As Mike Pence demonstrated last night in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention (RNC), conservatives have come up with a handy way to simply erase far-right domestic terrorism from the national consciousness: Pretend that any incident of such violence was actually committed by their freshly concocted bogeyman, “antifa.”
In the speech, Pence denounced protest violence by insisting that “[t]he violence must stop, whether in Minneapolis, Portland, or Kenosha”—and then went on to blame the murder of federal protection officer David Underwood in Oakland on “the riots.” Pence’s narrative obliviated the reality that Underwood in fact was killed by a couple of right-wing “Boogaloo” movement adherents, and the killing was undertaken in order to help promote chaos and confusion, as well as to bolster right-wing talking points about the supposed threat of the “violent left.”
Indeed, FBI Special Agent in Charge Jack Bennett told reporters at the time that the two men charged in the murder—Air Force Staff Serg. Steven Carrillo, 32, and Robert Justus Jr., 30—seemed to have little in common with the protesters. “There is no evidence that these men had any intention to join the demonstration in Oakland,” Bennett said at a news conference. “They came to Oakland to kill cops.”
Underwood’s sister Angela was a guest of the RNC and was acknowledged by Pence. “We are privileged tonight to be joined by his sister, Angela,” he said. “Angela, we say to you: We grieve with your family. And America will never forget or fail to honor officer Dave Patrick Underwood.”
Pence is hardly the first Republican to have pulled this rhetorical bait-and-switch. Indeed, his boss, Donald Trump, first blamed Underwood’s death on “professional anarchists, violent mobs, or, arsonists, looters, criminals, rider rioters, Antifa and others” in a June 1 Rose Garden speech: “A federal officer in California, an African American enforcement hero was shot and killed.”
The motives of Underwood’s killers were not known at the time, but the subsequent arrests and charges have not stopped Republicans from claiming that they were related to “antifa”—even as they studiously avoid mentioning the “Boogaloo” adherents, white supremacists, and various militiamen who have been bringing lethal violence to the protests, including in Kenosha.
On June 26, Ken Cuccinelli—the Department of Homeland Security’s acting deputy secretary—published an op-ed at Fox News that repeatedly referred to Underwood as a victim of “rioting and chaos in the streets.”
“Americans have rightly acknowledged the urgency to prevent the death of another George Floyd,” he wrote. “How do we prevent the death of another Patrick Underwood?”
Two weeks ago at a Senate hearing intended to demonize “antifa” (titled “The Right of the People Peaceably to Assemble: Protecting Speech by Stopping Anarchist Violence”), Texas Sen. Ted Cruz pulled the same stunt—twice.
The first time, he did so to attack his Democratic colleagues: “Not a word was said about the murder of federal law-enforcement officer Patrick Underwood. Not a word was said about the murder of retired St. Louis police officer David Dorn—both of whom are African-American! And both of whom were murdered. Oh, we won’t condone this, but we won’t say a negative word about this terrorism.”
He was then corrected by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who pointedly noted: “It ain’t just leftists.” But Cruz ignored this, and repeated the same characterization of Underwood as a victim of leftist violence.
It’s hard not to conclude that Republicans have simply chosen to pretend that far-right violence doesn’t exist, or at worst is barely worth a brief acknowledgement.