How Trump is Using the Myth of the ‘Violent Left’ to Undermine Democracy
In seeking to categorise Antifa as a terrorist organisation, the US President is adding fuel to the fire of right-wing white supremacists.
In the United States, the far-right holds a near monopoly on acts of political violence, a reality emphasised by the fact that right-wing groups and individuals are responsible for 100% of all terrorist attacks to occur on US soil since the end of 2017.
But, US President Donald Trump and the Republican Party are peddling the myth of the ‘violent left’, in what is a strategic ploy to provide cover for what is likely to be a terrifying assault on the constitutionally protected rights of their political opponents among the left.
In their immediate sights is Antifa, a loosely defined movement comprising an array of autonomous left-wing groups and individuals who express militant opposition to fascist, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups – but who have become better known in more recent times for pouring milkshakes onto those who chant “Jews will not replace us”.
On Saturday, Trump declared his intent to categorise Antifa as a domestic terrorist organisation.
Earlier in the week, Republican Senator for Texas, Ted Cruz – who, seeking to capitalise on the right’s manufactured outrage with regards to Antifa’s milkshaking of Andy Ngo, a far-right blogger, in Portland, Oregon earlier in the month – asked the Department of Justice to “open an organised crime investigation” into the “left-wing anarchist terrorist organisation that routinely relies on violence to intimidate and punish its political opponents”.
“Antifa’s violence is widespread and well-known… Antifa’s members rely on masks to conceal which particular member committed any given crime,” Cruz said.
Essentially, what the US Government is signalling is that those who toss milkshakes onto, often heavily armed, Nazi salute-waving, racial minority-hating, jackboot thugs are far more of a threat to the country than the white supremacist neo-Nazis themselves.
Let’s deal with the absurdity of this proposition before we deal with its intentionally terrifying implications.
First, not a single person has been killed on US soil by anyone associated with Antifa. The same, however, cannot be said for the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), for instance – despite the far-right white supremacist group having been involved in the lynching murders of nearly 4,000 Americans since the end of the Civil War.
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The KKK isn’t designated by the US Government as a domestic terrorist organisation, and nor are similarly-minded violent right-wing extremist groups. But, as black churches, synagogues, mosques, malls and schools are shot up by individuals who are tied to far-right groups and ideologies, both Trump and the Republican Party are instead moving to classify an autonomous bunch of anti-fascist and anti-racist street hoodlums as such.
“The Antifa reject racism but use unacceptable tactics,” the Anti-Defamation League told The Washington Post. “White supremacists use even more extreme violence to spread their ideologies of hate, to intimidate ethnic minorities, and undermine democratic norms.”
These absurdities aside, the move to designate Antifa as a domestic terrorist organisation would constitute both a threatening and unprecedented move by the US Government, particularly because Antifa isn’t a group but rather a loose network of far-left activists who oppose the far-right agenda.
The Ku Klux Klan isn’t designated by the US Government as a domestic terrorist organisation.
Under the counter-terrorism provisions of the Patriot Act, designating Antifa as a domestic terrorist organisation would allow federal law enforcement authorities the power to suspend and violate the constitutionally protected civil liberties of any person who is suspected of participating or merely supporting Antifa activities, either online or on the street.
Essentially, it would give the Trump administration the legal authority to brand anyone who expresses opposition to right-wing or white supremacist ideologies a “domestic terrorist”, which is exactly the motive underpinning Trump’s strategy: to delegitimise the right’s political opposition. It’s step number four on the road to one-party, authoritarian rule.
“It is dangerous and overly broad to use labels that are disconnected [from] actual individual conduct,” Hina Shamsi, director of the national security project at the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Washington Post. “Any such scheme raises significant due process, equal protection and First Amendment constitutional concerns.”
Designating a non-lethal network of loosely affiliated far-left groups and individuals as terrorists would drive a knife into the ability of any number of left-wing groups, including environmentalists and animal activists, to express their political views. It’s for this reason that the Government has, until now, intentionally avoided charging acts of actual domestic terrorism as acts of domestic terrorism, preferring, instead, to prosecute them under specific criminal charges.
For instance, when Timothy McVeigh, a right-wing extremist, detonated a truck bomb in Oklahoma City in 1994 killing 168 people – the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in the country up to that point – he was later charged and convicted on 11 federal offences, but not terrorism.
Trump and the Republican Party now seek to undo this longstanding logic in the criminal justice system in order to vilify and delegitimise their political opponents.
They offer only empty-headed slogans and platitudes like “thoughts and prayers” to the dozens of right-wing, mass casualty terrorist attacks that have taken place on US soil in the past three years, but resolute and drastic action when a network of far-left activists merely milkshakes a far-right blogger.
This should be interpreted for what it is: the strand-by-strand unmooring of the country’s democratic norms, values and institutions.