U.S. President Donald Trump said Sunday that the U.S. will classify Antifa as a terror organization after blaming the far-left group for leading violence amid nationwide protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
"The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization," the president tweeted.
Antifa, short for anti-fascists, is an umbrella term for far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations.
Various lawmakers are pointing the finger at "outside" groups of organized rioters they say are flooding into major cities not to call for justice but to cause destruction. But the state and federal officials have offered differing assessments of who the outsiders are.
They’ve blamed left-wing extremists, far-right white nationalists and even suggested the involvement of drug cartels. These leaders have offered little evidence to back up those claims, and the chaos of the protests makes verifying identities and motives exceedingly difficult.
The finger pointing on both sides of the political spectrum is likely to deepen the political divide in the U.S., allowing politicians to advance the theory that aligns with their political view and distract from the underlying frustrations that triggered the protests.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Saturday told reporters he’d heard unconfirmed reports that white supremacists were coming from elsewhere to stoke the violence and that even drug cartels “are trying to take advantage of the chaos.” John Harrington, the state’s commissioner of public safety, later said they had received intel reports on white supremacists.
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“But I cannot say that we have confirmed observations of local law enforcement to say that we’ve seen cells of white supremacists in the area,” he said Saturday.
But federal officials later pointed to “far left extremist groups.” Trump alleged the violence was “being led by Antifa and other radical groups.”
Attorney General William Barr later seemed to echo Trump’s assertion, saying the violent incidents in Minneapolis were driven by groups using “Antifa-like tactics.” Barr vowed that federal prosecutors across the country would use federal riots statutes to charge protesters who cross state lines to participate in violent rioting.
A Justice Department spokesperson said the attorney general’s assertion was based on information provided from state and local law enforcement agencies, but did not detail what that information entailed.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf was even more vague, declining to point to any particular ideology in his assessment. His agency has heard that “a number of different groups are involved in these whether it’s Antifa or it’s others, frankly,” he said. The groups appeared to be organized and using tactics that wouldn’t normally happen in peaceful protest, he said, though he didn’t elaborate.
While the motives behind the violence were unclear, there was firmer evidence that some of the protesters were coming to the demonstrations from outside the urban centers that have been the epicenter of the demonstrations.