Federal Agencies Cast Doubt on Right-Wing’s ‘Antifa’ Catch-All

Protesters outside the White House kneel with their hands in the air to protest the police killing of George Floyd, a black man who died under the knee of a white police officer who ignored Floyd’s complaints that he couldn’t breathe and onlookers’ pleas to remove pressure from his neck. (Photo: Jared Holt)

President Donald Trump and his allies in right-wing media have repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that anti-fascist activists have been organizing violence and destruction at nationwide protests over the police killing of another ​black individual, George Floyd.

Rather than attempt to address the ​cause of protests across the nation, Trump and his allies ​turned to a tried-and-true boogeyman. On Sunday, Trump tweeted that the United States would designate “antifa” a terrorism organization, despite lacking the legal ability to do so and the fact that there is no formal antifa organization in existence​. Rather, antifa refers to pockets of local and hyper-local autonomous groups that follow an ideology that calls for resistance to fascist, bigoted and anti-democratic forces and groups. Politico reports that the president’s desire has been supported by his top officials, including Attorney General William Barr and national security adviser Robert O’Brien. Trump made a similar threat last year​, but nothing came of it.

New reports from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security deflate right-wing claims that the blame for civil unrest lies at the feet of anti​-fascist activists.

Ken Klippenstein, a reporter for The Nation, reported yesterday that the FBI’s Washington Field Office possessed “no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement/presence” in the destruction of property that occurred in the capit​al city ​Sunday night. According to a​n​ FBI report exclusively obtained by The Nation, “based on CHS [Confidential Human Source] canvassing, open source/social media partner engagement, and liaison, FBI WFO has no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement/presence.” However, as Klippenstein reported, the agency memo did warn that members of a far-right social media group had called for attacking officers and using weapons against protesters.

Additionally, Reuters reporters reviewed an intelligence assessment of nationwide protests in which U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials said “most of the violence appears to have been driven by opportunists.” Although the portion of the document viewed by Reuters did note the possibility that anarchist antifascist activists may have contributed to the nationwide havoc, the portion reviewed reportedly “did not provide any specific evidence of extremist-driven violence, but noted that white supremacists were working online to increase tensions between protesters and law enforcement by calling for acts of violence against both groups.”

As the concept of anti​-fascism​ has become ​familiar to more Americans, the political right has expanded its working definition of “antifa” from a limited group of direct-action style protesters who have clashed with white supremacists and police to include large swaths of anti-Trump ​figures and social causes.

Right-wing politicians and media figures have stretched to substantiate baseless claims of anti​-fascist violence at protests following Floyd’s killing. ​Right-wing media outlet RedState and several right-wing social media ​accounts published and circulated violent rhetoric posted by a white nationalist group posing as an anti​-fascist source as if it were fact. ​(RedState corrected its story after Right Wing Watch reached out for comment yesterday.) Facebook reported it has been removing white supremacist accounts ​falsely posing as anti-fascist activists. As NBC News reporter Ben Collins noted on Twitter, Fox News published a story warning of anti-fascist riots heading into suburban areas—an unsubstantiated set of social media rumors ​furthered by right-wing politicians like Republican Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase.