Devouring Its Own: How Many On The Left Fostered The Violent Movement Now Rioting Across The Country

Antifa_The_Anti-Fascist_HandbookBelow is my column in The Hill newspaper on the role of familiar groups like Antifa in the violence following the death of George Floyd.  Attorney General Bill Barr acknowledged yesterday that there is a “witches’ brew” of groups fostering violations, including an anarchist group from the right. The anarchists on the left or right are opportunists who will strike at any time of unrest to seek the breakdown of order. While the number of Antifa arrests have been challenged as exaggerated, police are reporting a number of Antifa, radical left, and anarchist members arrested in various states. (here and here and here and here and here) These are groups that are all too familiar to some of us on college and university campus.  While I have opposed efforts to declare Antifa a terrorist organization, the role of all of these groups in the recent violence should be a cautionary tale for academics and politicians alike in the tolerance shown for such anti-free speech movements.  Many leaders and academics have denounced such groups on the right (some of which are also active in these riots), but notably have been more muted in condemning anti-fascist and left-anarchist groups.

Here is the column:

Ian Fleming famously lamented that history often moves so quickly that “heroes and villains keep on changing parts.” Our media and politicians are now struggling with the same problem today, following the killing of George Floyd. As rioting and looting continue across the country, the question is who to blame for the mayhem. Ultimately, the response was strikingly familiar and telling. Maybe white supremacists were behind it. Maybe the Russians were. It could be anyone except people in the rioting communities or, worse yet, groups lionized or tolerated by the left.

While most protesters remained peaceful, the narrative quickly spiraled glaringly out of sync with images of burning buildings in the background. Although “Today” show host Craig Melvin tweeted out a guide not to refer to them as rioters but rather as protesters, that narrative has since broken down. Indeed, news outlets have been reporting that “outsiders” have been fueling the rioting and that the destruction might be the work of nefarious groups of white supremacists or Russians.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and other officials there claimed a majority of those arrested were outsiders. Walz estimated the figure at 80 percent. National Urban League President Marc Morial ratcheted up the outrage in a cable news interview. He demanded an investigation to confirm “if it is white supremacists, if it is Russians, if it is other foreign actors who have tried to exploit the pain and exploit legitimate protests.”

It was manifestly implausible to suggest the rioting was the work of white supremacists or Russians. Arrest data showed a majority of those arrested in Minneapolis were from the city. The four people arrested in New York in fire bombing attacks were all state residents. The problem is that the most obvious culprits are all too familiar. A movement of anarchist, antifascist, and extreme left wing groups has been building for years, with violence from Washington to Berkeley. The most prominent is antifa, but there are also groups like By All Means Necessary with similar histories.

This is a broad movement, not one group, which makes the suggested designation by President Trump of antifa as a terrorist organization both constitutionally and practically dubious. However, the growing antifascist movement has attacked conservative speakers and events for years, with far less media attention than their right wing counterparts receive. Just as many critics have accused Trump of not doing enough to denounce extreme right wing groups, many Democratic leaders have been conspicuously silent in denouncing these antifascist groups.

Indeed, when Attorney General William Barr correctly observed that the rioting shows “antifa like tactics,” politicians and media figures both balked at the suggestion, as opposed to accepting the white supremacist or Russian option. Despite reports of antifa followers and anarchists being arrested, White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor objected that there was “no evidence” of any activity sparked by anarchists.

Antifa, By All Means Necessary, and other militant or anarchist groups have disrupted universities across the country, including my own, for years. They have found many political and academic allies. Dartmouth Professor Mark Bray wrote a book on antifa, defining the movement as committed to the silencing of opponents and the rejection of classic concepts of free speech. The movement has since found open or passive acceptance with many on the academic left. In fairness, however, many Democratic politicians have denounced past violent attacks.

Yet despite its violent history, some Democratic leaders have been enablers or outright supporters of the antifa movement, insisting that such groups cannot be compared to extreme right wing groups. While criticizing antifa members three years ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted the group has “been there forever” and that “some people may have infiltrated” it. This was not viewed as her Charlottesville moment of claiming there are “very fine people” in antifa. It was a commonly held view that antifascists are by definition better than fascists.

Other Democratic leaders have been much more direct in their support, including the former deputy chair of the Democratic Party, Representative Keith Ellison. Although Germany has banned an antifa website, Ellison posed with the antifa handbook to show support at a Minneapolis bookshop and said it would “strike fear in the heart” of Trump.

Ellison, now the Minnesota state attorney general, was under fire this week for telling protesters they should not attack the National Guard on the streets or “react to them the way you might react to the Minneapolis Police Department. Their job is to try to bring peace and calm back again.” His son Jeremiah Ellison, a Minneapolis city council member, declared support for antifa even as the city endured rioting and looting.

Meanwhile, some media coverage has the uncomfortable feel of a new type of Russia collusion theory. Susan Rice, former national security adviser to President Obama, said that she suspects Russia is behind the effort “to hijack those protests and turn them into something very different” and that “this is right out of the Russian playbook.”

