Violence in the wake of protests was not terrorism

Violence in the wake of protests was not terrorism
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE has named ANTIFA as the culprit behind the violence in American cities this past weekend. He has even threatened to have the group declared a "terrorist organization." His accusation has several problems. ANTIFA is not a group, its adherents have not engaged in terrorist activity, and there is no clear evidence of them inciting or engaging in violence at any of the protests. The U.S. does not have a domestic terrorism statute that allows him to designate any entity within the country or a terrorist group.

Anti-fascism (ANTIFA) is a broad, far-left ideological movement akin to the Alt-right at the other end of the political spectrum. While ANTIFA has some anarchic tendencies, its core belief is that fascism must be confronted whenever and where ever it appears. Fascism includes all forms of racism and bigotry. Although the movement has been around for decades, it became more prominent after the 2016 election. ANTIFA members staged counter-protests at the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Va. In 2019, they clashed with misogynist Proud Boys in Portland, Oregon, and New York City. 

Civil rights groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League, have raised concerns about the violent tactics used by ANTIFA. Its adherents have clashed violently with opposing groups and engaged in vandalism. Some ANTIFA members have spouted anti-police rhetoric. However, the movement's supporters have been reactive rather than proactive, showing up to counter hate group gatherings. They have not used firearms or bombs and have, so far, not killed anyone. ANTIFA may be a cause for concern, but its activities have not risen to the level of terrorism.

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The president, the justice department, and some local officials have blamed ANTIFA for the looting and vandalism that accompanied widespread, legitimate protests over the killing of George Floyd. "The violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups connected with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly," Attorney General William Barr declared.

Neither he nor anyone else in the administration has presented compelling evidence to substantiate the claim that ANTIFA was behind the looting and destruction of property. Online chatter inciting violence and numerous anecdotal accounts of suspicious activity comprise the bulk of the "proof" for leftist extremism.

There have also been claims that white supremacists instigated and engaged in violence to start a race war. No clear evidence has been presented to substantiate those accusations either. Boogaloo Boys, far-right anarchists, have reportedly been seen at protests in Minnesota, Texas, and Pennsylvania. At a protest on Friday, Denver police seized weapons from a Colorado man who "identifies with an anti-government group preparing for a civil war." In once instance, a white supremacist group posted a call to violence on Twitter, posing as a representative of ANTIFA. These few incidents do not constitute terrorism.

Civil unrest on such a more massive scale invariably attracts nefarious elements. Most of what happened following peaceful daylight protests across the country consisted of spontaneous vandalism and opportunistic criminality carried out after dark. Some of the lootings in Chicago showed signs of being highly organized with perpetrators using rental trucks and other vehicles to cart off stolen items. "We saw literally people coming in carloads and with U-Haul vans, to loot and destroy and damage our businesses," Mayor Laurie Lightfoot said. These criminals appeared to be selective, targeting ATMs, pharmacies, and high-end stores in places like River North.

Much of the looting in Chicago and other cities, however, appeared to be spontaneous. People broke into whatever stores were at hand and took what they could carry. Rage often accompanied theft, as looters destroyed what they could not take. An element of social conflict between haves and have-nots may have fueled the anger. One woman in New York City called the looting justified, saying, "these people have been looted by this country their entire lives."

Truthfully, no one knows with certainty who bears responsibility for the nights of violence that followed days of legitimate protest. As police process arrestees, review CCTV footage, and sort through other evidence, we may learn more about who did what. At this point, one thing seems clear: the vast majority of peaceful protestors bear no responsibility for those who took advantage of the situation. We should not let the illegal actions of the few detract from the legal activities of the many seeking justice, police reform, and an end to racism in America.

Tom Mockaitis is a professor of History at DePaul University and author of "Violent Extremists: Understanding the Domestic and International Terrorist Threat."