As protests against police violence spread to every state in the U.S. and dramatic images flooded in from cities across the country, President Donald Trump and his attorney general spun an ominous story of opportunistic leftists exploiting a national trauma to sow chaos and disorder. They were the anti-fascists known as “antifa”, and according to the administration they were domestic terrorists who would be policed accordingly.
But while the White House beat the drum for a crackdown on a leaderless movement on the left, law enforcement offices across the country were sharing detailed reports of far-right extremists seeking to attack the protesters and police during the country’s historic demonstrations, a trove of newly leaked documents reveals.
Among the steady stream of threats from the far-right were repeated encounters between law enforcement and heavily armed adherents of the so-called boogaloo movement, which welcomes armed confrontation with cops as means to trigger civil war. With much of the U.S. policing apparatus on the hunt for antifa instigators, those violent aspirations appear to have materialized in a string of targeted attacks in California that left a federal protective services officer and a sheriff’s deputy dead and several other law enforcement officials wounded.
The cache of law enforcement materials was recently hacked and posted online under the title “BlueLeaks,” providing an unprecedented look at the communications between state, local, and federal law enforcement in the face of the nationwide protests. In an analysis of nearly 300 documents that reference “antifa,” The Intercept found repeated instances of antifa and left-wing protesting activities cast in cartoonishly grim terms alongside more substantive reports of lethal right-wing violence and threats that have received scant mention from top Trump administration officials.
“Throughout the documents you see counterterrorism agencies using extremism so broadly as to mean virtually anything that encompasses dissent,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, told The Intercept. “There are instances in which people engaging in white supremacist violence get the benefit of the doubt as potential lone offenders, while people of color and those who dissent against government injustice are smeared as threats with guilt by association.”
Michael German, a former FBI agent specializing in domestic terrorism and current fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, said the materials were rife with examples of law enforcement intelligence being politicized in ways that endangered both protesters and police alike. “Terrorism is distinguished from other violence by its political nature and, as a result, counterterrorism is often highly politicized as well,” German told The Intercept. “Here we’re seeing where this politicization of counterterrorism is being reflected in intelligence documents that are going out and are intended to inform state and local law enforcement on the ground.” He added: “Overall, what you see is a strange sensationalization of the antifa threats — and that doesn’t exist when looking at the boogaloo documents.”
German argued that the impulse to paint both sides of the political spectrum with the same brush, despite the fact that only the far right is actively killing people, is among the most dangerous features of modern American law enforcement. In his review of the documents produced in response to the recent protests, German said purported “threats” from antifa were routinely overblown, often framed vandalism as terrorism and were typically absent of concrete evidence of serious criminal activity.
“It’s chatter, it’s ‘intelligence reporting suggests,’” he said. On June 2, for example, the Department of Homeland Security circulated a tweet to law enforcement agencies across the country reporting that antifa was stashing bricks to “fuel protests.” The intelligence made its way to a law enforcement fusion center in Maine. Last week, Mainer magazine tracked down the original source of the tweet: a far-right, pro-Trump biker who goes by the name “the Wolfman,” who claimed that Facebook kept deleting his brick-planting evidence “because they are BLM supporters.”
“You have these heavily armed groups right there, who have a much more direct and lengthy history of violence than anything antifa or anarchist-involved does.”
Even if antifa were staging bricks, German said, “you have these heavily armed groups right there, who have a much more direct and lengthy history of violence than anything antifa or anarchist-involved does.” Unlike the information circulated about antifa, much of the intelligence reporting in the BlueLeaks documents regarding threats from the far right is tightly focused on specific events, German noted. “That’s the way it should be,” he said. Far-right extremists have been targeting and killing law enforcement, not to mention members of the general public, for generations, German explained, and in fact, the government’s own documents show that those ideas were percolating in extremist corners of the right at the same time that Trump and U.S. Attorney General William Barr were preparing to crack down on the left.
While antifa has been a right-wing boogeyman for years, the administration’s rhetoric ramped up in late May, with Trump tweeting that he would designate the movement as a terrorist organization. Barr followed the tweet with a Department of Justice statement reporting that federal investigators would work to “identify criminal organizers and instigators” who were “hijacking” the protests, and warning that “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.”
