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The Department of Homeland Security has classified the activities of antifa, the leftist extremist group, as “domestic terrorist violence,” according to documents and interviews obtained by Politico.
The group had been on the DHS radar well before the deadly, racially fueled violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, and its confrontations with white supremacist and nationalist groups appear to be difficult for law enforcement to manage.
From the story:
Previously unreported documents disclose that by April 2016, authorities believed that “anarchist extremists” were the primary instigators of violence at public rallies against a range of targets. They were blamed by authorities for attacks on the police, government and political institutions, along with symbols of “the capitalist system,” racism, social injustice and fascism, according to a confidential 2016 joint intelligence assessment by DHS and the FBI.
As the Trump campaign gained momentum, antifa stepped up its tactics against supporters of the Republican candidate.
“It was in that period ... that we really became aware of them,” said one senior law enforcement official who monitors domestic extremists in a state that has seen its fair share of clashes. “These antifa guys were showing up with weapons, shields and bike helmets and just beating the sh*t out of people. … They’re using Molotov cocktails, they’re starting fires, they’re throwing bombs and smashing windows.”
This may give more credibility to President Trump's claim that “both sides" were to blame for the deadly Charlottesville protests. At the same time, sources also told Politico that Trump's rhetoric and policies "helped to create a situation that has escalated so quickly and extensively that [law enforcement authorities] do not have a handle on it.”
“Both the racists and a segment of violent antifa counter-protestors are amped for battle in an escalating arms race, where police departments are outmaneuvered, resulting in increasingly violent dangerous confrontations,” former New York City police officer Brian Levin said. Levin has been monitoring domestic militants for over 30 years and is now at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
“It’s an orchestrated dance. The rallies spill over into social media and then even more people show up at the next rally primed for violent confrontation.”
By the spring of 2016, the DHS and FBI began to look into whether antifa had the capability to carry out terrorist bombings at the Republican and Democratic conventions that summer, and federal officials launched a global investigation, according to a DHS and FBI assessment.
According to interviews, some antifa activists have gone overseas to train and fight with other anarchist groups— for instance, two based in Turkey that are battling ISIS.
An assessment last year predicted that antifa would become more dangerous if “fascist, nationalist, racist or anti-immigrant parties obtain greater prominence or local political power in the United States.”
Recent DHS and FBI reports show that, one year later, they are actively monitoring “conduct deemed potentially suspicious and indicative of terrorist activity” by antifa.
A petition calling on the White House to “formally recognize AntiFa as a terrorist organization” has received more than 330,000 signatures online. Meanwhile, the mayor of Berkeley, California, wants to classify antifa as a “gang,” and a spokesperson for House Speaker Paul Ryan said the group “is a scourge on our country.” Similarly, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has called for violent antifa members to be prosecuted.
Last week, a peaceful “Rally Against Hate” gathering in Berkeley was disrupted when members of antifa attacked participants, some journalists, and police officers, leading to arrests and hospitalizations.