President Trump is scrambling to place blame for the violence now sweeping the country as law enforcement clashes with protesters in major cities over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. On Sunday, the president announced on Twitter that antifa, a loose coalition of anti-facist protesters, would be designated a “terrorist organization.”
The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2020
It’s a label that is usually reserved for foreign terrorist organizations and requires, under federal law, that the organization has a foreign nexus, according to CNN’s Josh Campbell. But antifa is a domestic entity with no real organization or leader, so we have to understand this move by Trump for what it is: a blatant attempt at shifting the blame for the unrest and violence onto the left. While many have been quick to blame protesters for the violence, a closer examination of footage shows that police are often escalating conflict unnecessarily by ramming protesters with SUVs and shooting rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas at peaceful protesters, press and even at residents standing on their own front porches.
Attorney General William Barr announced that federal law enforcement will activate the 56 regional FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces to apprehend and charge what he described as “violent radical agitators.” “The violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly,” Barr said in a statement.
But as Mary B. McCord, a former head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, told the New York Times, Trump does not have the authority to declare a domestic group as a terrorist organization. “There is no authority under law to do that—and if such a statute were passed, it would face serious First Amendment challenges,” McCord said. “But right now, the only terrorist authority is for foreign terrorist organizations.”
The ACLU also condemned the move. “As this tweet demonstrates, terrorism is an inherently political label, easily abused and misused. There is no legal authority for designating a domestic group. Any such designation would raise significant due process and First Amendment concerns,” ACLU national security project director Hina Shamsi said in a statement.
Further, the Trump administration’s attempt to label antifa as a terrorist group is a slap in the face to those who have consistently called on the government to declare white supremacist groups terrorist organizations, as the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowry noted on Twitter. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, white nationalist and racist “alt-right” groups were responsible for at least 40 deaths in 2018 alone across the U.S. and Canada, and the number of these groups has increased by 55 percent since 2017. But because these groups typically support Trump and his racist ideas, we have hardly heard any criticism of them from the president who called white nationalists in Charlottesville “very fine people.”