In the weeks since Barr’s statement was issued, The Intercept has published accounts of FBI agents in multiple states targeting individuals with a perceived relationship to antifa for interviews and potential informant work. Meanwhile, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, an official fundraising arm of the president, has been running campaign ads urging donors to send money to show support for the administration’s antifa enforcement campaign.
Yet the leaked materials show that on May 29, two days before Trump tweeted that antifa would be labeled a terrorist organization and Barr issued his DOJ statement, the president’s own DHS analysts issued an open source intelligence report detailing how a white supremacist channel on Telegram, an encrypted messaging service, was encouraging followers to capitalize on the unrest by targeting the police with Molotov cocktails and firearms.
“The use of firearms greatly influences the scale and intensity of these events,” a source in the group, titled “National Accelerationist Revival,” wrote on May 27, advising followers to break police lines “with cocktails, chainsaws, and firearms.” At the time, DHS reported, the group included more than 3,400 subscribers. “Looting and shoplifting are both cool and whites should be doing it way more,” the source went on. “When the laws no longer benefit you, break them for personal gain. If you don’t feel like buying something, steal it. If you don’t feel like driving slow, drive fast. If you don’t like someone, hurt them.”
“We ought to revel in the destruction of the police state,” they wrote. “It is just as necessary to break down the police state and the system of control as it is to spread racial hatred.”
In a separate document disseminated the following day, DHS warned its workforce that the nation’s “period of darkness” would soon worsen, as “violent protest movements” grew. Domestic extremists would capitalize on the unrest to “take over government facilities and attack law enforcement,” DHS predicted, with protests following police killings of civilians “posing a high risk of escalating to both premeditated and random attacks targeting law enforcement officers nationwide.” The document went on to describe how “users of a white supremacist extremist Telegram channel attempted to incite followers to engage in violence and start the ‘boogaloo’ — a term used by some violent extremists to refer to the start of a second Civil War — by shooting in a crowd.”
Among the developments cited in the bulletin was the May 29 assassination of a federal court security guard in Oakland. The alleged perpetrator would later be identified as Steven Carrillo, a 32-year-old sergeant in an elite Air Force security unit. According to authorities, Carrillo would go on to ambush and kill a sheriff’s deputy and wound several others in a second targeted attack days later. In court filings last month, the FBI reported that the airman had a ballistics vest bearing a boogaloo patch. Following a shootout with police, Carrillo reportedly used his own blood to scrawl phrases associated with the movement on the hood of a vehicle he had carjacked.
In the run-up to the initial attack, federal authorities said Carrillo made several comments in a Facebook group with his accused accomplices arguing that the protests were an ideal opportunity to kill law enforcement — whom he referred to as “soup bois,” a reference to the “alphabet soup” of law enforcement titles — and kick off a broader nationwide conflagration. “Go to the riots and support our own cause,” Carrillo reportedly wrote on the morning of the attacks. “Show them the real targets. Use their anger to fuel our fire. Think outside the box. We have mobs of angry people to use to our advantage.”
At approximately 9:44 p.m, Carrillo and his accused partner, Robert Alvin Justus Jr., rolled up in a white van outside the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building. The side door of the vehicle slid open and Carrillo opened fire. Fifty-three-year-old David Patrick Underwood was shot dead. His partner was wounded. “Did you see how they fucking fell?” Justus would later recall Carrillo exclaiming, as the van took off into the night.
While Carrillo was on the run in California, the FBI’s Minneapolis office circulated uncorroborated “online discussions” between unidentified individuals indicating that “Antifa wanted to ‘massacre’ National Guard personnel at the Minnesota State Capitol” in an unprecedented vehicle-born explosive attack. In the June 1 report, the bureau’s Minneapolis office noted that the intelligence coming in was based on photos of National Guard vehicles that did not appear to come from Minnesota, that it was the product of an outside office, and that “given current circumstances in the Twin Cities, the FBI Minneapolis Field Office cautions that the source may have potentially provided intelligence to influence recipients.”
