The US president has proposed banning Antifa, a broad term used to apply to a spectrum of organisations opposed to far-right ideology.
As far-right demonstrators gathered in Portland over the weekend to protest against Antifa—shorthand for anti-fascists—US President Donald Trump sent them a signal: Antifa, he said, could be designated a ‘terrorist’ organisation.
Hours before Patriot Front and Proud Boys descended on Portland for the End Domestic Terrorism rally—during which, they claimed, they would battle ‘communists’—Trump took to Twitter and repeated common right-wing refrains about anti-fascists.
“Major consideration is being given to designating ANTIFA an ‘ORGANIZATION OF TERROR [sic]’” he wrote. “Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!”
Popular Mobilization (Pop Mob), a coalition of left-wing groups that organised a counter rally, distributed fliers on Saturday seeking to defend the word ‘Antifa’, HuffPost reported.
“If you are not a fascist—then you are Antifa,” the fliers read, arguing that anyone who opposes racism, white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and the xenophobic, ultranationalist ideologies of the far-right “and our current administration” is an anti-fascist.
Although it was not Trump’s first time targeting anti-fascists, he prompted criticism from experts and activists that accused him of attempting to draw attention away from the far-right groups at a time when hate crimes are on the rise.
Experts on the far-right say that the calls for a crackdown on anti-fascists whitewash the threat of white nationalist violence, a phenomenon they claim Trump has exacerbated with his anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.
Kathleen Belew, an expert on the far-right and author of Bring the War Home, wrote on Twitter: “To classify antifa as terrorism but to utterly ignore the decades of white power organization [sic] antifa seeks to oppose is complicity, tacit or deliberate.”
David Neiwert, a journalist and author of several books on the US far-right, said the country has “a whole bunch of young white males out there, all ginned up on white nationalism”.
“They’re resentful and hateful and ready to act out,” he told TRT World.
Trump’s threat to deem Antifa a ‘terrorist’ group follows on the heels of several similar comments by Republican lawmakers and officials.
On Friday, the Tampa Bay Times daily newspaper reported on a document provided to Republicans in the House of Representatives. The document advised lawmakers to shift blame to leftists—including Antifa—when questioned about white nationalist violence.
Earlier this month, US Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, and US Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, introduced a resolution seeking to classify Antifa as a ‘domestic terrorist group’, despite Antifa not being an organisation.
In the resolution, Cruz and Cassidy mention confrontations at a far-right rally in Portland on June 29, when anti-fascists punched and hurled milkshakes at right-wing blogger Andy Ngo.
In late July, Congressman Mark Green, a Republican from Tennessee, and Mark Walker, a Republican from North Carolina, introduced a separate resolution condemning “Antifa violence and recognising that it engages in domestic terrorism”.
Following a deadly mass shooting in El Paso, Texas—allegedly carried out by 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, who had posted a white nationalist manifesto on the 8chan messaging board—Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick warned Antifa to “stay out” of the border town.
But a new study by California State University at Santa Barbara’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism (CSHE) found that hate crimes rose by nine percent in 30 American cities last year.
Although noting that anti-fascists had been involved in violent confrontations, the CSHE study explained that anti-fascists were not responsible for deadly violence, unlike their far-right counterparts.
Far-right events flop in Texas
In Dallas, Texas, the American Identity Movement—formerly known as Identity Evropa, a group that participated in the violence at an August 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—planned several events in the Northeast Texas city and McKinney, a nearby suburb.
The events took place less than a week after the two-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, where a far-right participant plowed his car into a crowd and killed 32-year-old anti-racist marcher Heather Heyer.
Little information was available during the lead-up to the planned events, scheduled to take place between Friday and Sunday, but the Dallas Police Department warned citizens not to engage the group.
Late on Friday afternoon, the Dallas Police Department said that American Identity Movement had not requested a permit for any potential marches or rallies.
“However, the Dallas Police Department will not interfere with a lawful and peaceful assembly of any individuals or group expressing their first amendment rights,” the police department told TRT World by email.
On Saturday, the Dallas Police Department increased patrols in the city in anticipation of “possible violence in the downtown area”.
Ahead of the events, the Democratic Party in Dallas and Collin counties condemned the American Identity Movement and called on the public to avoid confrontations.
“We’re concerned that wherever they throw a rally there may be violence involved,” Carol Donovan, Democratic Party of Dallas County chairperson, told TRT World.
“We have advised people: Do not engage this group. There’s no point in throwing fuel on the fire.”
But the weekend passed with little action, and American Identity Movement members held only small events.
On Friday night, around 15 members held a flash protest in downtown Dallas, where they waved flags and projected an image on the wall of an ostensibly empty building.
“END TECH CENSORSHIP!” the group wrote in a Twitter post accompanied by a video of the small, brief rally.
“AIM activists just demonstrated in downtown Dallas against censorship and deplatforming, two means by which the establishment cracks down on political dissidents.”
Police and locals were on high alert ahead of the weekend. Local anti-fascist and anti-racist activists canvassed bars in McKinney, alerting owners and patrons to the American Identity Movement’s links to violence.
Earlier in August, the white nationalist group Patriot Front held a flash rally outside of a bar in nearby Denton, Texas.
The following day, an unrelated incident rattled that community when a man with swastika tattoos attacked a Jewish bar owner who tried to eject him from the establishment.