It is likely that racist or foreign actors will try to exploit the unrest on the internet. The same was true, on a larger scale, with Russian interference in the 2016 election. While most of us denounced that Russian interference, it was never plausible that the work of a dozen internet trolls in Saint Petersburg or a dozen military hackers in Moscow had a measurable, let alone meaningful, impact on the outcome of the election.

The same is true with these protests. The rioting began due to deep seated and legitimate anger over police brutality and the tragic death of Floyd. Young people and others did not rush to the streets because they read a posting from some skinhead on the Stormfront website. Yet the references to white supremacists or Russians continued even as reports filtered in of antifa and anarchists being arrested in various cities.

Some politicians in the past sought to tap into the antifascist movement. Others completely avoided denouncing the group. After all, for years, the movement threatened or attacked conservatives. They were not treated as an outside element but rather as this grassroots movement outraged by Trump and his policies. However, the same tactics and likely some of the same people are now burning buildings and cars, attacking police officers and business owners, and destroying property across the country. This is why, during the French Revolution, the journalist Jacques Mallet Pan warned, “Like Saturn, the revolution devours its children.”

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.

248 thoughts on “Devouring Its Own: How Many On The Left Fostered The Violent Movement Now Rioting Across The Country”

  1. Rob them, they get very angry, then they apologize.

    ““Yesterday I spoke out about how my stores and stores of friends were looted. I apologize that it seemed like my concern for those stores outweighed my concern for our right to protest injustice and express our anger and rage in this moment,” said the seven-page note published on Instagram and Twitter.

    “I also joined a social media chain of friends who were matching $50 donations. I apologize that appeared to some as if that was my only donation to these important causes,” he added. “As many have said, buildings are brick-and-mortar and material things can be replaced, people can’t. Black lives matter. In this moment, those other things don’t.”

    The controversy began after the designer posted a comment on Sean Wotherspoon’s Instagram account under footage of the looted vintage sneaker store Round Two in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles outpost of RSVP Gallery, the concept store originally founded in Chicago by Abloh and Don Crawley, was also looted over the weekend.

    “This is ___ up. You see the passion, blood, sweat and tears Sean puts in for our culture. This disgusts me. To the kids that ransacked his store and RSVP DTLA, and all our stores in our scene just know, that product staring at you in your home/apartment right now is tainted and a reminder of a person I hope you aren’t,” Abloh wrote.

    Prostrate before the robbers.

  2. You lefties need to do a better job at educating your proxies. Looks like your BLM pets and your antifa allies defaced the historic Shaw monument in Boston. Find this shocking particularly since everyone knows leftists are so much smarter (not to mention moral and tolerant) than people who think like me. Appears that BLM and the brave masked warriors of the antifa have no knowledge of American History or they would deface the right monuments.


    1. It’s certainly possible that ignorant people on the left did that. It’s also possible that ignorant people on the right did it. There are some people on the left *and* the right who are committing illegal acts during these protests.

  3. Today I discovered that “Night on Bald Mountain” is the theme song of the reign of King Donald the Mad.


  4. Trump and Barr and with Turley’s help, tells us that Artifa are hiding under our beds and standing on our lawns ready to scare poor Trump and fascists everywhere. While at the same time, Trump calls for his AG to be his lawyer, calls for his justice department and his judges, and now Trump wants his military to put down dissent and protest. Until Artifa turns up in camo with assault weapons storming into State capitals wearing patches and symbols and waving flags of this nation’s past enemies, I don’t think we should worry about Antifa.


    Earlier this year Professor Turley kept telling us that Democrats were mean to Bernie Sanders. The narrative was that Hillary rigged the 2016 primaries against ‘Poor Bernie’. And this year the mean Democrats were again rigging against Poor Bernie. All throughout January and February, Turley wrote so many ‘Poor Bernie’ columns they became cookie-cutter printouts. Desperately Turley hoped Bernie would split the Democrats so that Trump could waltz to reelection based on his great economy.

    But to the consternation of Republicans, Democrats rallied behind Biden; soundly defeating Bernie as of Super Tuesday. Bernie’s defeat, in fact, was brought about by Black voters who seemed to sense Republicans were foisting Bernie on them. Then the pandemic hit blowing Trump’s great economy to smithereens. Suddenly Bernie Sanders no longer mattered beyond his loyal cult.

    I, however, happen to have a disproportionate number of Berne Bros on my Facebook stream. Since the weekend riots, their comments have shocked me to no end. The Bernie Bros believe these riots were absolutely necessary to achieve racial justice. All those looted businesses, they believe, will be reimbursed by insurance. The business owners, in fact, need to be shaken up. And though we’re having a pandemic and economic crisis, one can’t put a price on George Floyd’s life.

    Having seen numerous businesses damaged here in Hollywood, I felt compelled to tell the Bernie Bros how uncool the looting is. Instead they regarded ‘me’ as totally uncool for suggesting that insurance wouldn’t cover all the costs. My questions like, “Ever seen the fine print on insurance polices?” brought responses to the effect that I was totally insensitive to Black suffering.

    Another tactic of mine was met with equal hostility: “Can we afford to riot during an economic crisis?” The Bernie Bros weren’t having it An economic crisis is no excuse ‘not’ to loot! Only racists, I was told, care about the economy when Blacks are getting murdered by police.