That same morning, Trump tweeted a quote from “Fox and Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade: “I don’t see any indication that there were any white supremist [sic] groups mixing in. This is an ANTIFA Organization. It seems that the first time we saw it in a major way was Occupy Wall Street. It’s the same mindset.” The president endorsed Kilmeade’s assessment, writing in all caps, “TRUE!” Later in the day, Trump appeared in the Rose Garden of the White House to announce that he would mobilize military forces to quash “the violence and restore security and safety in America.” The president was quick to point out the role of “professional anarchists, violent mobs … arsonists, looters, criminals, rider rioters, Antifa, and others” in creating unrest. “A federal officer in California, an African American enforcement hero, was shot and killed,” he said, referring to Underwood and the targeted attack in Oakland.
Trump made no mention of groups on the far right. Behind the scenes, however, DHS was acknowledging “media reports” indicating “that neo-Nazi, and other paramilitary far-right groups, are calling for terror attacks during the ongoing unrest throughout the United States.”
“A series of Telegram accounts linked to a wider network of paramilitary far-right extremists have indicated that ongoing disturbances are spreading America’s police forces thin, making this the ideal time to strike with a strategic attack,” the agency reported in a round-up of intelligence reports coming in from around the country, published the following morning. “One account, with thousands of followers and links to several neo-Nazi terror groups like The Base and the Nordic Resistance Movement, called for attacks on critical infrastructure.” The agency noted that Twitter had recently removed a fake antifa account “created by a known white supremacist group” that had issued a call to violence.
“Although the account only had a few hundred followers, it is an example of white supremacists seeking to inflame tensions in the United States,” DHS reported.
According to a distribution list at the bottom of the report, the document was shared with the White House Situation Room, DHS headquarters, federal interagency operations centers, and state and local partners. The Intercept sent detailed lists of questions regarding documents in the BlueLeaks trove to the White House, the Department of Justice, and DHS. None responded. The FBI referred The Intercept to an interview director Christopher Wray gave to Fox News in a late June, in which he appeared to distance the bureau from the more strident antifa rhetoric of Barr and Trump. “Our efforts are focused on identifying, investigating, and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity,” the bureau said in a statement. “We are not focused on peaceful protests.“
An Antifa Obsession
Despite the apparent stream of intelligence indicating that the far right was looking to use the protests as cover to attack law enforcement and create disorder, the FBI, by June 2, was still uncertain whether the attack in Oakland was linked to the demonstrations. “At this time, the FBI is unable to determine if this incident is related to the civil unrest in the Oakland area,” the bureau noted in a lengthy situation report. Carrillo’s arrest was still four days away.
On the heels of Barr’s antifa statement, the FBI noted that its field offices had been “encouraged to canvass sources for intelligence associated with violent or illegal extremist activity.” The bureau added that “any attempts by law enforcement to arrest individuals” openly carrying guns at protests, as well as increased use of the National Guard, was likely to draw more anti-government militias into the streets. The 16-page FBI report did not mention the boogaloo movement nor any of the many other domestic extremist groups of the American far right, by name. It did, however, highlight antifa and anarchists more than a half dozen times.
In Newark, New Jersey, police and FBI investigators had identified “a probable ‘Antifa’ related individual,” who was arrested for possessing a knife, a hatchet, and a jar of gasoline. Though the man’s charge was unclear, the FBI reported that it had “obtained one of his Facebook posts which contained a video of him at the riots inciting others to steal from the stores while he stood guard.” With the man having described himself as “anti-government and anti-authority,” the FBI reported that its Newark office “believes this profile is consistent with ‘Antifa.’” While agents were investigating the man in Newark, the FBI’s field office in Spokane, Washington, was looking into an “antifa group” reportedly headed through Idaho and on to Minneapolis. In Denver, meanwhile, the FBI was investigating the alleged transfer of “riot supplies” to “antifa members,” and in Philadelphia, authorities were “attempting to confirm if any of the individuals arrested by Philadelphia Police Department have ‘Antifa’ affiliations.”
The portrait the FBI painted of the country was chaotic, with nearly three dozen FBI SWAT teams in various stages of deployment nationwide. The report noted “multiple officer related shootings” in the 12 hours preceding its dissemination, including the killing of a police officer in Las Vegas and an “assailant” who allegedly fired on police officers and a National Guard patrol in Kentucky. Nearly 200 pistols and rifles had been stolen from locations in San Francisco and Albuquerque, New Mexico, the FBI reported; it was unclear by whom.
