What is Antifa? — the militant group Trump calls a terrorist organization

Antifa means anti-fascist.

The American political protest movement is loose-knit and comprises autonomous groups affiliated by their collective opposition to fascism, white supremacy, police brutality, corporate greed and other forms of extreme right-wing ideology.

Antifa protesters are largely decentralized and organize their activities mostly through social media. The leftist militants have been involved in many recent social upheavals, including the 2017 protests opposing white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, and numerous other demonstrations against police shootings of unarmed black people.

The situation

President Donald Trump said during the weekend he wants to label the radical protest movement a terrorist organization, although it is not clear he has the constitutional authority to do so.

The president said he believes Antifa is largely responsible for carrying out violence in cities across the nation in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

The “violence and vandalism” seen across the country “is being led by Antifa and other radical left-wing groups who are terrorizing the innocent, destroying jobs, hurting businesses and burning down buildings,” Trump said Saturday, although there has not been any independent verification of the specific groups that have been involved with the extremism.

Nevertheless, national security adviser Robert O'Brien backed up Trump's comments on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday morning, telling Jake Tapper that the violence "is being driven by Antifa."

Trump’s allies in Congress have also taken up the cause.

Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler says she is co-sponsoring a Senate resolution that would call for Antifa to be designated as a domestic terrorist organization.

The resolution, introduced by Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Ted Cruz of Texas in 2019, would call for groups who identify as Antifa be designated as domestic terrorists as well as call upon the federal government to “redouble its efforts to combat the spread of domestic terrorism in all forms.”

Attorney General William Barr said Sunday the FBI would use its regional joint terrorism task forces to “identify criminal organizers” but stopped short of giving the group a designation, saying only that he was assigning the Department of Justice’s existing counterterrorism task forces to look into it.

Barr said federal prosecutors could seek to use terrorism statutes against anyone who might be arrested under their redirected enforcement.

Evidence of other groups

As riots erupted across the country over Floyd’s death, multiple reports have emerged that far-right protesters and agitators were also responsible for inciting violence and mayhem.

But the Trump administration has largely remained silent on those reports, choosing to single out Antifa as the “violent radical agitators” mostly responsible.

“The violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly,” Barr said in a statement Sunday.

J.J. MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, has been monitoring chatter about the protests among anti-government extremists on social media platforms.

She has access to dozens of private Facebook groups for followers of the loosely organized “Boogaloo” movement, which uses a 1980s movie sequel as a code word for a second Civil War.

She also has been poring over images from the weekend protests and spotted some "boogaloo bois" in the crowds, carrying high-powered rifles and wearing tactical gear.

“They want to co-opt them in order to start their war. They see themselves as being on the side of protesters and that the protesters themselves are useful in causing anarchy,” MacNab said.

She also sees signs that the Three Percenters militia movement appears to be taking an interest.

Megan Squire, an Elon University computer science professor who tracks online extremism, saw images of at least four members of the far-right Proud Boys group on the periphery of a protest Saturday night in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Antifa’s origins

The group’s ideological origins can be traced to anti-fascist movements in Italy in the mid-1920s and then the anti-Nazi movement of the 1930s in Germany. The social movement eventually made its way to the United States in the 1970s with the rise in white supremacy and “white power” skinheads.

Antifa in America has no clear structure or central leadership hierarchy.

Although the movement is left-leaning, it is not linked to the Democratic Party platform, according to CNN.

The Antifa movement has expanded with the rise in cellphone-recorded incidents of police brutality, which also coincided with the resurgence of white supremacist elements in the American political spectrum during the Obama presidency, which have exploded under Trump.

One of the earliest Antifa groups in the U.S. was Rose City Antifa, which was formed in Portland, Oregon, in 2007.

2001 Patriot Act

While domestic terrorism is defined in the 2001 Patriot Act — and law enforcement could use the designation to seek enhanced powers to investigate members of the group — there are no current designated domestic terrorist organizations.

There’s also no explicit law against providing support to domestic terrorist organizations — unlike groups designated as foreign terrorist organizations.

The federal government has no current legal authority to declare domestic terror groups the way it can for foreign organizations because ideological movements such as Antifa are protected under the First Amendment, according to legal experts.

Several current and former government officials say it would be unconstitutional for the U.S. to ban First Amendment-protected activity based on ideology.

— Information provided by The Associated Press was used to supplement this report.