America's political fringe groups explained

Portland: Race Against the Past
Portland: Race Against the Past 29:06

Last Updated Oct 30, 2017 9:02 PM EDT

Political rallies and protests seem to have become the norm in 2017 America. With political tensions highly charged between the left and right, unrest and occasionally violence at these gatherings across the country is often expected. From violent clashes in Berkeley earlier this year over controversial speakers, to the horrific events in Charlottesville in August, dangerous political brawls are regularly in the news. 

White supremacists today 00:20

The clashes across the country have led law enforcement to go to extra lengths to keep opposing groups apart. Most recently, officers were able to prevent violence at a rally planned by white supremacists in Shelbyville, Tennessee. In cities like Portland, Oregon, demonstrations like this have become a common occurrence, with at least four alt-right free speech rallies taking place this year.

Who are the people making up the most engaged part of the crowds? Dozens of fringe groups exist in America today, but some have openly stated their intent to aggressively confront their sworn ideological enemies. These groups often clash violently, resulting in injuries and arrests. Below are some of the organizations that frequent rallies across the country.

Antifa

Antifa, short for anti-fascist, turn up regularly to counter-protest far-right rallies and speaking events. The group's mission is to fight fascism at any cost, and defend America's most disenfranchised groups. Most are either anarchists or have far left-leaning political beliefs. They usually use a "black bloc" tactic, wearing all black and covering their faces to evade law enforcement and make it harder to distinguish one person from the other.  There is no official leader, but dozens of branches exist across the country.

US-POLITICS-UNREST
Antifa members and counter protesters gather during a rightwing No-To-Marxism rally on August 27, 2017 at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Berkeley, California. Amy Osborne / AFP/Getty Images

Oath Keepers

The Oath Keepers are a militia group made up of current or former law enforcement officers, military, and first responders. Their mission is to uphold their oath to "defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic." The Oath Keepers' website states that they will not obey any unconstitutional orders, and lists a number of feared threats from the government including imposing martial law, taking citizens' guns, and placing Americans in camps. They claim to have about 30,000 members, and have been seen acting as security at alt-right and ultra-conservative events.

Ferguson Tense After Shootout On Anniversary Of Michael Brown's Death
Oath Keepers, carrying rifles, walk along West Florrisant Street as demonstrators, marking the first anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown, protest on August 10, 2015 in Ferguson, Missouri.  Scott Olson / Getty Images

The League of the South

The League of the South, a Neo-Confederate group, announced a militant branch earlier this year called the Southern Defense Force. "We will stand ready to protect our own families and friends, our property, and our liberty from leftist chaos," the group's president, Michael Hill, announced in a statement on their website last February. The statement also says the SDF would be trained and ready to "deputize" to assist law enforcement.  

Proud Boys

The Proud Boys describe themselves as "a pro-Western fraternal organization." They were founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, one of the co-founders of Vice News who parted ways with the organization nearly 10 years ago. Members can often been seen at rallies wearing Make America Great Again hats and black polo shirts with yellow stripes. The SPLC details the group's violent four-part initiation process, which McInnes has said includes "getting into a major fight for the cause."

screen-shot-2017-10-30-at-11-31-47-am.png
Men in the Proud Boys uniform at a free-speech rally in Portland, Oregon. CBS News

Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights

This group is the self-proclaimed "tactical defensive arm" of the Proud Boys, founded in April 2017. Their founder, Kyle Chapman, describes the group as a hyper-masculine fraternal organization ready to fight. According to the SPLC, they pledge to "defend free-speech rights by alt-right leaders and engage in street fighting" by aggressively confronting antifa and counter-protesters. When Chapman officially announced the formation of his group, he declared online, "We don't fear the fight. We are the fight."

  • cydney-adams.jpg
    Cydney Adams

    Cydney Adams is a senior manager of social media for CBS News. She is also a digital producer focusing on culture and social issues.