While a variety of groups had been linked to the unrest, the FBI noted that “much of the violence and vandalism is perpetrated by opportunistic, individual actors acting without specific direction.” Nonetheless, the bureau would “continue to aggressively … seek to corroborate whether or not there is in fact an organized effort to incite violence by either known criminal groups or domestic violent extremists,” which apparently included running down “uncorroborated intelligence about alleged participation of Venezuelan and Nicaraguan socialist groups.” According to the report, with more than 4,000 arrests across the country, the FBI had tagged nearly 200 incidents as “riot related threats” and was in the process of investigating 40 “cases associated with violent protests.”
With Trump hyping antifa hysteria in Washington, D.C., reports of lurking leftists began cropping around the country. In Colorado, a Denver resident reported that they had followed a “suspicious person” into their apartment complex who looked to be attempting to set the building on fire. “Fairly certain he was a member of an Antifa like group,” the resident wrote, adding that there were “two Antifa safe houses on our block.” “I know this because they have been walking past our house telling us they can offer shelter, food, supplies, etc. also they have been hiding on our stoop when Swat drives by and they keep discussing their plans and where they are going. They have a central phone # they are calling to get updates and where they need to go to,” the resident said. “Please nip this shit in the ass. This is the second time in two days we had someone attempt to burn down our apartment building/neighboring buildings. Get these terrorists out of our city please!”
“Please nip this shit in the ass. This is the second time in two days we had someone attempt to burn down our apartment building/neighboring buildings. Get these terrorists out of our city please!”
The Colorado Information Analysis Center, a law enforcement fusion center, listed the type of activity described in the complaint as “terrorism.” CIAC did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
It wasn’t just residents worried about antifa. CIAC also received a request from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department seeking “information on ANTIFA, and possibility of acts targeting our AOR” — area of operations. In neighboring Nebraska, the FBI’s Omaha office was running down information indicating that an “unidentified individual who claimed to be a member of ANTIFA” had posted a Craigslist ad offering to “pay up to 1,000 individuals $25 per hour to ‘cause as much chaos and destruction as possible’” in “nightly violent protests.” In Virginia, the FBI warned that black lines spray-painted on federal buildings was a sign of antifa vandalism to come.
All over the country, from California to Texas to West Virginia, law enforcement was chasing antifa leads and looking to hunt down instigators. The BlueLeaks documents suggest a borderline obsession on the part of some law enforcement offices with painting antifa, anarchists, and left-wing dissent more broadly as a serious terrorist threat. In early June, New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (NJOHSP) issued a two-page report detailing how legal observers with the National Lawyers Guild, a progressive association of attorneys and legal advocates that has been around since the 1930s and sends representatives to public protests to monitor police activity, were in fact “an anarchist extremist subgroup.”
“‘Lawyers’ may be identified by their bright neon green hats or clothing; however, these individual [sic] may or may not be licensed lawyers,” the office warned. “Their role is to record information regarding the interactions Antifa members are having during an arrest. This individual will record the interaction with the aid of another member, while noting information. The ‘lawyer’ will also obtain booking information and are known to argue with police over arrests and interactions.”
Anti-fascists were bent on infiltrating protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police Officer Derek Chauvin “to further their violent ideology,” the New Jersey office reported, and “continue to attack government institutions; use violent counter-protest tactics against adversarial groups, including law enforcement; and target political figures representing disparate views.”
This was not the first time the New Jersey’s homeland security office had set its sights on leftists. In a 2018 report, the office compiled a color-coded chart of the biggest terror threats to New Jersey. Anarchist extremists were third, in the “moderate” section below Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula but above the Islamic State. Anarchists made the list again in 2019, this time climbing to second, just below “Homegrown Violent Extremists.” They fell to third in 2020, however, with “White Supremacist Extremists” finally cracking New Jersey’s top three after several centuries of organized terror and killing.
The Intercept asked NJOHSP about its justification for considering anarchists a greater public safety threat than terror groups that have killed thousands of people, and whether the office has ever aided investigations into legal observers. The office said that it “does not disclose operational or investigative details and sources.”
