Are the Antifa Terrorists? Feds Have Reportedly Classified Their Activities as 'Domestic Terrorist Violence'

Anti-fascist counterprotesters line up against white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the so-called alt-right at the entrance to Emancipation Park during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12. Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has formally classified the activities of anti-fascist groups (antifa) as "domestic terrorist violence" since early 2016, according to confidential law enforcement documents obtained by Politico and interviews.

Federal authorities have reportedly warned state and local officials the antifa has become "increasingly confrontational" in efforts to thwart white supremacist groups.

Newly disclosed documents show authorities believed "anarchist extremists" were the main cause of violence at a number of public rallies. A confidential 2016 joint intelligence assessment by DHS and the FBI blamed the antifa for attacks on a range of targets, including police, government institutions and symbols of "the capitalist system."

According to Politico, interviews showed federal authorities really became cognizant of the antifa amid the rise of Donald Trump, and law enforcement officials have claimed Trump's rhetoric and policies helped catalyze left-wing extremism in the U.S.

One senior law enforcement official reportedly stated, "It was in that period [as the Trump campaign emerged] that we really became aware of them. These antifa guys were showing up with weapons, shields and bike helmets and just beating the shit out of people.... They're using Molotov cocktails, they're starting fires, they're throwing bombs and smashing windows."

Law enforcement officials have apparently been taken aback by the swift rise of the antifa, about which they still have much to learn, and have struggled to come up with an organized response.

The dynamics of the antifa are complex. It claims to have no leaders or hierarchy, but officials believe members coordinate through a decentralized network of cells, Politico reports.

The FBI and DHS were reportedly unwilling to elaborate on any of this to Politico, given the materials the publication obtained were never supposed to be publicly disclosed.

Anti-fascist groups have been around for decades, some emerging during the early part of 20th century. But it wasn't until the recent tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, that the antifa became a larger part of public discourse.

President Donald Trump controversially blamed the violence that occurred in Charlottesville on "many sides," and has contended the media hasn't focused enough on the role the antifa played.

On this subject, it is worth noting the only death in Charlottesville occurred when a white nationalist—not a member of the antifa—plowed his car into a group of counterprotesters. What occurred has been characterized as domestic terrorism by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a designation the president does not seem to share.

Trump: "Antifa!!"

— Brandon Wall (@Walldo) August 23, 2017

The antifa's overall aim is to resist fascism—the name is fairly self-explanatory—and it claims to embrace values of anti-capitalism, anti-racism and anti-authoritarianism.

Many on the left can get on board with these principles, but also take issue with tactics the antifa is seemingly willing to employ as it works toward its stated goals (primarily what are known as "black bloc" tactics).

#UPDATE: Black-clad anarchists attack 5 protesters in Berkeley, including organizer of SF Patriot Prayer rally.

— NBC Bay Area (@nbcbayarea) August 28, 2017

In short, there are some on the left who might agree with the antifa's supposed desired ends, but aren't willing to endorse the antifa's apparent embrace of violence.

As The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf recently wrote, "It is an easy call for me to denounce antifa members who participate in or endorse extralegal violence. That does not contradict my simultaneous judgment that antifa's stated end of resisting fascism is laudable. If they showed up in force to protest Nazi rallies, but refrained from initiating the use of force, using it only lawfully in self-defense, I would have nothing but praise for them."

Noam Chomsky, one of the most revered intellectuals on the left, recently referred to the violence perpetrated by the antifa as "wrong in principle, and tactically self-destructive," and "a major gift to the right."

Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, echoed these sentiments on Thursday night. "When you think you're punching Nazis, you don't realize that you're also punching your cause," Noah said. "Because your opponents will just use every violent incident to discredit your entire movement."

Even as people like Noah criticize the antifa, there still seems to be a general unease among liberals and progressives with drawing a direct parallel between the antifa and neo-Nazis (the alt-right), as some feel Trump did following Charlottesville.

Meanwhile, many on the right took no issue with Trump's assessment of Charlottesville and feel the media hasn't gone far enough to condemn the antifa.

After Charlottesville, Joe Walsh, a former congressman turned right-wing talk-show host, tweeted, "Those Antifa counterprotesters in Charlottesville are every bit as hateful & anti-American as the white supremacists. Print that media."

Speaking about the antifa on Thursday night, Tucker Carlson of Fox News said, "They hate this country. They want to tear it down."

"Even if they didn't use violence, antifa would still be illegitimate and a threat to America," Carlson added.

In a recent article for the conservative-leaning National Review titled, "The Roots of Left-Wing Violence," Ian Tuttle wrote, "Under the aegis of 'anti-fascism,' leftist thugs have appointed themselves adjudicators of the fates of Richard Spencer, Heather Mac Donald, the limo owner or Trump voter—anyone they 'don't like'—and in this lawless realm, whatever crimes antifa commit are not crimes, and their victims are not victims."

Americans clearly have very mixed feelings about the antifa, an entity that seems poised to play an increasingly active role in the Trump era. With that said, it seems the more the antifa becomes associated with violence, the more likely it is to be vilified by both the media and the general public.

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