On Sunday, the Trump Administration intensified its effort to pin blame on the far-left “antifa” movement for violent demonstrations over police killings of black people, as the president vowed on Twitter to designate antifa a terrorist organization and Attorney General William “Coverup” Barr asserted that it and other groups’ activities constituted “domestic terrorism.”
I’m sorry, but where was this concern just a couple of weeks ago when heavily armed anti-government right-wing “patriot” (sic) militia groups and white nationalist groups – groups that have an actual criminal record of violence – descended upon state capitols to protest coronavirus lockdown measures because the measures infringed upon their right to behave like irresponsible assholes in public? “Freedumb!”
The Washington Post reports, In Trump’s campaign against antifa, observers see an attempt to distract from protesters’ genuine outrage:
Trump cannot, for practical and legal reasons, formally designate antifa a terrorist organization, and neither he nor his attorney general has made public specific evidence that the far-left movement is orchestrating the fiery protests that have erupted in dozens of U.S. cities.
[Minnesota] officials have alleged the violence was fueled by different external forces, including white supremacists and drug cartels. They, too, have not offered detailed evidence to support those claims.
“The idea of antifa ‘masterminding’ what’s happening over the last few days — if you know anything about the subject — is ludicrous,” said Mark Bray, a historian and author of the 2017 book “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.” “There’s a real investment on the part of the administration and their allies in portraying these recent protests as organized from the top down, and not a spontaneous outpouring of rage.”
Antifa, short for anti-fascist, is not a national group, but more of a far-left ideology spawned as a reaction to the far right, Bray said.
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Some observers noted that Trump has not taken a similarly aggressive posture toward white supremacists. After the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, when an Ohio man who supported white supremacists plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters — killing a woman — Trump said there were “very fine people, on both sides.”
“The critics will say, ‘Why are you only doing this for antifa now? Why weren’t you designating these far-right groups — Atomwaffen and the Base — before?” said Javed Ali, a former senior White House counterterrorism official who left in 2018.
The FBI has in recent months brought charges against several members of Atomwaffen and the Base. Observers fear that in Trump’s push against antifa, though, he is trying to criminalize a political ideology that is radically opposed to his own.
Spencer Ackerman at The Daily Beast adds, Trump’s ‘ANTIFA’ Threat Is Total Bullshit—And Totally Dangerous:
But President Donald Trump’s tweet that the U.S. “will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization” is a very real threat.
Trump, who over several years has launched numerous tirades against anti-fascists, blamed the movement—really, a set of organizing tactics—for vandalism at the protests.
Although he has previously threatened legal action against anti-fascists (“ANTIFA,” in his preferred Twitter styling), the tweet was followed by a statement from Attorney General William Barr claiming that “violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly.”
Veteran FBI agents and Homeland Security analysts immediately called the “terrorism” label little more than a cynical maneuver to encourage police violence at antiracist demonstrations that have increasingly been labeled the work of nefarious outsiders.
“Why the strong rhetoric directed at antifa when you haven’t come out and condemned white supremacists as domestic terror groups?” said Daryl Johnson, a former DHS analyst stifled during the Obama administration for warning about far-right extremism.
“Anti-fascist” is, among many things, an adjective, not a group. The term can apply to people who personally object to fascism—a large segment of the American populace—as well as people who actively oppose fascism as part of several localized groups across the country.
You know who is anti-fascist? Americans! Millions of Americans fought a world war to rid the world of fascism, and won. That should have been the end of it. Never again. These goddamn neo-nazi and right-wing fascists who fantasize about Nazi Germany or support fascism are un-American. They dishonor all those Americans who served and those who died to rid the world of fascism. They are not worthy of calling themselves Americans, let alone calling themselves “patriots.” That really pisses me off.
There is, however, no centralized organization.
[T]here’s no formal organization, but there are people who organize as anti-fascists in order to oppose fascist activity.
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Just as “ANTIFA” doesn’t exist in the sense that Trump pretends it does, neither does an official “domestic terrorism” label for groups inside the United States. Only the domestic adjuncts of foreign terrorist organizations fall under the rubric of “designated” terrorist organizations, as so labeled by the State Department.
Moreover, the chief investigative and prosecutorial tools against such designated organizations are material-support statutes, designed to choke off the flow of money into banned groups. Antifa, which is not an organization, simply does not work that way.
