Trump, Barr, and the GOP present antifa as a major threat in the US, but they’re not killing people — unlike white supremacists

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Attorney General William Barr testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, July 28, 2020. Chip Somodevilla/Reuters
  • President Donald Trump and his allies have repeatedly portrayed antifa as a major threat in the US, with scant evidence to back them up.
  • Data on extremism in the US shows that far-right groups are tied to dozens of fatal incidents in recent years, while antifa has not been found responsible for any killings.
  • During a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr said antifa has been “heavily represented” in recent unrest.
  • Recent federal arrest records, and other evidence, contradict Barr’s assertion.
  • The Trump administration has granted disproportionate attention to antifa while doing little to acknowledge the fatal violence perpetrated by far-right groups.
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The Trump administration has repeatedly portrayed antifa as a major threat in the US, despite little to no evidence backing up this assertion.

In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr presented antifa as central to recent unrest in the US.

“Antifa is heavily represented in the recent riots,” Barr told lawmakers, as Republicans on the committee simultaneously characterised antifa as terrorists.

But antifa is not an organised group, which Barr acknowledged during Tuesday’s hearing, and has not been designated a terrorist organisation by the federal government. There is no domestic terrorism statute, and therefore no legal process for designating groups within the US as terrorist organisations.

Though Barr has repeatedly said that antifa is intricately involved with violence and unrest connected to recent protests across the US, there’s virtually no evidence to back this up. Investigations of arrest records linked to the protests found few people were affiliated with organised groups. In June, for example, NPR reviewed court documents of 51 individuals facing federal charges connected to the unrest, and none were alleged to have links to antifa.

As Barr inflates the threat of antifa, recent intelligence assessments found that far-right individuals associated with the “boogaloo” movement may soon target Washington, DC.

Antifa has been tied to violence and vandalism in recent years, but there’s no record of anyone affiliated with antifa killing anyone. Meanwhile, research shows far-right and white supremacist groups pose a far more significant and deadly threat.

Charlottesville white supremacists 2017
White supremacists stand behind their shields at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Data on extremism in the US also shows that antifa, a loosely affiliated network of left-wing, anti-fascist activists, has not been found responsible for a single death in the past 25 years, based on database assembled by researchers at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and reviewed by The Guardian. During the same time period (1994-present day), US-based far-right and white supremacist groups conducted attacks that left at least 329 people dead.

Since 9/11, jihadists have killed 107 people in the US, while far-right terrorism has killed 112 people, according to the New America think tank.

Far-right extremists killed at least 38 people in 2019, according to domestic terrorism statistics from the Anti-Defamation League, and the far-right was responsible for 76% of all extremist-related murders. There was just one death in an attack tied to antifa in which the attacker himself, Willem van Spronsen, was killed.

The level of focus granted to antifa, a decentralized group with no leader, by President Donald Trump and his allies is disproportionate to the threat it poses. At the same time, the Trump administration has done little to acknowledge the fatal violence perpetrated by far-right groups, especially white supremacists.