The real domestic terrorism threat is not antifa
Over the last four years, President Trump and his administration actively promoted the idea that domestic left-wing organizations have become a growing menace to national security. At the same time, they have downplayed the threat posed by right-wing groups, despite the continuing assertion by the FBI that paramilitary, anti-government, white supremacist groups constituted a much greater menace to the country.
The bogeyman, according to the Trump administration and its ideological allies, is something called antifa. Yet antifa (short for anti-fascist) is little more than an euphonic rallying cry, a slogan, or as FBI Director Christopher Wray stated before Congress in October, “more of an ideology or a movement than an organization.” There are no officers, no members, no documents, nothing tangible.
While dangerous right-wing hate groups go back well more than a century, their surprising growth in recent years became evident to most people with the 2017 riot in Charlottesville where overt racism came out of the woodwork leading to violence and death. President Trump seemed to validate the rioters and his administration failed to do much of anything subsequently to thwart what many were now calling domestic terrorism.
During the summer of 2020, after the murders of black individuals by policemen in Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, and elsewhere, Trump campaigned for re-election blaming the rioting and violence on Democratic mayors and governors, Black Lives Matter protestors and antifa. This opinion was also frequently advanced by then-Attorney General Barr and other Trump administration officials; this was coupled with Trump’s minimizing of the dangers posed by right-wing extremists, most of whom were his fervent supporters. But in fact, like Trump’s re-election “victory”, there was no evidence to support these ideas.
The massive demonstrations that occurred across the country after these murders were accompanied by bad behavior from many individuals and groups. The vandalism and looting of expensive stores in midtown Manhattan and elsewhere was mostly the work of opportunistic thieves assisted by politically motivated anarchists, possibly egged on by right-wing provocateurs. The largely peaceful demonstrations by Black Lives Matter protestors and others always seemed to be accompanied by disguised, well-organized extreme right-wing groups looking to foment violence.
Some may point, and with justification, to the continuing violence in Seattle as evidence of left-wing misbehavior. True, but it generally seemed to be against activist right-wing gangs, not against civil society.
The mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 was an assortment of right-wing extremists. Most considered themselves part of a “militia movement”, paramilitary types who believe they have the right to carry guns and other weapons anywhere and everywhere, and to use them at their own discretion. The majority were white supremacists. Some styling themselves as “Neo-Nazis” hate Jews. A majority also despise LGBTQs. All seem to dislike most foreigners, especially darker skinned ones. Others like QAnon have bizarre conspiracy theories in addition. Something all these sects seem to have in common is hatred of government at every level.
Groups such as The Proud Boys, Boogaloo Boys, Wolverine Watchmen, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Atomwaffen Division and so on are typically organized into small chapters that are autonomous but keep in touch through the internet and other electronic means. Since 1981, The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked hate groups and extremist organizations in the U.S., in 2018 listing 1,020 such organizations, nearly all right wing. The FBI may have a reliable estimate of their numbers but no such figures have been made public. Certainly we are talking about many thousands of individuals, much more if like-minded, unaffiliated “lone wolf” individuals were added to the totals.
While there are some women active with right-wing hate groups, the overwhelming proportion of these individuals are young or middle-aged men, a significant portion of whom have had military or law enforcement experience.
How large was the mob that stormed the Capitol? Strangely, the various authorities who normally count numbers at public events have not been willing to say. Unofficial estimates suggest that over a thousand rioters got inside the Capitol building and thousands more broke through the barricades but remained outdoors.
A frightening aspect of the attack on the Capitol has been the claim that people within the Federal government, possibly even members of Congress or their staffs, may have been involved. Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (NJ), a former Navy helicopter pilot and credible sleuth, noticed on the day before the attack that several guided tours, which had been officially discontinued since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, seemed to be taking place. And she reported to the Capitol police and other authorities what she considered very suspicious activity that looked to her like “reconnaissance missions.” Thus far, the FBI and others investigating the situation have kept their findings to themselves.
Together with his several month long attempt to persuade his followers that his election was “stolen,” President Trump’s fiery speech inciting them to attack the Capitol makes what transpired seem almost inevitable.
Now finally installed, the new administration is taking the threat of domestic terrorism very seriously. But reversing the frightening growth of violent hate groups will be a formidable task.
Architect and landscape designer Mac Gordon lives in Lakeville.