Terry H. Schwadron
June 3, 2020
Amid protest turned civil unrest in dozens of cities, statements by Donald Trump to hang it all on “Antifa,” as a name for amorphous, anti-capitalist, vaguely far-left anarchists, does little to help either provide calm nor to stop police killings of black men in their custody.
His statements skip over complexities, ignore that there are right-leaning white supremacist groups involved and set up a new political blame situation that is a futile, ineffective target. It’s a lot to hear that Trump is calling governors “weak” while he wa hiding in the White House bunker.
Mostly, however, Trump puts the federal government in the business of stamping out disorder, not in the role of leading any useful look at policing policies. For that matter, there was no mention of the policing (or protester) extremes that resulted in police cars surging into a crowd in Brooklyn, journalists being arrested or shot, or instances of peaceful protesters being pushed to the ground and gassed.
Here is what we know: The widespread protests venting emotion over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck has some number of non-local vandals who appear to be leading efforts at looting and burning. No one defends looting, but whether those individuals are leftist, rightist, anarchists or skinheads, in what numbers, caring about black lives or not, is unknown.
Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s attorney general and a former Democratic congressman from Minneapolis, said, “The truth is, nobody really knows,” and would have to be investigated.
But for this White House, that’s not good enough. We know the enemy, and once again it is the Left, and in oversimplified sentences, Trump is using Atty. Gen. William P. Barr label Democrats as not tough, and target the more violent protestors and “Antifa” as the problem here. The need to declare an enemy rather than address a real problem, to recall every “law and order” call for the last 40 years, is a political need, not a prescription for fixing anything.
Aiming at Anarchists
Specifically, Trump said his administration would “be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization,” shorthand for “anti-fascist,” joining a Justice Department list of a couple dozen organizations linked to domestic terrorism incidents. Is that useful?
As an “anarchist” movement, Antifa has no organization — that’s what anarchy is about. There is no bank account, no group to infiltrate, no leader to jail. It is a vaguely defined movement of people who share common protest tactics and targets.
And, as it turns out, U.S. law actually usually applies terrorist designations to foreign entities, not domestic groups. By contrast, the gun-toting white supremacist groups that Trump ignores do have actual organizations that can be targeted.
Barr’s remarks are a little less sweeping than Trump’s. “With the rioting that is occurring in many of our cities around the country, the voices of peaceful and legitimate protests have been hijacked by violent radical elements. Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda. . . . It also undercuts the urgent work that needs to be done.”
What Barr says is that he will use the 56 regional FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces who probe domestic terrorism incident to investigate here. That is different from “designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.”
There is no federal crime called “domestic terrorism” as there is for foreign terrorism. Those suspected of terrorism are generally investigated by the FBI.
Indeed, it was not clear that the renewed targeting of Antifa would have any real meaning beyond expected attempts to stir up culture war controversy for political purposes.
At tbe end of the day, the cynic in me would note that there must be an enormous number of Antifas to be in more than 75 cities simultaneously.
The question is whom to investigate.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said, “We have reason to believe that bad actors continue to infiltrate the rightful protests of George Floyd’s murder, which is why we are extending the curfew by one day,” after previously suggesting that white supremacists or people from outside the state were fomenting unrest. In New York City, a senior police official said anarchists had planned to cause mayhem in the city even before the protests started, using encrypted communication to raise bail money and recruit medics.
But there is not much detailed evidence available as to who is doing what. There are pictures of demonstrators breaking windows and throwing incendiary devices, cars with no license plates — in disparate and wide-flung locations.
The point is that through on-line comments, anarchists and white supremacists and far-right groups are looking to clash, even under mask of someone else’s protest, towards hastening collapse — either of capitalism or of a multiethnic, multicultural United States.
In other words, in the end, the government is targeting common tactics rather than groups.
According to the New York Times, far-right adherents have generated an avalanche of posts on social media in recent days suggesting the unrest was a sign that the collapse of the American system they have long awaited was at hand. These groups, known as “accelerationists,” attempt to promote any circumstances that might speed that goal. The groups are not monolithic, attracting black and white interests, and including those who seek a pure white ethnic state in at least part of the current United States. Some participants included heavily armed members of the militia movement.
There is plenty of hate going around. You can surely find someone else with whom to share your anger.
The job we have, however, is to make equal justice a reality, not to count how many buildings are burned.