The sight of burned police stations and looted corporate shopping centers sent right-wing media into a tailspin as protests escalated the weekend of May 29. Those media and right-wing politicians quickly concocted a narrative that deemed anti-fascists (or “antifa”) the enemy of choice. The aggressive protest tactics were said to be the work of “outside agitators,” a common theme used to delegitimize protests. Instead of understanding that the vast majority of protesters were taking up aggressive protests in their own communities out of a legitimate anger over police killings of Black people, the method for explaining away the civil unrest was to blame it on anti-fascist activists.
This climate helped to put pressure on Donald Trump to act, which he did in the form of tweeting that antifa was to be designated a terrorist organization. This is not a new threat; Trump, Ted Cruz and others issued a similar one back in July 2019, after right-wing provocateur and media performer Andy Ngo was assaulted at an anti-fascist demonstration. Trump’s comments were followed up by a statement from Attorney General William Barr suggesting that FBI resources were going to be used to single out anti-fascist organizations and those that officials feel are escalating the protests. “With the rioting that is occurring in many of our cities around the country, the voices of peaceful and legitimate protests have been hijacked by violent radical elements. Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda,” said Barr in a public statement.
The conspiracy theory that the protests are orchestrated by anti-fascists and outside agitators ignores the autonomous action of those communities. Anti-fascists have started speaking out to set the record straight.