist movement, and advocated against the silencing of free speech to a nearly full classroom of students.
The event was hosted by NIU’s chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, a youth organization with the purpose of advancing libertarian values on college campuses and in electoral politics, according to its website. Those in attendance were welcome to pizza and soft drinks.
Nadales described Antifa as a “call to action" that brings together activists from various far-left groups and backgrounds, rather than an organization.
“You find a network that is already existing, that [has] a lot of friendly people to your cause,” he said. “You’ve talked to them and you call and you essentially activate them. … Then, all of a sudden, they abandon their ideologies and come together as the collective that is Antifa, with the mission of shutting down an event or fighting against a specific group of people.”
On the matter of history, Nadales said Antifa claims its roots come from Antifaschistische Aktion, a now defunct political organization that was affiliated with Germany’s Communist Party in the early 1930s. He said because the organization was wiped out with the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, it has no direct connection to the current Antifa movement.
Nadales also discussed some of Antifa’s tactics. He said the movement’s purpose isn’t to engage in political discussion, but rather to silence opponents and cause a scene through violence and de-platforming, which aims to interrupt or deny the speech of a controversial figure through forceful means.
“The tactics of Antifa are to threaten and use violence to terrorize people to force them into submission,” he said.
Nadales said he became politically active during high school in 2009 when he attended a teachers’ demonstration against then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. By 2010, he had developed a hatred for the United States and became involved with Antifa, he said.
“I hated America so much that I refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance,” he said. “That got me in a hell of a lot of trouble.”
Nadales said he would’ve faced serious consequences from the school board but avoided punishment by threatening a lawsuit.
“That was the very first time that I really felt that an adult who was in a position of power really feared my words,” he said. “The irony is not lost on me that, even though I said that I hated America with a passion, I was using its laws to defend myself.”
Nadales criticized past actions of his. He shared a story of when he stole a bike and smashed a McDonald’s window with a rock in protest of the corporation. He said years later he felt guilty about his destruction of property and talked to his father about it.
“[My dad] told me that doing things like this doesn’t hurt the corporation; it hurts the employees who are told to go home for the day,” he said. “It hurts the families whose paychecks are now a day or two smaller. It also hurts the owners and the consumers who sometimes have to increase the prices to make up for the thousands of dollars they lost. Destruction of property hurts real people.”
Nadales said his ideological shift toward conservatism happened during his senior year of high school in 2012, when he became fascinated with economics. It was then he was introduced to the writings of libertarian economists Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell.
“When I was introduced to these ideas, I found them interesting, but I wasn’t persuaded,” he said. “I just thought they were cool, so I wanted to talk to people about it.”
Nadales said this was how he came across Adam Weinberg, former field coordinator at the Leadership Institute, who convinced him to start a chapter of Young Americans for Liberty at Citrus College, where Nadales was attending school, in 2013.
The Leadership Institute is a conservative nonprofit whose mission is to expand and improve conservative activism, according to its website. Nadales is now a regional field coordinator for the organization.
“[Weinberg] is a great person who took the time to really listen to me,” Nadales said. “He never once called me a communist pig. Instead, he would ask, ‘Well, that’s very interesting; have you ever thought about this [other theory]?’”
Nadales said administrators at Citrus College attempted to dismantle his chapter of Young Americans for Liberty and were responsible for frequent adviser turnover. In 2014, a member of his chapter filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the college regarding an incident where he was restricted from collecting signatures.
“When we sued, people hated us even more,” he said. “The student government would routinely talk about us behind our backs. We believe that the Board of Trustees hired a spy photographer to really take pictures of us. Because multiple times at events, whether it be a big one or a small one, when the lawsuit was pending, there was always a photographer.”
Citrus College awarded $110,000 in a settlement to the student who filed the lawsuit. Nadales said he received no money but was glad the college overturned some of its policies on campus, including one requiring all flyers be approved before posting.
During the Q&A segment of the presentation, a couple of students objected to Nadales’ use of the term “leftists” in his speech to describe left-wing activists who use methods of violence and intimidation. Nadales said he made it a point to separate the terms “liberal” and “leftist,” as he believes liberals aren’t necessarily violent.
One student, who said he considered himself a non-violent leftist, said he didn’t believe it was fair of Nadales to repurpose a word that has meant something different for centuries. Nadales defended his use of the term and said meanings of words change over time, and conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, among others, has used “leftist” in this way.