The Aug. 17 clash in Portland, Oregon, between the neo-facist group Proud Boys and the anti-facist group Antifa provides an interesting case study for the use of the term domestic terrorism. Shortly after the incident, President Trump tweeted that Antifa may be named an organization of terror. Whether this is true is anyone’s guess. However, he remained silent on the actions of the Proud Boys. This brings up an interesting point – the topic of domestic terrorism and violence has become a partisan issue. The Trump administration needs to reframe its discussion of domestic terrorism and extremist violence onto the security of the American people rather than using these incidents to attack organizations across party lines.
The term terrorism is thrown around quite a bit in conjuction with political organizations. This creates an attitude of subjectivity around what is and is not considered terrorism. The FBI defines domestic terrorism as, “Perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” This is a rather broad definition and does little to clear up the issue.
President Trump’s callout of Antifa’s tactics is deserved. The Antifa movement has historically incited violence at what would otherwise have been peaceful events. Additionally, its members harass known right-extremists with no physical provocation. Their actions are not admirable, but under the vague definition of domestic terror provided by the FBI, their status is unclear.
However, Antifa’s actions in Oregon were not unprovoked. They were counter-protesters to the white supremacist group, the Proud Boys. Spouting bigoted ideology, the Proud Boys were protesting the general liberalism in Portland. They also joined ranks with openly-violent organizations such as the Three Percenters and the American Guard.
With stronger central leadership than Antifa and an affiliation with groups that promote violence, the Proud Boys are a much more viable candidate for the label of a domestic terror organization than Antifa. However, this has gone completely ignored by President Trump. Unfortunately, the president is not the only one with such a one-sided view. Senators Bill Cassidy (R) and Ted Cruz (R) drafted a resolution to designate Antifa as a terrorist organization. The document contains no mention of violence done by white supremacists apart from a sentence in the final paragraph. Interestingly, these senators do not seem to feel it necessary to draft a similar resolution regarding the Proud Boys and their more violent compatriots.
Condemning the actions of Antifa while turning a blind eye to the white supremacists is more than just hypocritical; it is dangerous. Downplaying the violent nature of any organization, regardless of its political alignment, puts communities at risk. It is true that Antifa has historically been violent and should be monitored. However, the same needs to be said for the Proud Boys and similar organizations. White supremacist groups are also guilty of violence and terroristic acts. With more centralized leadership than Antifa, the Proud Boys must also be a considered as a potential terrorist organization. The president and Republican leadership would do well to acknowledge this.