Portland/ United States (14/7)  —   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. However, recent research about the far-left extremists groups shows a different picture emerging.

‘The far left extremists Marxists groups, Antifa/Black Block plotted for a considerable time to take the fight to the police and on to the street’, said a prominent counter terror expert familiar with the study. ‘Donald Trump is in fact not viewed as a reason by these groups to take to the street.’

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.

‘The assertion by a variety of voices is drowned out by the political voices, but fact remains the far-left extremist Marxist groups are openly calling for the mutiny of the national guard and wage public intimidation against their opponents.’, he added. ‘Insurrection is one phrase tossed around in the halls of power’.

Posters and flyers discovered during retaking of the courthouses showed the 4-step strategies. Experts agreed with the assessment. ‘The far left extremists groups have declared war on the United States, and of course, indirectly Trump. But even if the president is out of the office we going through a protracted period of domestic instability and possible rise of new terror groups this time from emerging from the far left extremist Marxist groups.

Floyd, cuffed and unarmed but under the influence of drugs at the time of his death, 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. This is however a double edged sword. Experts already view the claims of murder, excessive, and questions if manslaughter charges can be upkept.

A protester carries an Antifascist Action flag at a rally following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, in Boston, Massachusetts, US, May 31, 2020.
A protester carries an Antifascist Action flag at a rally following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, in Boston, Massachusetts, US, May 31, 2020. (Reuters)

The Antifa

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. In far-left extremists circles the Antifa is viewed as insignificant. Groups surfaced in Syria with Antifa members getting combat experience. The exact number of foreign Antifa fighters are unknown.

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. In 2014 documents discovered shown a plot against the NYPD are outlined to target the police. Authorities are tight lipped about the credibility of the claim, but the online documents are circulating in anarchist and far-left extremist circles.

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.”

This is categorically rejected by experts. ‘The ‘leaderless myth’ portrayed by the far-left extremists Marxist groups are aimed to claim the groups are larger than than are and everlasting powerful’, a counter-terror officials said. Bray himself one of the organizers of the Occupy Central demonstrations is viewed with skepticism on projecting this narrative.

“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.

‘The notion a bunch of black-dressed bully-boys intimidating critical voices of dissent, is now democracy is a flawed as the neo-nazis claiming they protect democracy.’, a senior researcher on militant civil society groups said. ‘The Black Block, Antifa, BLM, the far-right, neo-nazis and clans are extremists. The act like extremists, talk extremists and they are firmly in the extremists space of Marxists, Leninist, Blanquists, Sorelians, or anarchists. They are not democrats.’

‘We need to stop viewing these groups as some sort of mystical beast. They are not.’, he concluded

Members of an anti-fascist or Antifa march as the alt-right or far-right hold a
Members of an anti-fascist or Antifa march as the alt-right or far-right hold a “Demand Free Speech” rally in Washington, DC, July 6, 2019. (AFP)

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. The notion that these groups are not existing is laughable, said an academic with the University of Maryland. Studying these groups for years the structure, character and tactics are well documented and known.

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.

Antifa counter-protesters gather outside the Trump International Hotel as they demonstrate against the
Antifa counter-protesters gather outside the Trump International Hotel as they demonstrate against the “Demand Free Speech” rally organised by right-wing activists in Washington, DC, July 7, 2019. (Reuters)

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.

A member of an anti-fascist or Antifa group is held back while he argues with a Trump supporter as the alt-right movement gathers for a
A member of an anti-fascist or Antifa group is held back while he argues with a Trump supporter as the alt-right movement gathers for a “Demand Free Speech” rally in Washington, DC, July 6, 2019. (AFP)

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. ‘These actions are insignificant and shows how tech companies suffer from a left eye blindness when it comes to far-left extremism’, a researcher said.

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.

The Black Lives Matter leaderships are self-styled ‘trained Marxist’ with a rich history of far-left extremists terrorism in the ranks. One of the leaders is the daughter of a Trotskyist and her grandfather a founding member of the German Communist party with links to German leftist party.

This link shows two angles relevant in the debate. First, the Black Panthers were supported by the former East German intelligence agency, the feared Stasi. The east German state provided material support and escape routes for the Black Panther gang members after attacking a U.S. airbase.

The second is the former RAF terrorist Inge Viett, who in 2011 made headlines for calling a restarting of an subversive underground and secret organization to continue the struggle. The links between BLM and the far-left German activist scene remains not examined by national security and U.S. federal intelligence agencies.

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.

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.

‘Most of the assumption about the Black Block/Antifa are wrong’, Marcus Wolters, a former counter terror expert. ‘They are structured, planned, highly organized and logistically supported, promote hate and racist narratives and are on the far left extremist doctrinal interpretation of Marx and Lenin.’ He added, ‘The groups have a longer, and more violent history than jihadists. It is uncomfortable but they are the true first terrorists in post-second world war history.’

Black Block/Antifa/BLM cells are repeatedly spotted carrying out surveillance on reporters and media to ensure the media reports an ‘friendly, and accurate pictures to support the cause’, as one training leaflet suggests.

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.