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What Is Antifa? What To Know About The Group President Trump Labeled A Terrorist Organization

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What Is Antifa? What To Know About The Group Trump Labeled A Terrorist Organization

The streets of dozens of cities in America have been rocked by protests all this past weekend. What started as demonstrations to oppose police brutality and the murder of George Floyd have grown into nationwide protests that have raged deep into the night. While some of the actions have been traditional marches and vigils, others have turned violent leading to property damage and injuries to protesters, including members of the media, as police deployed pepper bullets and rubber bullets as well as tear gas.

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While local leaders set curfews and ask for demonstrators to maintain order, Donald Trump has been angrily criticizing everyone involved. His tweets over the weekend praised the National Guard but criticized governors, mayors, protestors, and the media for their roles in the protests. He finally settled on blaming antifa for the violence and claimed he would officially declare the shadowy political movement as a terrorist organization, which begs the question:

What is antifa? 

Violent protests have been ongoing all weekend.

As anyone watching the news is aware, there have been protests in cities across the county since last week. The demonstrations began after a video was released of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd while he was in custody. Floyd, who was accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, was handcuffed and lying facedown on the ground. Chauvin and other officers took turns pinning Floyd to the ground by kneeling on his neck. Floyd was heard begging to be let up as his breathing was cut off by Chauvin's weight. After 9 minutes of being pinned in that stress position, Floyd died. It took days for the Minneapolis Police department to arrest Chauvin on charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter.

In the aftermath, people have taken to the streets to protest the police brutality. The protests have all started off as civil actions but in some cities, the demonstrations have taken on a violent cast as protestors and police clashed in the streets. Some people turned to violent tactics; anything from throwing water bottles at cops to smashing windows and setting fires.

President Trump is blaming the violence on antifa.

Donald Trump has not addressed the nation about the situation, but he has been active on social media about it. Many of his tweets have to do with criticizing state and local leadership for their handling of different protests. He also blames Democrats and anarchists, saying "Other Democrat run Cities and States should look at the total shutdown of Radical Left Anarchists in Minneapolis last night. The National Guard did a great job, and should be used in other States before it is too late!."

He finally settled on blaming antifa for the violent episodes, saying on Saturday "It’s ANTIFA and the Radical Left. Don’t lay the blame on others!" 

He tweeted on Sunday, saying "The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization."

Trump tweeted about antifa on Sunday. 

What is antifa?

The word "antifa" is a contraction, a shortening of the phrase "anti-fascist." The word dates back to 1946 and comes from the German word "antifaschistisch" and refers to "Antifaschistische Aktion," a political organization that opposed Nazi power.  

In modern America, antifa is a network of groups and individuals who believe in opposition to far right-wing movements in order to prevent fascist tactics from taking over in America. They often show up at protests but they might also engage in online activities like exposing right-wing activists and affiliations politicians have with hate groups. 

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Is there a central governing structure for antifa?

If you're thinking, "Hey, I hate fascism, too! How can I sign up for antifa?," you're likely to be disappointed. Unlike mainstream civil liberties groups like the ACLU, antifa doesn't have a central structure or a way to become a member by sending in a donation or attending a meeting. Antifa is less an actual organization than a label activists use for themselves. 

You might learn that there was an antifa presence at a protest, such as the actions in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder, but it's not because there is an antifa headquarters that activated an organized response. It's more that groups of left-wing activists got together to take a specific action. 

Is antifa always violent?

It is true that when antifa-affiliated protestors show up at demonstrations, there is often an escalation to property damage and harassment of law-enforcement or anyone affiliated with right-wing political groups. There is also a political group known as "black bloc" who are notorious for their extreme tactics. However, not all antifa sympathizers use black bloc tactics and it's not clear that black bloc is affiliated with any Antifa cells. 

If there is no central leadership, how can Trump declare antifa a terrorist organization?

Despite what Trump tweeted about having antifa branded a terrorist organization, it's not clear that he can actually do so. For one thing, there is no mechanism for a president to simply declare a domestic group a terrorist organization. Simply tweeting about it is definitely not the way to do it, no matter what. “There is no authority under law to do that — and if such a statute were passed, it would face serious First Amendment challenges,” Mary B. McCord, former head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division told reporters. “But right now, the only terrorist authority is for foreign terrorist organizations.”

Despite the shaky legal grounds for what Trump said, Attorney General William Barr says that the Justice Department and FBI will work with local law enforcement to identify violent protestors.  

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Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. She is the creator of the blog FeminXer and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.