The government fusion centers that produce the kind of “intelligence” found in the BlueLeaks breach have been a problem for years, said Freddy Martinez, a policy analyst at Open the Government, a nonpartisan, nonprofit collective that works to peel back post-9/11 government secrecy through research and open records collection. Martinez was a lead author on a report published earlier this year detailing how the government’s billion-dollar network of fusion centers “exhibit a persistent pattern of violating Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, producing unreliable and ineffective information, and resisting financial and other types of standard public accountability.”
The BlueLeaks documents show that the problems with fusion centers go beyond efficiency, Martinez argued. “It would be easy to say that the information is inaccurate, wrong, costly, which I think is true, but it also sort of describes what the priorities of the federal government are on counterterrorism,” he said. “The government is aware of what they’re doing. It’s a very intentional, ‘Well, we’re just going to criminalize dissent any way we can.’”
German, the former FBI agent, described how sensationalized, incomplete, or biased fusion center reporting can have a dangerous impact on the ground, particularly in complex, emotionally charged protest situations. “I always try to read these and put myself in the shoes of a young police officer that doesn’t know anything about this subject,” he said. “All this tells me to do is be very afraid of these people and imagine the worst of anything that they do.”
“You can kind of understand why their response is so aggressive and violent,” he said. “They’re scared to death, and they’re scared to death because there’s this echo chamber of right-wing media, White House statements and, unfortunately, law enforcement intelligence.”
Identifying the Enemy
As law enforcement worked to find cases that would support the attorney general’s portrait of a looming antifa menace, evidence mounted in late May and early June of right-wing extremists amassing weapons, plotting terror attacks, and killing law enforcement officials.
In Denver, CAIC reported a police seizure of “several military-style assault rifles from a vehicle occupied by a group of self-identified anti-government individuals who call themselves ‘Boogaloo Bois’” near a protest on May 29. The report, which began by noting that an anarchist blog had referred to police as “pigs” and included photos of anarchy “A’s” spray-painted on buildings, went on to list eight examples of far-right extremists across the country “vigorously threatening violence towards recent protests,” including sharing images of weapons stockpiles and tips on sabotaging police vehicles, neo-Nazis encouraging their brethren to “dress up as law enforcement and film themselves attacking black people” and calls to form small “crews” that would be “willing to shed blood.”
Similar reports were filtering in from law enforcement in Minneapolis and Austin, Texas, where intelligence analysts released a bulletin advising law enforcement to be on the lookout for three young men in tactical gear who were detained “in possession of two AR style rifles, one AK style rifle, two handguns, and several hundred rounds of ammunition, as well as gas masks.” The men gave “conflicting statements about where they had been and what they were doing in Austin,” the Austin Regional Intelligence Center reported. “Searches of social media show sympathetic views toward the Boogaloo Bois, an anti-government movement, as well as several other anti-police sentiments,” the report stated, adding that one of the subject’s Facebook pages included a post that said he did not “expect to be here next year” and other comments suggesting that “he may take action against” law enforcement.
On June 4, the U.S. military weighed in on the protests in the form of a report published by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which noted that federal prosecutors had “charged three men connected with the boogaloo movement with terrorism offenses” intended to “spark violence” at protests related to Floyd’s killing. Like Carrillo in California, all three of the men — Navy veteran Stephan Parshall, Army reservist Andrew Lynam, and Air Force veteran William Loomis — had ties to the U.S. military, NCIS noted, adding that it had published a “Threat Awareness Message” regarding the boogaloo movement earlier this year.
“Racially motivated violent extremist (RMVE) movements that subscribe to boogaloo have engaged in conceptual discussions about recruiting military or former military members for their perceived knowledge of combat training,” the naval investigative agency stated. “NCIS cannot discount the possibility of DoD affiliated individuals sympathetic to or engaged in the boogaloo movement.”
A number of the details surrounding the Nevada arrests track with a longer history of militant, far-right extremism in the United States, said Kathleen Belew, a history professor at the University of Chicago and author of the book “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.” Prosecutors in the case allege that before setting their sights on a Black Lives Matter protest in Las Vegas, the three men discussed a potential attack targeting facilities at the Hoover Dam. According to Belew, the dam has been a target in the collective imagination of far-right extremists going back decades, including extremists linked to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. “This goes way back,” Belew told The Intercept. “It’s not just that there’s a social movement that is attempting to kill cops and damage infrastructure targets and attack protesters — it’s that it’s a movement that has been trying to do this for decades, if not generations, and has largely gone unopposed by our courts, by our law enforcement, by our military, by our executives.”
