Donald Trump has threatened to designate Antifa as a terrorist group in response to the activists’ alleged roles in the violent protests sweeping across the US.
However, despite the president’s tweeted warning, “the US government has no existing legal authority to label a wholly domestic group in the manner it currently designates foreign terrorist organisations”, reports CNN – meaning Antifa supporters should be safe for the time being.
But who or what is Antifa and is there any truth behind Trump’s claim?
Who is Antifa?
According to New York City-based anti-hate organisation ADL, Antifa – short for anti-fascists – is a “a loose collection of groups, networks and individuals who believe in active, aggressive opposition to far right-wing movements”. The movement has a logo showing a double flag, usually in black and red, but has no central leadership.
Al Jazzera agrees that Antifa is an “amorphous movement”, rather than “an organisation as Trump often says it is”. The movement’s members “tend to be grouped on the leftward fringes of the US political spectrum, many describing themselves as socialists, anarchists, communists or anti-capitalists”, says the news site.
Some Antifa groups date the origins of the movement to fights against European fascists in the 1920s and 1930s, the BBC reports.
Mark Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, says the modern American Antifa movement began in the 1980s with a group called Anti-Racist Action.
The collective came under the media spotlight following clashes between white supremacists and their opponents in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
Al Jazzera says that “other than their opposition to right-wing ideologies, there is little binding the Antifa movement’s adherents together. Some focus on environmental causes or the rights of indigenous groups, others for the rights of LGBT activists.”
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Why does Trump call them terrorists?
“Willingness to use violence marks out Antifa from many other left-wing activists”, with the movement’s followers sometimes “directly and sometimes physically confronting the far-right on the streets”, says the BBC.
This view is echoed by ADL, which says that “when Antifa show up, as they frequently do, they can increase the chances that an event may turn violent”.
Antifa activists also focus “on harassing right-wing extremists both online and in real life”, adds the anti-hate organisation.
US law enforcement officials have publicly voiced concerns about “Antifa actors and the violence that sometimes accompanies their public appearances”, Al Jazeera reports.
In November 2017, FBI director Christopher Wray told a congressional hearing that the bureau was pursuing “a number of what we would call anarchist extremist investigations, where we have properly predicated [people] who are motivated to commit violent criminal activity on kind of an Antifa ideology”.
With a fresh wave of unrest now engulfing the US in response to the police killing of George Floyd, CNN reports that Attorney General Bill Barr has also “pointed to far-left groups as responsible for many of the violent protests”.