Putting antifa and Black Lives Matter on notice
During the summer of 2020, the country witnessed a deterioration of law and order within major cities across the U.S.
Responding to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others as a result of police actions, what began as peaceful protests by Black Lives Matters became less associated with their platform of racial justice and instead became associated with the destruction of cities, attacks on law enforcement and other forms of violence.
There were early reports that anarchists aligned with the ideologies of antifa infiltrated these protests with an agenda of causing chaos and destruction. The timing had become the perfect storm of combined uncertainty and frustration due to the pandemic, loss of jobs, politics, and deaths of Floyd and Taylor. While intelligence agencies reported Antifa was in cities like Seattle, Portland, Chicago, New York and Atlanta under the cover of protected peaceful protests, right wing militias like the Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, and Oath Keepers began to also actively participate in the riots, causing a flash point of violence not seen in recent history. That was until the insurrection at the U.S Capitol on Jan. 6.
Following the insurrection, federal investigations continue at a rapid pace and have led to over 250 arrests. Arrests made so far by federal authorities have included members of militia groups representing the number one threat in this country — domestic violent extremism and white supremacy. While not all arrested have been directly linked to right-wing militia groups, the fact that these militias played an identifiable role in coordinating and participating in the insurrection reinforces the overall threat that they pose to the country and government. As a result, intense scrutiny and law enforcement actions have increased against these right-wing threats and includes growing support amongst homeland and national security experts for the creation of a domestic terrorism statute. A long overdue step in confronting the problem of domestic terrorism.
This has naturally led to many questions and robust dialogue surrounding the violence that occurred during the summer and the role antifa and BLM played in the violence. There have been reports that most of those arrested had no apparent ties to antifa, BLM, or other highly organized extremist groups. However, the decentralized nature of both groups means individuals can take action without broader coordination.
Let’s call the actions of those who participated in the violence during the summer what they were — criminal acts. They were destructive, violent and a direct attack on communities around the country. But they were criminal and should have been handled as such at the local level.
It is important to note that law enforcement in some major cities were constrained by local politicians, seeking to allow these groups the ability to peacefully protest the recent events. This prevented agencies from appropriately preventing and responding to acts of violence. Simply put, police departments were instructed to not enforce the laws and this fact remains unacceptable. When violence ensued, local government and community leaders lacked the political will to support their police departments.
What the violence during the summer was not, was an organized insurgency, as we witnessed on Jan. 6 at the Capitol. There was not an attempt by antifa and BLM to directly impede or overthrow the U.S. government.
According to the Congressional Research Service, “The U.S. antifa movement appears to be decentralized, consisting of independent, radical, like-minded groups and individuals.” The CRS further observes that, “some members are willing to commit crimes, some violent, to promote their beliefs” and “as a core purpose, antifa groups track and react to the activities of individuals or groups they see as advocating fascist views, such as neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, white supremacists and white nationalists.”
BLM is described by many as a political and social justice movement against incidents of police brutality and other racially motivated violence. They are also a decentralized organization coordinated at the local level and similar to antifa, found themselves under extreme scrutiny during the summer protests and riots. Like antifa, BLM has not been categorized as a domestic terrorism threat, however, the group must separate themselves from becoming associated with violence if they want the group to remain effective in promoting the causes they espouse.
Federal law enforcement, including FBI Director Christopher Wray and former Attorney General William Barr have largely echoed these descriptions of antifa and omitted any mention of BLM during congressional testimony and other documented statements. What they have not described these two groups as is the number one threat to the country, and they are correct.
However, a percentage of individuals aligned with these groups have demonstrated that they are criminal threats. Despite the fact that they have not vehemently been advertised as such, it does not replace the fact that the violent riots across the country were ultimately an attack on our democracy.
Law enforcement and elected leaders must send a clear message to both antifa and BLM that the violence during the summer will not be repeated or tolerated — laws will be enforced. Antifa and BLM should both be put on notice.
Charles Marino is the CEO of Sentinel Security Solutions, a global security and crisis management firm, and previously served as a supervisory special agent with the U.S. Secret Service and as senior law enforcement adviser to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. He regularly appears as a homeland and national security analyst on cable news networks.