The leaked documents charting law enforcement’s treatment of antifa versus groups like the boogaloo bois reflect a dangerous American impulse to draw equivalencies, Belew argued. “Many reasonable people carry around with them as part of the way that we learn about how politics works this idea that there are two sides of everything,” she said. “This is a deeply ingrained belief in our culture, and there’s a historical set of reasons why we think about politics that way, but this is actually not a case where there are two sides of things that are the same.”
The leaked documents charting law enforcement’s treatment of antifa versus groups like the boogaloo bois reflect a dangerous American impulse to draw equivalencies.
“This is a case where there is a long casualty list carried out by the white power movement, which has declared war against the country,” she said. “And there is, I think, a quite localized social movement of people who oppose it, but who have not attacked civilians, who have not attacked infrastructure, who have not attempted to overthrow the country.”
With a pandemic still raging, soaring unemployment, the most expansive civil rights protests in generations, and a coming presidential election, the nation is facing an interlocking set of problems that elevate the risk for far-right violence, Belew noted. “We’re off the map in a number of ways,” she said, and while historians are trained not to forecast the future, she added, “I will say that as somebody who has been studying this for more than a decade, I’ve never been so worried.” What’s particularly troubling, she argued, is that the historical archive shows a clear link between wars abroad and rising right-wing violence at home — Belew’s book charts that history from the Vietnam War through militia movements of the 1990s. With the country now having been at war for close to two decades, the question of blowback is not a matter of if, but when and how. “This set of conditions is very, very troubling for people who are concerned about white power violence,” Belew said.
On June 6, the FBI released another situation report detailing the state of protests across the country. Though Barr and Trump had pointed fingers at a shadowy network of leftist agitators pulling the protests’ strings, the bureau continued to assess that the “majority of the violence and vandalism” appeared “opportunistic” in nature. With more than 13,600 arrests nationwide, the FBI reported that the Department of Justice had charged 70 individuals with federal crimes, most involving property damage and illegal activities that involved crossing state lines. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had reported 81 burglaries involving the theft of guns, the FBI noted, leading to “an estimated loss of 1,116 firearms,” as well as “876 reported arsons” and “76 explosive incidents.”
While the FBI report did note that both “right wing and anarchist extremists” could be involved in efforts to “further ignite violence,” it was again only antifa that was singled out by name. At one point, the FBI suggested that videos of law enforcement officers flashing the “OK” hand signal often used by white nationalists and the far right might actually be part of a left-wing plot to make police look bad. “Some protestors and possible ‘ANTIFA’ members attempted to bait law enforcement into displaying the ‘OK’ hand sign,” the FBI reported. “These individuals plan to photograph the officers and use the photographs as propaganda to discredit the officers.”
With the election four months away, the Trump administration has pressed forward with a seemingly coordinated effort to link the nebulous antifa movement to acts of violence committed by the far right.
On June 26, Fox News published an op-ed by Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of DHS, noting that Patrick Underwood, the federal court security officer gunned down in Oakland, was also a Black man whose life mattered. Cuccinelli suggested that his killing had been ignored because he was a member of law enforcement. As close trackers of the agency were quick to point out, Cuccinelli failed to mention that the man accused of killing Underwood has been linked to the boogaloo movement, which DHS leadership and the administration have been publicly quiet about. Cuccinelli, for his part, has been clear about the actors he sees as responsible for unrest in the country, tweeting on June 5, while his own agency was raising internal alarms about the far right and Underwood’s family was still grieving, “Their silence is deafening. Cities across America burn at the hands of antifa and anarchists while many political leaders are refusing to call it what it is: domestic terrorism.”
The same day Cuccinelli’s op-ed was published, Barr sent a memo to top Justice Department officials announcing the creation of a new “Task Force on Violent Anti-Government Extremists.” In the memo, the attorney general argued that both antifa and the boogaloo movement “pose continuing threats to lawlessness.” Appearing at a law enforcement roundtable in Arkansas last week, Barr said that more than 150 people have been hit with federal charges in relation to the recent protests. Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which partner FBI agents with state and local authorities, are currently pursuing more than 500 investigations, Barr added, targeting “hardcore instigators.”
