President Donald Trump on Sunday said the U.S. will designate anti-fascist protesters known as antifa as a terrorist organization amid nationwide protests over the recent death of unarmed Black man George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.
Trump, who announced his intentions on Twitter, blamed “radical left anarchists,” as well as the media, for stirring up trouble in various cities and urged local leaders to shut their demonstrations down “before it is too late!”
“It’s ANTIFA and the Radical Left. Don’t lay the blame on others!” he tweeted Saturday after demonstrators gathered outside the White House over Floyd’s death and the president’s response to it. Many chanted “Black lives matter,” “I can’t breathe” and “No justice, no peace.” Some threw items at police and destroyed local property.
The protesters had “little to do with the memory of George Floyd,” Trump said, adding that they “were just there to cause trouble.”
An American Civil Liberties Union official, responding to Trump’s terrorism call for antifa on Sunday, called it “abused and misused.”
“As this tweet demonstrates, terrorism is an inherently political label, easily abused and misused. There is no legal authority for designating a domestic group. Any such designation would raise significant due process and First Amendment concerns,” said ACLU National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi in a statement to HuffPost.
Professor Steve Vladeck of the University of Texas School of Law similarly slapped down Trump’s plans, tweeting: “The United States of America has no legal authority to designate *any* domestic entities as ‘terrorist organizations.’”
The FBI considers domestic terrorism to be “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”
The U.S. officially designates only foreign terrorist organizations, and supporting such organizations can trigger federal terrorism charges. Domestic organizations — from antifa to the Ku Klux Klan — enjoy broader First Amendment protections unless members of those organizations violate specific federal statutes.
Still, the federal government has broad powers to investigate organizations it considers criminal enterprises if officials see evidence of a conspiracy to break federal law. The Trump administration is suggesting an aggressive approach against left-wing protesters.
Trump’s comments, which failed to acknowledge the events that sparked the nation’s ongoing upheaval, came as White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien denied that there is a problem with systemic racism in the nation’s police forces.
“There are some bad apples in there. There are some bad cops that are racist, and there are cops that maybe don’t have the right training. ... And they need to be rooted out,” O’Brien said in an interview Sunday with CNN.
Attorney General William Barr also backed Trump’s depiction of the demonstrators in a statement on Sunday that accused them of “exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda.
“It is time to stop watching the violence and to confront and stop it,” he said, a message that appeared to mirror the Black Lives Matter movement’s own “call to action in response to state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism.”
“This violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly,” Barr said while imploring state and local leaders to use law enforcement resources and the National Guard where warranted.
Antifa is not one organization but rather a loosely linked collection of groups of protesters who take on right-wing demonstrators, sometimes physically, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Its participants “believe in active, aggressive opposition to far right-wing movements. Their ideology is rooted in the assumption that the Nazi party would never have been able to come to power in Germany if people had more aggressively fought them in the streets in the 1920s and 30s,” the ADL’s website said.
Ryan J. Reilly contributed reporting.