US President Donald Trump has angered the online Left by vowing to declare Antifa a “terrorist organization.” For his supporters, however, the promise was long overdue.
“The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization,” Trump tweeted on Sunday, after militants associated with the left-wing group were accused of fomenting riots across the country.
The tweet has triggered a seething discussion on whether Trump can actually live up to his promise. Though the president can, thanks to the post-9/11 Patriot Act, use counterterrorism laws against domestic groups, the Left immediately reminded him that Antifa is not an ‘organization’ as such, but “a bunch of lefty activist types who like to protest.”
However, despite their loose-knit structure, Antifa militants have been accused of attacking right-wing demonstrations, violently shutting down conservative events and speeches, and in recent days directing and instigating nationwide protests originally sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday.
To the Left, though, the group’s very name – shortened from ‘antifascist’ – excuses it from any wrongdoing. “Unless you’re a fascist, you’re now a designated terrorist,” one commenter warned.
Still more expressed worry that, due to Antifa’s lack of a typical command structure, the designation would be used to target the very act of protest itself. “Make no mistake here, Trump is threatening the constitutional right of ‘freedom of assembly’ in his attempt to designate Antifa as a terrorist organization,” Democrat Russ Cirincione tweeted. “Trump will claim any opposition as “Antifa” to silence and strip rights away from protestors.”
On the Right, the reaction couldn’t have been more different. Though Trump tweeted last year about designating Antifa an “organization of terror,” he didn’t follow through on the idea. Among the conservatives celebrating his announcement on Sunday were conservative provocateur Kaitlin Bennett and right-wing podcaster Stefan Molyneux, both of whom have had university appearances disrupted by the Left.
Amid the right-wing optimism, some commenters were more cynical. Conservative pundit Mark Dice suggested that, terrorism declaration or not, Twitter most likely won’t ban Antifa accounts from its platform.
Whatever shape Trump’s declaration takes, his Justice Department has apparently started acting against Antifa already. Following Trump’s tweet, Attorney General William Barr announced that he would instruct the FBI’s regional Joint Terrorism Task Forces to investigate the masked militants.
“The violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly,” a statement from Barr read.