Democrats have a rare opportunity to try to expose the deceptions at the core of this campaign.
Administration officials have agreed to a closed-door, members-only briefing to the House Committee on Homeland Security this Friday, according to an internal House announcement. This will allow Democrats to grill officials about what the intelligence actually shows about the true state of the protests.
The briefing concerns “the recent and ongoing protests, including any extremist involvement in the protests,” according to a notice circulated by Democrats, and it will be attended by officials from the Department of Homeland Security.
Democrats should use this opportunity to pin down the administration. It’s a largely under-covered fact about this moment that Trump and his top officials have more or less manufactured the illusion of a domestic terrorism threat from the left, to create a story line bolstering the president’s reelection campaign.
Trump’s efforts have largely backfired, with sizable majorities disapproving of his response to the protests and agreeing with their underlying arguments. But this is one of the few things Trump has left.
The president and his top law enforcement and national security officials have relentlessly blamed antifa activists for the threat, even though a bulletin from Trump’s own DHS undermines this claim. They’ve constantly used wildly hyperbolic language about “domestic terrorism” to characterize civil unrest associated with the protests.
Yet they’ve done this without feeling any obligation thus far to actually justify these claims with, say, a briefing to top congressional leaders, which is what you’d think should happen if the homeland were really under threat from domestic terrorists.
That, hopefully, will change at this briefing.
“The administration conjured up the idea of an imminent threat posed by left-wing extremists without presenting any evidence to support these claims,” Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), a member of the Homeland Security Committee, told me in a statement.
“If there were really such a pressing threat, one would think Congress would have been briefed immediately,” Rice continued.
Meanwhile, as a recent Post piece documented, there is ample reason to worry about a right-wing extremist threat in the form of the “boogaloo bois.” And another internal DHS assessment from early June indicated “the greatest threat of lethal violence” at protests comes from “lone offenders with racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist ideologies.”
Yet Trump talks about the right-wing extremist threat about as often as he shows humility and tells the truth, which is to say, just about never.
So the upcoming briefing will hopefully also give Democrats an opening to press DHS officials about what the intelligence indicates about the right-wing extremists Trump never talks about.
“They have failed to acknowledge the growing threats from white supremacists and those who believe in the ‘boogaloo’ ideology,” Rice said.
All this represents yet another way in which the government has been pressed into service in support of Trump’s reelection. As Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg has noted, “this is the president of the United States conjuring up some dangerous domestic enemy who needs to be fought the way we fought Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, ISIS and Al Qaeda.”
And Trump’s top officials are helping him create this manufactured illusion. Yet we still have little insight into what the government has actually concluded about the protests, which constitute one of the biggest domestic events in recent times.
It’s possible that officials will succeed in stonewalling House Democrats at this coming briefing. But if so, Democrats can at least inform the public that the administration has no serious evidence for the nonstop claims that Trump has made for weeks.
“Hopefully, DHS can provide Congress with information on actual threats beyond those that only exist in the president’s mind,” Rice said.