Updated: Jul 3
On the 30th of May, President Trump labelled Antifa a terrorist organisation. This designation could well be exploited to try to neuter the American left from actions and further demonstrations. This is the second of three articles which will focus on the President’s right-wing land-grab in response to what is ultimately a non-partisan issue. The first article can be found here, with the final piece being released tomorrow.
At first glance, Antifa does seem like a difficult sell to peaceful protests. They are self-described militants who oppose fascism in all forms. However, on the 30th of May, President Trump decided to, in typical fashion, deflect responsibility for the civil unrest away from his administration, away from the police who murdered George Floyd and onto Antifa. Resultingly, they have been labelled a terrorist organisation.
What does it mean to be labelled a terrorist organisation?
Effectively, Antifa being labelled a terrorist organisation means that anybody associated with the group can be arrested on suspicion of terrorism and held for an indefinite period. Putting the human rights violations to one side, this means that the organisation cannot function properly and thus, cannot move to oppose fascism as and when it sees fit.
However, the alarming feature in labelling Antifa a terrorist organisation is that Antifa does not have a specific membership – not in any formal sense anyway. It is difficult to clearly define who is, and who isn’t an anti-fascist.
For example, could I be labelled a terrorist in the US because I am subscribed to a few Antifa groups on various social media sites? Probably not.
But that’s the very issue at the heart of this designation, unlike ISIS, whose membership is easier to identify based on certain religious and ideological fundamentals, Antifa’s is not. We are placing our trust in the hands of the US government to dictate who is a terrorist and who is not.
This is the state whose intelligence agency, the CIA, operated illegal ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (a marketing term for torture) against suspected terrorists in ‘black sites’ across the globe for years, despite zero evidence pointing toward the torture aiding in gaining any valuable information.
The Shock Doctrine
Naomi Klein’s now-famous 2007 book The Shock Doctrine argues that modern, Western governments will often use moments of national and international crisis to push through questionable or unfavourable policies, either quietly whilst nobody notices, or under the guise of trying to protect people. A key example of this is the Patriot Act, which allowed the US government to spy on its own citizens without probable cause, by means of protection.
Trump’s designation of Antifa as a terrorist organisation is just that; pushing through a questionable policy under the guise of protection. He has stated that anarchists and Antifa are the reason for the protests. This is plainly false, and clearly nonsense from the President. He simply wants to use this opportunity to make a massive land-grab.
If Trump truly cared about domestic terrorism, he need only look at the statistics. Since 9/11, 85 violent terrorist incidents have taken place in the US. Of those 85, 62 have been carried out by far-right extremist groups, that’s nearly three-quarters. Furthermore, radical Islamic fundamentalist groups carried out 23 incidents. The number of terrorist incidents carried out by Antifa, or the left for that matter? Zero.
Yet, as you read this, the Ku Klux Klan is not designated a domestic terrorist group, despite their entire organisation revolving around the eradication of minority groups, and the creation of an American ethnostate. Rather, President Trump has gone after the group who seeks to eradicate the Ku Klux Klan from American society.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a supporter of Antifa. I prefer protest from the Martin Luther King school of thought; peaceful, law-abiding and disruptive. Get in the way, but do not aim to cause harm to another. That said, the issue surrounding George Floyd’s murder is one of systematic state-endorsed violence. Who am I to dictate how America’s black community feels and how they respond to repeated calls for law enforcement and judicial reform?
As I stated in my previous piece in this series, numerous attempts have been made to raise the alarm on the conduct of officers; numerous times have they been thrown out without investigation. Moreover, numerous times have black men and women been killed on the streets or incarcerated to harsher sentences than their white counterparts. There are only so many times that a community can ask for change before they have to demand it.
“I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard” – Martin Luther King, 1966
Unheard They Remain
President Trump is incapable of solving this problem because he simply does not care about the core concern. His priority during the Coronavirus lockdown was to reopen the country, contrary to all the medical advice, so as to get the economy moving (don’t forget it’s an election year and he’s a Republican). People dying of COVID-19 came secondary to his desire to restart the economy then, and black people continuing to die at the hands of police officers secondary to his desire to sweep these protests under the rug and carry on like America is the land of the free.
Systematic inequalities and structural inequalities exist outside the lexicon of the Republican Party. They, therefore do not have the arsenal, nor the willingness to succeed in the face of that struggle. The Federal Government could, if they so desired, do as the UK government did following the botched investigation into the racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993: launch a fully independent review, akin to that of the Warren Commission following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and commit to fully implementing the findings of the review.
But they won’t. And hence, they riot. Antifa is not the problem, the problem resides in the unaccountability of the police force, the blind eye turned by the establishment to the structural racism inherent in the judicial system, but perhaps most importantly, the problem resides in the Oval Office.