But that doesn’t mean federal and local agencies won’t take action against anti-fascists in an attempt to comply with directives from Washington.
The FBI declined to comment Sunday on what “counterterrorism” measures it would take against anti-fascists. Barr, in a statement after Trump’s tweet, pledged to use the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which combine state, local and federal law enforcement, to “identify criminal organizers and instigators.”
Mike German, a former FBI special agent who disrupted neo-nazi organizations in the 1990s, suggested Trump was making antifa into a scapegoat even as more nefarious right-wing actors were lurking on the periphery.
“It seems to be an effort to distract from the documented presence of white supremacist militia groups at these protests and their rhetoric in wanting to instigate further violence that would potentially flow into a civil war or a race war,” he told The Daily Beast.
But experts said that, however pre-textually, Trump and Barr’s directives pose real dangers to protesters.
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Vysotsky echoed [concerns] that an effort to target anti-fascists could affect “any organization or individual that aligns left of fascism. It opens up a huge space to designate virtually any person who opposes any kind of authoritarian movement toward fundamental inequality and violence as being a terrorist.”
That includes many of the thousands protesting racism and police brutality in the wake of Floyd’s death.
This is Trump’s ultimate goal here. It is a slippery-slope to labeling anyone who opposes his crypto-fascist authoritarian “Trumpism” as an “antifa” domestic terrorist, which would include virtually anyone who is a Democratic voter or Democratic-leaning voter, and even centrist Republicans: the majority of Americans. So now we are all “antifa” in his sick demented mind. Trump and his authoritarian acolytes want to criminalize any political ideology opposed to authoritarianism.
Only the First Amendment stands in their way.
Peter Bergen, CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America, and a professor of at Arizona State University explains, Trump’s crazy designation of Antifa as terrorist organization:
President Donald Trump’s announcement that his administration will designate Antifa as a terrorist organization is surely unconstitutional because it would effectively criminalize joining an American domestic ideological group.
Thanks to the First Amendment, the US government has historically avoided designating domestic groups on both the left and right as terrorist. Belonging to such groups is consistent with the legitimate exercise of your First Amendment right to freedom of speech and belief — whether you are a white supremacist or an environmental activist.
Of course, should an American citizen commit a crime in service of her extremist beliefs she can be prosecuted for that crime, but she can’t be prosecuted for merely belonging to the group, no matter how objectionable its views might be.
The situation is quite different when it comes to terrorist groups based overseas. If you look at the National Counterterrorism Center’s list of designated terrorist groups, you will see that all the groups that are listed are based outside the United States. Joining such designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations is not protected by the First Amendment and is prosecuted as a crime. In recent years scores of Americans, for instance, have been convicted of joining ISIS or attempting to join the terrorist group, which can carry a sentence of up to 20 years.
If Trump succeeds in designating Antifa it potentially opens the door for American citizens to be charged for merely holding their beliefs — even if they are extreme and at times, militant.
It also begs the question why analogous extremist right wing groups are not similarly designated by the Trump administration, since violent right-wing extremists in the US kill far more Americans than leftist terrorists. According to data gathered by New America, a research institution, since 9/11 right-wing terrorists in the United States have killed 110 people for political reasons, while Antifa supporters have killed exactly no one for political reasons. Meanwhile, those motivated by black nationalist ideology have killed 12 people.
In other words, the threat posed by lethal right-wing terrorists since the 9/11 attacks is almost 10 times greater than that posed by leftist terrorists.
To its credit, the Trump administration designated the Russian Imperial Movement, a white supremacist group based in Russia, as a terrorist organization in April.
I’m sure that “Proud Boy” Tucker Carlson, host of “White Power Hour” at Fox News aka Trump TV, must have gone off on an unhinged rant over this. Tucker Carlson’s claim that white supremacy is a “hoax” is false.
Yet there is no indication that the Trump administration will effectively criminalize being a member of an American right-wing extremist group. And for good reason: The First Amendment is the first for a reason, and it allows Americans to hold extremist beliefs of all flavors without fear of prosecution — including Antifa supporters.
I will echo the words of the Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, who in response to Donald Trump’s recent Twitter rage, Chicago Mayor Has ‘2 Words’ for Donald Trump: They Start with ‘F’ and End with ‘U’. And that goes double for the most corrupt and criminal attorney general in American history.