WASHINGTON — As protests raged across the U.S. in the
days after George Floyd’s death, politicians and law enforcement
officials issued dire warnings that a radical leftist group was using
the unrest to smash storefronts and sow terror.
Donald Trump and U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, U.S. senators
including Ted Cruz and Texas’ top law enforcement officer, Steve McCraw,
have all blamed antifa for looting and violence at protests.
“This is a terrorist assault on our country,” Cruz said in a recent Fox News interview.
Cruz has been among the leading voices calling for antifa to be named a domestic terrorist organization, something Trump has vowed will happen.
among the hundreds of arrests made during the protests, police in the
five biggest Texas cities have so far reported jailing just three
alleged antifa affiliates, whom they accuse of looting a Target in
Austin. While the Texas Department of Public Safety says it is still
investigating antifa cases and more charges are to come, calls to the
law enforcement agencies in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth and
Austin turned up no other arrests of alleged antifa members.
And even as the Trump administration blames antifa for the violence at protests, dozens of cases the Justice Department has brought so far include no links to antifa, NPR reported this week.
DPS said in a statement that “the department is investigating incidents
involving antifa and other groups” and that “additional arrests will be
forthcoming.” It pointed to a section of the Texas Domestic Terrorism Threat Assessment on anarchist groups, which it said includes antifa.
don’t mind advertising this,” McCraw, the director of DPS, said a press
conference in Dallas earlier this month. “We do have special agents
embedded trying to identify criminals that are leveraging these or using
these as an opportunity exploiting these demonstrations, identifying
them and we’ve already identified some of them and we will be arresting
them, but not at this particular moment.”
False reports of antifa action have popped up
across the country, meanwhile, and social media platforms including
Twitter and Facebook have purged fake antifa accounts they say were
actually created by white nationalist groups.
Antifa members or ‘community activists’?
of the three alleged antifa members arrested in Austin has a prior
criminal conviction in Texas, state records show, though one has been
arrested twice in the past on charges of assault and evading arrest —
all of which were dismissed. Two of their attorneys say their link to
antifa is a law enforcement fantasy.
she’s really this big bad terrorist, then why doesn’t she have a single
criminal conviction?” said George Lobb, an attorney for Lisa Hogan, 27,
who has the prior arrests. Austin police charged her
with burglary after she allegedly went on Facebook Live outside the
Target and urged protesters to join them, “even if you do not want to
a simple label you place on someone because it’s a buzzword that has a
negative connotation,” Lobb said. “What it does is it invites
cooperation from the federal government and their resources, including
those pukes at Homeland Security Investigations.”
The FBI is involved in the case, and Lobb said Homeland Security is, too.
police report says an officer who was watching the Target after reports
of possible looting saw Samuel Miller, 22, “smash and remove” security
cameras from the front of the store as a crowd of protesters began
removing plywood from the store windows. The report says only that
Miller is “a known antifa member.”
officer saw Hogan filming as protesters began to break into the Target
and urged more to join, according to the report. Other officers watched
the livestream on Facebook, the report says. The officer then saw Hogan
and Miller “walking away briskly” as police arrived.
got into a car, which was pulled over by officers. The driver was Skye
Elder, 23, the third protester arrested, who police say is also “a known
The police reports do not specify whether any of the three ever entered the store.
claim that community activists like Mr. Miller are ‘antifa’ is nothing
but a transparent, incendiary attempt to distract from the problems
plaguing our society — systemic racism and state-sponsored murder,” said
Carl Guthrie, his attorney. “Every time these accusations are repeated,
they lend credence to the dangerous allegation that anyone committed to
a world where people have more value than property is a terrorist.”
To some extent, security experts and academics who study antifa agree with Guthrie’s take.
is exactly the danger when using these broad brush strokes,” said Gary
LaFree, chair of the Criminology and Criminal Justice department at the
University of Maryland. “It’s kind of this view that antifa is this sort
of tumor that we can remove. It’s more like influenza or a virus.
There’s not a central location, it’s this range of attitudes.”
‘Regular people’ break things, too
say antifa — which stands for “anti-fascist” — is a loosely-affiliated
network of far-left activists, typically organized over social media,
who show up to protests to silence voices on the far right, whether by
drowning them out with loud counter-protests or by stifling them with
Antifa first started popping up in Europe, but became active in the U.S. after the election of President Donald Trump.
the most well-known instance of antifa action was in Charlottesville,
Va. when antifa fought white supremacists at a “Unite the Right” rally
that ended with a neo-Nazi killing a protester by driving a car into a
crowd. Antifa also trashed the University of California-Berkeley’s
campus to keep far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking in
runs a database tracking terrorist attacks in the U.S. since the 1960s
using the U.S. military’s definition of terrorism. It includes some
2,000 attacks, but not one tied to antifa. The closest to making it was
Charlottesville, he said, but it wasn’t clear antifa intended to spark
violence when they showed up.
“We’ve been tracking for years now and found no deaths, very little violence,” LaFree said. “I think there’s strong evidence that right-wing terrorism is way more violent than left-wing.”
say there’s a lot of misinformation about what antifa is, and that the
term has been used as a catch-all for activists with a range of
left-wing and anarchist viewpoints.
just simply aren’t nearly as many members of antifa groups as would be
necessary to do everything they’ve been blamed for,” said Mark Bray, a
Rutgers University historian of human rights, terrorism and political
radicalism in modern Europe who has studied antifa.
federal push to label antifa a terrorist group would be difficult
because “it’s not a group, as far as we know,” said Ben West, senior
global security analyst at Austin-based Stratfor.
got a more violent contingent within a larger peaceful protest that
will come in and use the cover of protest action to smash windows, spray
graffiti, incite violence between police and protesters,” West said.
“It’s organized insofar as you have people on social media posting under
the term antifa, using hashtag antifa … It’s an ideology, people
subscribe to it, but there’s no real structure.”
Bray said there’s “a political expediency in labeling people as such.”
other part of the question to be asked is, when law enforcement says
that or politicians say that — do they even know what they’re talking
about? And either way do they even care?” Bray said.