This allegation was entirely baseless, a shameful smear of a victim of state violence. It was also part of a pattern. The White House, with the help of Attorney General William P. Barr, is inventing a domestic terror threat from whole cloth, blaming the loose, left-wing anti-fascist, or antifa, movement for the unrest roiling the country these past weeks. The only thing that’s missing is the evidence.
Certainly, much of the property destruction and looting that has accompanied these mass demonstrations against racism have come from people with outside agendas, some political and some merely opportunistic. And certainly, antifa has smashed plenty of windows in recent years — on Inauguration Day in Washington, for example, or in Charlottesville, or at the University of California at Berkeley. Finally, it is certainly possible that individuals making mayhem at protests sympathize with antifa, or even consider themselves antifa affiliates.
Yet experts point out that disrupting demonstrations in general alignment with antifa’s goal of dismantling white supremacy is hardly the group’s ideological bailiwick. They’ve also pointed out that the group isn’t much of a group at all: that antifa is too diffuse and too small to mount a coordinated co-option campaign.
The government’s own analysis agrees. The FBI’s internal situation report on the May 31 protests in Washington says the field office “has no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement/presence”; Justice Department records show no links to antifa in relevant cases. A new multiagency bulletin identifies the primary threat as “lone offenders with racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist ideologies” and domestic violent extremists “with personalized ideologies.”
Meanwhile, three men arrested for plotting violence in connection with protests in Las Vegas are indeed allegedly involved with a militant group: the right-wing “Boogaloo” movement. When asked about these arrests over the weekend, how did the administration respond? By talking about antifa again.
These words matter. They exist in an ecosystem crawling with misinformation. White nationalist networks are masquerading as antifa and vowing to “move into residential areas,” and people are believing what they hear. Citizens of rural communities believe buses and even planes stuffed with antifa activists are coming to town, so they’re gathering with baseball bats and guns to confront them. They’re finding only peaceful protesters, no different from the innocent man shoved into unconsciousness in Buffalo.
What Mr. Trump is doing today is even more appalling than an attempt to distract from deeply felt discontent. By inventing a violent, even terrorist, effort with not a scintilla of proof, he makes an excuse for military escalation — and for impunity when the state engages in the same brutality these protests are responding to. The real provocateur here is the president.