“We are building up our intelligence on these instigators,” Barr said, noting that the JTTFs, which were “previously used really for self-radicalized Jihadi” threats, are “now focusing on groups like antifa and boogaloo bois and others that are involved in this activity.”
Shamsi said the Trump administration was using antifa as “political bait.”
“It is a very dangerous thing when the top law enforcement official unleashes the massive weight of vague and overbroad terrorism labels and authorities for surveillance and investigation for political purposes,” she said. “Unsurprisingly, given what we’ve been warning about for years, those authorities are being used in deeply problematic ways. It’s law enforcement agencies engaging in unjustified discriminatory investigations and bias-based profiling, which in turn generates inaccurate or unreliable information, which is then used by other federal, state and local agencies in a variety of contexts. That’s the problem with JTTFs and fusion centers and the post-911 infrastructure at its core.”
For all of the government’s talk of antifa, Mark Bray, a historian and author of the book “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” said he was less than impressed with the depth of the Trump administration’s research into the generations-old international struggle to combat fascism. “What stood out to me is, among their sources, they have zero books,” Bray told The Intercept, after reviewing fusion center documents from 2016 and 2017 aiming to explain antifa to law enforcement. “Most of the research seems like someone who spent a weekend on Google,” Bray said.
It’s not difficult to see why an administration like Trump’s might zero in on antifa as a law enforcement target, Bray said. “The fact that it’s this coalition politics of the radical left and that it does not have one specific united organization means that with some very rough reading of what antifa is, you can basically kind of paint the entire radical left as more or less antifa, and considering that there is a broad identification with the politics of anti-fascism beyond membership to a specific group, you can see how that could be useful,” he said. “I do think that that’s certainly part of the equation and was part of the motivation.”
While Trump’s threatened designation of antifa as a terror organization has not come about for important legal and logistical reasons, that was never really the point, German argued. “They know as well as anybody does, because they’re not stupid people, that there is no organization called antifa,” the former FBI agent said. “It’s an absurdity what they’re talking about, but they’re using it as this umbrella term to justify militant or vigilante violence against these groups, and also police violence against these groups. They’re identifying the enemy — and that’s what’s very dangerous.”
In a letter to the heads of the CIA and the FBI on Tuesday, Democratic Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois and Peter Welch of Vermont, both members of House Intelligence Committee, sought information on the spread of false information regarding antifa. In a statement to The Intercept Wednesday morning, Krishnamoorthi’s office said: “The prevalence of misinformation on falsely advertised Antifa gatherings and ‘invasions’ calls into question how our federal, state, and local law enforcement are combating, and determining the origins of these rumors. Our Congressional inquiry intends to further explore the involvement of fusion centers in possibly exacerbating these rumors, which appear intended to stoke fear and division in local communities across the country.”
The Trump administration has capitalized on the perceived threats that rattle around the conservative media echo chamber for political gain before, and the effects on public safety have been disastrous and tragic. During the 2018 midterm elections, the president seized on the supposed threat of migrant caravans making their way north from Central America as a sign that the out-of-control left was destroying the country. Far-right domestic terrorists cited the immigration invasion rhetoric to justify attacks targeting Mexicans and Jews in Texas and Pennsylvania that left dozens of people dead.
During a July 4 address from the White House honoring the U.S. military and affirming his commitment to protect monuments to the confederacy, Trump described the work his administration is engaged in as the 2020 election approaches and protests across the country continue. “We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the Marxists, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and people who in many instances have absolutely no clue what they are doing,” he said.
German, who recently testified before lawmakers in Oregon about the longstanding problem of white supremacist infiltration in policing agencies, said it is critical to understand how the president’s language will be interpreted in many corners of the law enforcement community.
“This rhetoric, reinforced by the attorney general, is not falling on unsympathetic ears — the law enforcement intelligence network has been demonizing anarchists and other police violence protesters as a more dangerous threat for a long time,” he said. “We’ve seen the way that the police responded to nonviolent civil disobedience at Standing Rock or in Ferguson versus the laissez-faire approach they’ve used in a number of these white supremacist riots. They clearly can regulate their behavior. Why they choose not to when it’s groups protesting police violence is what I think local government needs to understand.”