President Donald Trump said Sunday that he will designate antifa as a terrorist organization after Democratic and Republican officials pointed to extremist groups and out of town demonstrators as responsible for violent episodes at protests in major cities across the country.
Trump and Attorney General William Barr had earlier pointed to anti-fascist organizers and anarchists as culprits behind the mayhem following the death of a 46-year-old black man, George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis police. Others said right-wing extremists such as Boogaloo followers, who hope to bring about a second Civil War, were pushing for such uprising in the protests.
In a Sunday statement, Barr said the Justice Department is taking aim at “apprehending and charging the violent radical agitators who have hijacked peaceful protest and are engaged in violations of federal law.”
The attorney general said that “to identify criminal organizers and instigators,” federal law enforcement officials are utilizing “our existing network of 56 regional FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces.”
“Preventing reconciliation and driving us apart is the goal of these radical groups, and we cannot let them succeed,” Barr added. “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.”
There is no domestic terrorism statute and legal authority for the U.S. to designate any domestic organization as a terrorist group, as the Justice Department’s domestic terrorism coordinator has said publicly on multiple occasions in recent years. A 2018 Congressional Review Service report on antifa said that “presumably” the FBI “would investigate antifa followers suspected of criminal activity as domestic terrorists, categorizing them as a type of anarchist extremist.”
“As this tweet demonstrates, terrorism is an inherently political label, easily abused and misused,” American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi said in response to Trump’s post. “There is no legal authority for designating a domestic group. Any such designation would raise significant due process and First Amendment concerns.”
The Trump administration also took aim at antifa during the Sunday political talk shows. Speaking with CNN’s “State of the Union,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien said violence “is being driven by antifa.”
“And they did it in Seattle. They have done it in Portland. They have done it in Berkeley. This is a destructive force of radical — I don’t even know if we want to call them leftists,” O’Brien continued. “Whatever they are, they’re — they’re militants who are coming in and burning our cities, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it.”