If you'd listened only to the White House for your news over the past month, you might mistakenly assume that the U.S. has been under siege by some nefarious force known as antifa.
In a classic case of a sinking politician seizing a scapegoat for a diversion as his popularity plummets, President Donald Trump has accused the relatively obscure far-left “anti-fascist” ideology, or antifa, of fueling a violent insurrection under the cover of the anti-police-brutality protests after George Floyd's May 25 killing by Minneapolis police. The antifa movement, founded by activists who fought to thwart the Nazis in 1930s Germany, has seen a slight revival across the U.S. since 2016 as self-described neo-Nazis have flocked to Trump.
Trump even tweeted in early June, as the protests swelled near the White House, that the U.S. “will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.” His absurd claim elicited skepticism, and perhaps some snickering, from legal experts perplexed at how a loosely affiliated domestic political movement with no formal organization or history of terrorist attacks could be designated a “Terrorist Organization.” The president stepped deeper into absurdity with his despicable, embarrassing claim that 75-year-old Buffalo peace activist Martin Gugino, knocked down and injured during a protest by Buffalo riot police, was a secret “ANTIFA provocateur” who tried to surreptitiously disable police equipment, then faked his injury.
It's unlikely that the president intended his “terrorism” claim as anything more than tough-guy posturing, because despite a promise by yes-man Attorney General William Barr to probe “domestic terrorism” that Barr claims was “carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting,” nothing has turned up.
Documents obtained by The Nation from the FBI's Washington field station note that there was “no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement/presence” in rioting during the D.C. protests. It did, however, note that a right-wing social media group “called for far-right provocateurs to attack federal agents, use automatic weapons against protesters.”
Indeed, as Trump has yammered about imaginary antifa “terrorism,” disturbing evidence is emerging about an actual domestic terrorist group in the United States — but one that aligns itself politically with Trump. The so-called “boogaloo” movement, which uses the 1984 movie sequel “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” in reference to a second civil war the group hopes to provoke, began appearing earlier this year in support of protests against coronavirus lockdowns, toting rifles and wearing tactical vests along with their trademark Hawaiian shirts.
It would be easy to dismiss these dimwits as overgrown children, but they apparently aren't joking. Steven Carillo, a U.S. Air Force sergeant stationed near Oakland and “boogaloo” adherent, was charged in mid-June with shooting seven law enforcement officers, killing two, in two separate incidents around the time of Floyd-related protests in California.
“It’s on our coast now, this needs to be nationwide. It’s a great opportunity to target the specialty soup bois. Keep that energy going,” Carillo allegedly wrote in a Facebook chat group used for the plot, using a boogaloo code term for the “alphabet soup” of federal law enforcement agencies known by their acronyms.
Later in June, three Nevada “boogaloo boys” were charged with a plot to terrorize protesters in Las Vegas. Police and the FBI said they arrested the trio as they were assembling Molotov cocktails they planned to throw at police during Floyd-related protests; the men also allegedly planned to bomb a power substation.
We newspaper folks are cautious about word usage, so we're reluctant to define the word “terrorism” more broadly and vaguely than necessary. It's best used only to describe physical violence intended not to merely harm individuals, but to intimidate or coerce an entire population for political purposes. And the “boogaloo” movement's actions meet that definition, although we don't expect Trump to admit it.