Trump’s ‘ANTIFA’ Threat Is Total Bullshit—And Totally Dangerous

It’s not a real organization, “ANTIFA.” And even if it were, there is no such thing as a domestic federal terror designation.

But President Donald Trump’s tweet that the U.S. “will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization” is a very real threat.

Trump’s Sunday offering came as federal and local authorities across the country scrambled to contain increasingly violent protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Trump, who over several years has launched numerous tirades against anti-fascists, blamed the movement—really, a set of organizing tactics—for vandalism at the protests.

Although he has previously threatened legal action against anti-fascists (“ANTIFA,” in his preferred Twitter styling), the tweet was followed by a statement from Attorney General William Barr claiming that “violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly.” 

Veteran FBI agents and Homeland Security analysts immediately called the “terrorism” label little more than a cynical maneuver to encourage police violence at antiracist demonstrations that have increasingly been labeled the work of nefarious outsiders.

“Why the strong rhetoric directed at antifa when you haven’t come out and condemned white supremacists as domestic terror groups?” said Daryl Johnson, a former DHS analyst stifled during the Obama administration for warning about far-right extremism.

“Anti-fascist” is, among many things, an adjective, not a group. The term can apply to people who personally object to fascism—a large segment of the American populace—as well as people who actively oppose fascism as part of several localized groups across the country. 

There is, however, no centralized organization.

“Anti-fascism consists of a variety of different actors and actions,” said Stanislav Vysotsky, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater, and author of a forthcoming book on the subject. “Those can be informal: any kind of practice that opposes fascism, and can be taken on by individuals, or they can be formal, which are based in affinity group structures. There’s no formal organization, but there are people who organize as anti-fascists in order to oppose fascist activity.

Sarah Smith, who spoke to The Daily Beast under a pseudonym for fear of reprisal, is a member of Atlanta Antifascists, one of those organized groups. She said the broad usage of the term “anti-fascist” leads to right-wingers conflating everyone from members of organizations like hers, to “anybody who says anything bad about Nazis, for example.”

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