After Facebook removed the ads amid an outcry, the Trump campaign continued to defend use of the image — which was used by Nazis to identify political prisoners — by claiming it’s a “common Antifa symbol.”
The suggestion, of course, is that the image is justified by the idea that it’s associated with antifa, so it’s merely a warning of a continuing menace to the country. “STOP ANTIFA,” the ads say, warning of “dangerous MOBS of far-left groups” that are “DESTROYING our cities.”
Meanwhile, Trump and his top officials have continued to blame unrest and violence at protests on antifa, to cast the violence more broadly as primarily left-wing in orientation.
But the DHS document I obtained undercuts this series of claims.
The document — which is an assessment of ongoing “protest-related” threats to law enforcement dated June 17 — makes no mention at all of antifa in its cataloging of those threats.
The DHS document states that “anarchist and anti-government extremists pose the most significant threat of targeted low-level, protest-related assaults against law enforcement.”
It bases this assessment on “the observed ideologies of recent attackers and the body of reporting of tactics noted by violent opportunists used over the last two weeks.”
Thus, as of this week, “anarchist and anti-government extremists” pose the most serious ongoing threat, according to Trump’s own Homeland Security department.
The document defines “anarchist extremists” as:
groups or individuals who facilitate or engage in acts of unlawful violence as a means of changing the government and society in support of the belief that all forms of capitalism and corporate globalization should be opposed and that governing institutions are unnecessary and harmful to society.
Not only does this document not name antifa, this description of generic “anarchist extremists” does not remotely describe what we’ve come to understand “antifa” to be. While there might be some loose and occasional overlap between antifa and anarchists, antifa isn’t even a group, and adherents are characterized by specific resistance to perceived neo-fascist movements, which is wholly different from this definition of what motivates anarchist extremists.
Meanwhile, the DHS document defines “anti-government extremists” as motivated by "their belief that their liberties are being taken away by the perceived unconstitutional or otherwise illegitimate actions of government officials or law enforcement.”
Obviously, that’s not antifa, either.
“This document shows that the government itself does not view antifa as a significant threat in the homeland,” Juliette Kayyem, a former DHS official who reviewed the document at my request, told me.
“The document shows how absurd the Trump campaign’s justification for using the symbol really is,” Kayyem added. “It undercuts their defense.”
The Anti-Defamation League has harshly criticized the Trump campaign for employing a symbol that “is practically identical to that used by the Nazi regime to classify political prisoners in concentration camps.”
Kayyem said the document is a bulletin customarily sent by DHS to “state and local law enforcement” to alert them as to “what they should be looking out for in terms of threats.”
The document also notes that “overall protest-related violence" has been "decreasing significantly during the last week,” which also undermines continued Trump fearmongering.
The document does assess that there may be “heightened” threats to law enforcement in coming days in the form of “exploitation of otherwise lawful protests” by “violent opportunists," and cites “white supremacist” and “black supremacist” extremists.
Notably, the continuing threat to law enforcement has been thrust to the forefront by the charging of Steven Carrillo for the alleged killing of one security officer and the wounding of another. Carrillo is an alleged adherent of the “boogaloo boys,” an extremist movement trying to exploit protests to incite race war.
The DHS document actually does cite the “Boogaloo movement” as a threat in this context. It notes that Carrillo is likely associated with it, defining it as “a term used by some violent extremists from a variety of movements who seek to incite a race war or the collapse of society.”
And yet, according to CNN reporter Marshall Cohen, Trump has yet to mention this as a threat, even though, as Craig Timberg demonstrates, it’s increasingly obvious this threat is becoming a serious one.
At the same time, the Trump campaign continues to cite antifa as a threat — and is using this to justify its use of that symbol in ads — even though an assessment from Trump’s own government doesn’t cast antifa as such.
Similarly, another leaked intelligence document earlier this month assessed the greatest threat as coming from “lone offenders with racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist ideologies,” not from antifa.
The new DHS document shows that the non-assessment of the threat of antifa hasn’t changed — even as the claims about antifa continue.
The broader story here, as Isaac Stanley-Becker details, is that the continued fearmongering about antifa by Trump and many top officials seems designed to distort the true nature of these multiracial, largely peaceful and broadly representative national protests in a very fundamental way.
There’s another pernicious angle here, too. As another former DHS official noted, this document cites the possibility of more attacks on law enforcement — but concerted distortions of what’s driving that threat are themselves destructive to efforts to combat them.
“Attributing the risk to one group (or mischaracterizing its structure) is dangerous, because it misses the holistic nature of the problem, excludes those that do present a danger and ultimately, puts law enforcement at increased risk,” this official told me.