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Trump says he will designate antifa a terrorist organization

The Hill logo The Hill 5/31/2020 Brandon Conradis and Justine Coleman
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: Trump says he will designate antifa a terrorist organization © Getty Images Trump says he will designate antifa a terrorist organization

President Trump on Sunday tweeted that he was preparing to formally label anti-fascist activists known as antifa a terrorist organization, raising questions about how the designation would be implemented and whether he even had the legal authority to go through with it.

"The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization," Trump tweeted, as the nation reeled from another night of protests sweeping the country, from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on Monday.

His announcement came the same day Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department would seek to identify "criminal organizers and instigators" amid the demonstrators.

Barr in his Sunday statement said the Department of Justice will work with its 56 regional FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces to focus on "apprehending and charging the violent radical agitators who have hijacked peaceful protest and are engaged in violations of federal law."

"Preventing reconciliation and driving us apart is the goal of these radical groups, and we cannot let them succeed," he said.

"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," Barr added.

Antifa activists, dubbed the "alt-left" by Trump and his proponents, have become increasingly visible since the president's victory in 2016. Terrorism experts responded to his Sunday announcement by noting that the group is a decentralized movement and not a traditional organization with designated leadership. Some also noted various far-right domestic terrorist groups that have not received such designation from the administration.

There is currently no domestic terrorism statute, nor does the federal government have the ability to designate a domestic group as a terrorist organization, fueling questions about what the designation would mean in practical terms.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) blasted Trump's announcement on Sunday, saying it shows that "terrorism is an inherently political label, easily abused and misused."

"There is no legal authority for designating a domestic group," the group's National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi said in the statement. "Any such designation would raise significant due process and First Amendment concerns."

Trump had publicly considered labeling the anti-fascist movement as a terrorist organization last year, tweeting, "Would make it easier for police to do their job!"

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) criticized Trump's announcement, noting that she has questioned the FBI on why domestic terrorism labels are not used for white supremacist groups.

"They testified that the law prevents labeling US groups as terrorists, w/ severe civil liberties concerns," she wrote on Twitter. "Where is that concern today?"

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