From the first night in Minneapolis, it’s been clear that many of the most violent incidents in the protests have a single source: police. Again and again, video has demonstrated images of police firing tear gas, flash-bangs, and rubber bullets at protesters who were engaged in peaceful behavior. In other locations, protesters have been pushed back by walls of shields, or sent running by a rapid charge of police on horseback, from areas where moments before they had been engaged in speeches, chants, and song.
But it’s also been clear that there has genuinely been an element of destruction hiding behind the protests; a small number of people attempting to derail a fight about racial justice and channel energy and attention toward chaos. Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed the violence on “the far left” and groups such as antifa. However, over the weekend, officials in Minnesota confirmed that some of those initiating destruction in that city were white supremacists. Organizers behind groups such as the “Boogaloo Bois” have been actively recruiting members to cause violence at these events. And it’s now clear in addition to appropriating the cause of justice in the hope of inspiring a race war, these groups have also actively been working to blame antifa and similar groups. And Trump is playing along.
On Monday, Denver police stopped two members of the Boogaloo movement who appeared at the protests in that city with a staggering array of weaponry.
This kind of military armament has been the hallmark of these groups, and some have suggested that because the white operatives caught on video in city after city initiating property damage and encouraging violence are not carrying this kind of weaponry, they can’t be members of far-right militias. However, as CNN reports, a number of online accounts pretending to represent antifa and encouraging violence at protests are actually being operated by white supremacist groups. This includes calls to violence that Donald Trump Jr. had used as example of how antifa was supposedly behind violent incidents.
It’s also suspicious that the account that Trump Jr. highlighted was both new and had only a few followers at the time he chose to make it his example of the “absolutely insane” positions of antifa, and as justifications of his father’s policies. That post went on to be cited hundreds of thousands of times, including by Republican politicians proudly trumpeting Trump’s declaration that antifa should be named as a terrorist organization.
There are a number of reasons why that’s not actually possible. For one thing, there is no antifa. It’s not a dues-collecting organization or official affiliation. There is no antifa clubhouse, monthly newsletter, or membership list. Antifa is just a label—“anti-fascist”—that some people choose to use when standing up to white supremacists and authoritarian groups that support Trump.
As The Washington Post reports, Adam Schiff has responded to say that such a declaration has no legal basis. “What the administration is trying to do is delegitimize peaceful protests,” said Schiff. Schiff also makes it clear there’s a very good reason why Trump can not declare antifa a terrorist organization, even if there was such an organization to begin with: Only foreign organizations can be designated official terrorist organizations.
Donald Trump is seeking to have these protests do double duty. He wants them to both set back the cause of racial justice and provide the same kind of “law and order” platform that Richard Nixon used in 1968. He also wants to use this moment to crush everyone who fights back against his authoritarian rule.
It’s extraordinarily important that the cause of these protests and the essential nature of the complaint be protected: This is about racial justice and police violence against Black Americans. It’s about both the specific tragedy of the police murder of George Floyd and how that incident is just one in a string of similar incidents that have happened far too many names, in far too many places, for far too many years. If this moment is appropriated by the right or the left for other purposes, that dilutes the power of what it should mean to that central cause.
But Trump is making it extremely difficult to maintain the clarity of that central argument by bringing in his claims against antifa, by making declarations about “weak” Democratic governors, and by trying to do what Nixon did 50 years earlier: Make this an argument about “law and order” rather than a dialogue about race and justice. In short, Trump is in the position of defending an essentially racist system, and to do that, he’s attacking everyone who he sees as a threat to his power.
Pointing out the facts about the nature of people behind the most objectionable behavior is important because Republicans are deliberately trying to put the vast majority of Black protesters seeking justice and allies of all races seeking to provide support in the same basket as assholes out for nothing but chaos and white supremacists who are lusting after a second Civil War.
There’s no such thing as a member of antifa. They’re defined by their actions. Someone fighting against fascism is antifa. By definition, anyone who is seeking to create violence that derails and detracts from the essential nature of these protests is not antifa. They’re just … fa.