Federal arrests show no links to 'Antifa' at protests despite Trump administration's claims

Only 'extremists' charged by prosecutors amid demonstrations are allegedly tied to right-wing 'Boogaloo' movement

Alex Woodward
New York
Thursday 11 June 2020 22:14
Cuomo attacks Trump over ANTIFA conspiracy

Donald Trump and his attorney general William Barr, among the president's other Republican allies and members of the administration, have repeatedly blamed so-called members of "Antifa" for recent protest violence in the wake of the police killings of black Americans.

But federal prosecutors have not linked any protest arrests for federal crimes to the loosely organised group of antifascist demonstrators that the administration has argued are staging a coordinated campaign to incite violence.

The term does not appear in any of the more than 50 arrest records and charging documents from more than a dozen states reviewed by The New York Times, NPR, Reuters and The Independent, among others.

Only one "extremist" group has been named by prosecutors in cases related to demonstrations: three men arrested during Black Lives Matter protests in Nevada are allegedly linked to the far-right "Boogaloo" conspiracy to incite a civil war.

The suspects allegedly armed themselves and wore bulletproof vests before walking into a Las Vegas crowd and provoking nearby police officers, according to US District Court filings. They were arrested on 30 May after preparing Molotov cocktails, prosecutors allege. The men have denied the charges.

Prosecutors have sought a number of charges against other demonstrators, many charged with nonviolent offences and questioned about their ideologies and political leanings, following protests against police violence and racism after George Floyd's death in Minneapolis and the deaths of other black Americans across the US.

New York Police Department intelligence chief John Miller told reporters that "anarchist groups" had organised into the city to "commit property damage" at corporate chain stores as the city's business centre saw looting amid protests.

But none of the eight people charged by federal prosecutors in New York have any reported ties to anarchist groups, according to court filings.

On Monday, Attorney General Barr told Fox News that "focused investigations" are underway into Antifa, which he says is among a "witches' brew of extremist groups that are trying to exploit this situation on all sides."

Mr Barr had previously announced that 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".

But the attorney general has broadly defined extremist violence by pointing to antifa specifically, without addressing far-right threats and violence. Antifa, encompassing a broad spectrum of the left,

Mr Trump has also threatened to designate antifa as a terrorist organisation, though the American Civil Liberties Union argues he has "no legal authority" to do so.

Hina Shamsi, national security project director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the president's message "demonstrates ... terrorism is an inherently political label, easily abused and misused".

"There is no legal authority for designating a domestic group," she said. 'Any such designation would raise significant due process and First Amendment concerns."

Reports from the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security meanwhile appear to undermine the administration's claims, according to intelligence documents that argue that "based upon current information, we assess the greatest threat of lethal violence continues to emanate from lone offenders with racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist ideologies and [domestic violent extremists] with personalised ideologies."

During sworn congressional testimony, FBI director Christopher Wray said the bureau considers "Antifa" to be "more of an ideology than an organisation" and that the agency investigates violence, not ideologies.

In February, the FBI director told the House Judiciary Committee that far-right domestic violent extremism has risen to a "national threat priority" for 2020, posing a "steady threat of violence and economic harm" to the US while its underlying drivers — including "perceptions of government or law enforcement overreach, socio-political conditions, racism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, and reactions to legislative actions" — persist.

Mr Wray said the FBI is "most concerned about lone offender attacks" which have "served as the dominant lethal mode" for domestic terror incidents.

In a now-deleted post on Twitter, the White House said, without evidence, that "Antifa and professional anarchists are invading our communities, staging bricks and weapons to instigate violence. These are acts of domestic terror."

On Tuesday, the president — who has been reluctant to condemn right-wing and fascist violence in the US — echoed right-wing conspiracy theorists by calling a 75-year-old protester in Buffalo, New York, who was pushed to the ground by police and hospitalised in critical condition, an "Antifa provocateur".

Antifa has become a frequent target of cable news and conservative media and the subject of conspiracies scattered across social media, rousing armed Americans to travel to peaceful demonstrations and prepare for violence.

Hundreds of people equipped with military gear and armed rifles and shotguns have appeared in smaller, rural areas as counter-protests to marches and protests against police violence.

Critics of the administration and the media's focus on leftist demonstrators argued that the attention paid to them dismisses the violence committed by police at protests as well as the purpose of the protests in the first place.

William C Anderson, co-author of As Black as Resistance: Finding the Conditions for Liberation, wrote on Twitter: "Focus anger and frustration on the people in power doing the killing and the oppressing. Don't believe all this nonsense about anarchists, especially if you don't even know what anarchism actually is."

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