- America has seen major protests across the country for five nights, with frequent clashes between the police and protestors, following the death of George Floyd.
- President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr have both blamed the worst violence on anarchists and Antifa, a left-wing political movement.
- On Sunday, President Trump tweeted that he would designate Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization.
- There are no legal consequences for designating a group as a domestic terror organization, but all 56 regional FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces have been monitoring the protests.
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President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday afternoon that the United States would be designating the left-wing political movement Antifa a domestic terrorist organization.
The news comes after five nights of protests across America protesting the police killing of George Floyd. Saturday saw the highest tension yet, with police shooting tear gas and less-lethal projectiles at protestors, some of who responded by throwing bricks and bottles and, in some cities, lighting police vehicles on fire and looting stores.
On Saturday, the President blamed Antifa, short for anti-fascist, and other left-wing groups for the riots and looting.
“The memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters and anarchists. The violence and vandalism is being led by Antifa and other radical left-wing groups who are terrorizing the innocent, destroying jobs, hurting business and burning down buildings. The main victims of this horrible, horrible situation are the citizens who live in these once lovely communities,” the president said.
The State Department can designate foreign organizations as terrorist organizations, but there is no law governing domestic organizations. At the moment, it is unclear what President Trump’s tweet refers to in concrete legal steps. The Patriot Act defines domestic terrorism, but there are no federal crimes tied to domestic terror.
Trump said in July of 2019 that he was considering declaring Antifa an “Organization of Terror.”
Another challenge is the nature of Antifa, which is less of an organization, with structure and leaders, than a decentralized movement. Antifa is a global movement largely made up of anarchists, socialists, and other left-wing groups that oppose right-wing authoritarianism and white supremacy, sometimes violently. Unlike other radical groups, there is no controlling organizational structure, choosing instead to operate semi-autonomously and without leaders.
Antifa is known for its black-bloc protest tactics, where protestors wear all black and cover up their face so that they can’t be identified by police or right-wing opponents.
Antifa’s name comes from the pre-World War 2 German group Antifaschistische Aktion, which resisted the Nazi German state, and birthed the design of Antifa’s now infamous flag.
Antifa gained much more public attention under the Trump presidency, as the movement disrupted events with far-right speakers across the country, such as Vice and Proud Boy founder Gavin McInnis’s speech at the Metroplitan Republican Club. Most notably, the organization faced off against the white nationalist Unite the Right rally.
Noted black clergyman and left-wing activist Cornel West told Democracy Now that Antifa protected him and other clergy from the worst of the white nationalist violence.
“We would have been crushed like cockroaches were it not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists,” he told Democracy Now. “You had police holding back and just allowing fellow citizens to go at each other.”
Trump, in his response to the Charlottesville protest, said that he blamed Antifa and the “alt-left” for violence as well.
“What about the alt-left who came charging at the alt-right?” Trump said at a press conference.
Attorney General William Barr also blamed “anarchist and far-left extremist” groups for the violence on Saturday. On Sunday, the Attorney General’s office released guidance that said that the his office is working with the 56 regional FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces to “identify criminal organizers and instigators.”
AG Barr: “To identify criminal organizers and instigators, and to coordinate federal resources with our state and local partners, federal law enforcement is using our existing network of 56 regional FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF). ” pic.twitter.com/mueuIo8LSa
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) May 31, 2020
It is unclear what other avenues the federal government may use to pursue enforcement actions against Antifa, but the FBI Agents Association has been lobbying for the creation of a domestic terrorism law.