Anti-fascist leftist movement, Antifa, has dominated US politics during the weekslong protests over the death of unarmed black man, George Floyd, in police custody. US President Trump is holding the group accountable for the ongoing violence.
In the years since US President Donald Trump's election in 2016, a previously almost dormant far-left, anti-fascist group has re-emerged — ostensibly in response to a rise in racism and white supremacy.
Now several top officials in the Trump administration — from the president to the US attorney general — are blaming the anti-fascist group, called Antifa, for taking over protests triggered by black man George Floyd's death in police custody.
Floyd, cuffed and unarmed, was pinned to the ground by Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin, who is white, using his knee. His knee was on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, according to a New York Time's reconstruction.
The following protests, which started peacefully, were marred by more brutality and show of force by law enforcement and looting and violence. The press and experts have flipflopped in the blame for both between instigators and protesters.
Here's a look at the group Trump and Attorney General William Barr are blaming for fanning violence:
Antifa is an unstructured, decentralised, leaderless group of far-left anti-fascist activists. The movement's name is a shortened version of the term “anti-fascist.”
The movement first started in Nazi Germany to fight European fascism before the Second World War and reached the US in the 1970s against Neo-Nazism and alt-right groups.
The movement consists of various groups without any central leadership, the earliest formalised group with this name dates to 2007 in the US. It was mostly inactive until the election of Donald Trump and the concurrent rise of white supremacy in the US.
There is no hierarchical structure to Antifa or universal set of tactics that makes its presence immediately recognisable, though members tend to espouse revolutionary and anti-authoritarian views, said Mark Bray, a historian at Rutgers University and author of “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.”
“They do different things at different times in different ways, some of which there is evidence of them breaking the law. Other times there is not,” Bray, also a scholar of Spanish radicalism, said.
Antifascists also want to stop any fascist movement before it can grow, even if those they target appear small and inconsequential, said Bray in 2017.
Is there an Antifa 'type'?
There is no official roster of Antifa members, making it near impossible to quantify its size, age range or racial formulation. In every area, Antifa is formed by autonomous local units.
People associated with Antifa have been present for significant demonstrations and counter-demonstrations over the last three years, sometimes involving brawls and property damage.
In February 2017, hours before then editor of the far-right Breitbart News Milo Yiannopoulos was to give a speech at UC Berkeley, anti-fascist protesters tossed metal barricades and rocks through the building’s windows and set a light generator on fire near the entrance. Later, Berkeley said 150 masked protesters were responsible for the violence at the mostly peaceful 1,500-strong protest against the far-right editor.
The movement does not have any known affiliates but some members are known to be parts of Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements.
They mobilised against a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 and have clashed repeatedly with far-right groups in Portland, Oregon, including at a protest and counter-demonstration last summer that resulted in arrests and the seizure of shields, poles and other weapons.
The members are known to dress in head-to-toe black and cover their faces as they believe it helps in defending against the police.
Use of violence
Their proactive approach of using violence to stop racist or totalitarian movements from spreading or to protect vulnerable groups distinguishes them from other non-violent leftists groups.
The movement sees the use of violence as self-defence and does not consider damaging property as a form of brutality.
Literature from the Antifa movement encourages followers to pursue lawful protest activity as well as more confrontational acts, according to a 2018 Congressional Research Service report.
The members do not abstain from involving in direct physical confrontations, also followers monitor the activities of white supremacist groups, publicise online the personal information of perceived enemies, develop self-defence training regimens and compel outside organisations to cancel any speakers or events with “a fascist bent” — such as the Yiannopoulos speech at Berkeley.
US administration on Antifa
Trump and members of his administration have singled out Antifa for driving the violence at Black Lives Matters protests.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Monday that Antifa is a “big element of this protest," though she deferred to the Department of Justice on the question of how one could be identified as a member.
And it's unclear how big its actual involvement is. And whether some of its apparent involvement is driven by instigators.
Twitter said it suspended two fake Antifa accounts, one of which was run by people with ties to a white supremacist group.
There's also a growing presence of Boogalo Bois, a gun-toting, Hawaiian shirt-wearing anti-government group, often misrepresented as a straightforward white supremacist group, at the Black Lives Matter protests. They have been accused of fomenting some of the violence blamed on Antifa by the Trump administration.
Boogalo Bois, or their other iterations, openly called for people to join them in raising militias against the Minneapolis police after the black man's death, Bellingcat reported.
Trump on Antifa
At a White House appearance, Trump blamed Antifa by name for the violence, along with violent mobs, arsonists and looters.
Trump tweeted that the US will designate the movement as a terrorist organisation.
It's not the first time he's endorsed that approach. Trump expressed a similar sentiment last summer, joining some Republican lawmakers in calling for Antifa to be designated as a terror organisation after the skirmishes in Portland.
In a pair of statements over the weekend, Attorney General William Barr described “Antifa-like tactics" by out-of-state agitators and said Antifa was instigating violence and engaging in “domestic terrorism" and would be dealt with accordingly.
Is Turkey supporting Trump's Antifa stance?
Technically, Turkey is asking the Trump administration to extend the same designation to the YPG, the terror group the US used to fight the Daesh in Syria.
Many YPG sympathisers come from the US to fight in Syria, attracted by the group — which Turkey designated as a terror group along with its parent group the PKK — and its so-called leftist selling points.
Some believe Antifa's leftist ideology attracts young people to volunteer with the YPG in Syria, after some foreign fighters were linked to the anti-fascists.
The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2020
Can Trump describe Antifa as a terror group?
As Antifa is not a discrete or centralised group, it remains unclear if it is possible to designate it as a terrorist organisation.
Since Antifa in the US is a domestic entity, it is as such not a candidate for inclusion on the Department of State's list of foreign terror groups. Those groups, which include Daesh and other such groups and the Real Irish Republican Army, are based overseas rather than in the US.
That designation matters for a variety of legal reasons, not least of which is that anyone in the United States who lends material support to an organisation on the terror list is subject to terrorism-related charges.
Even if Antifa is not designated as a terror group, FBI Director Chris Wray has made clear that it’s on the radar of federal law enforcement.
He has said while the FBI does not investigate on the basis of ideology, agents have pursued investigations across the country against people motivated to commit crimes and acts of violence "on kind of an Antifa ideology."
It is unclear whether the Trump administration is seriously pursuing the designation through formal channels. Experts say Trump lacks the legal authority to do so.
"Terrorism is an inherently political label, easily abused and misused," said ACLU National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi.
Mary McCord, a former senior DoJ official, said, "no current legal authority exists for designating domestic organisations as terrorist organisations."
"Any attempt at such a designation would raise significant First Amendment concerns," added McCord, who previously served in the Trump administration.