    Again and again I told Bernie Bros that I live in Hollywood where it was heartbreaking to see local businesses so mindlessly trashed. “LOL, you’re not supposed to like it”, replied some White girl from a safe location. Apparently she thinks Hollywood is a rich White enclave deserving of destruction. Then she promptly unfriended me when I demanded to know ‘her’ community.

    That response stands out as arch typical of my efforts to convince Bernie Bros that injustice cannot be corrected with a wave of injustice. Most disturbing was the attitude that looted business strips have no human connection. Residents of looted communities are totally dismissed as collateral damage and not-so-innocent at that.

    All these comments reinforced my belief that Bernie Bros are crazed leftists who would take us to the brink of civil war against Trumpers. In such a scenario moderates would be whipsawed by radicals from both sides. One would have to chose between crazed White militias or crazed White leftists like the ones I engaged. But I notice in this column Turley never mentions Bernie Bros. Nor does he connect them with the ANTIFA folks. Such a link might imply that Democrats were right to lock their doors on Bernie.

  6. All of this is coup 3.0, by Democrats and the media. None of this has to do with Floyd. Trump i being called a racist for saying that he wants the violence, rioting, arson, amd looting to stop. He has also said he supports the Floyd Family and peaceful protestors. While the left and the media have been tryingv to make this about Trump, why are they not calling the Floyd family racist? I mean, everyday, they go out and plea for the violence to stop…just like Trump…

    I have been extremely nervous everytime the left starts talking about Trump being some kind of evil dictator. Not because I am worried about Trump, because the people warning you are the ones that end up being the ones truly advocating totalitarianism. So what have we seen?

    The media calls rioters protestors. Their first inclination was to blame this on white supremacists, and no one has been called out for the clear nonsense such a suggestion was to begin with. The same people that told you Trumpn was colluding with Russia, now tells you this is all about Trump. Instead of getting the message that they have been lying too many people just keep drinking from the same fountain of urine day after day hoping it will suddenly become the fountain of youth.

    The violence of roiters, arsonists and looters is on full display and the left presents us with a plan to defund the police. These same geniuses that claim police are racist and corrupt are the same ones that say there is no way in the world that the FBI could have been biased in their actions against Trump.

    So now that the they want the police defunded, it is clear that the police will not defend you or your family, let alone your property. But their party platform is to repeal the Second Amendment too, so you can’t even defend yourself. Want to write about it and show your concern? You can’t do that because the media won’t publish non-leftist conforming views, or will apologize and retract them if they should happen too. Ask Representative Cotton. The New York times has caved everytime the left dislikes something, often apologizing for not being committed to the leftist cause.

    We already know they want to limit your ability to speak freely, and know that they want religious freedom stripped too. If you are on the right and challenge the media you are an enemy of a free press, but if you are on the left and criticize the media they must bow in submission to you. The real enemy to the media are those that can so easily get the media to change their actions and that is not Trump, it is the left.

    Governor Whitmer is Michigan suddenly is loosening coronavirus restrictions. Obviously she cannot say that protestors are selfish jerks that could get everyone killed if those protestors and rioters are down for a leftist cause. No, only white protestors that dare question her and aren’t violent, didn’t burn anything down, and didn’t loot anything are the horrible racist, selfish jerks, right?

    The left has told us we need to get rid of the electoral college because they lost an election. They say anytime they don’t win that the system is broken. They want to expand the supreme court and stuff it full of progressive douche nozzles that show more contempt for the Constitution than an adherence to it. Gerrymandering is a problem unless it is them that do it, the same with Citizen’s United.

    The scary fascist Trump is anything but scary when you look at leftist plans but don’t dare tell them or you will be their next target.

  7. ‘Law Enforcement Seizes Masks Meant To Protect Anti-Racist Protesters From COVID-19’

    ‘The masks, reading “Stop killing Black people,” were meant to quell the spread of the coronavirus, which has disproportionately affected Black Americans.’

    By Ryan J. Reilly

    “UPDATE: June 5 ― Federal authorities released the masks on Friday morning, hours after HuffPost’s story was published.”

  8. This sub-scenario, of the social and political elites empowering/releasing the quasi-religious Antifa and other rioters upon the body politick and the culture, so as to use their feverish drive and ideologically charged hoards upon society and the political opposition, reminds me of the Game of Thrones arc where Cersei lets loose the High Sparrow and his minions upon Kings Landing so as to undermine her political enemies and gain power for herself during the chaos.
    Of course in the process, those same Sparrows eventually turn on her and society and she more than loses control over them. Eventually she has to burn it ALL down just to get back in the driver’s seat.

  9. Fred Trump..was in Klan…
    With his son and family…
    After serving with the German American Bund!
    And Fred took to squeling…
    When he got that empty feeling…
    He was a Nazi…
    Without doing time!

  10. Who can find an estimate of total damages from the ‘protests’ and looting riots ?

    I see one estimate for just *insured and covered* Newark, New jersey is 155 million, multiply that by 20X or more for NYC, then each additional state. Double that for lack of insurance/total coverage/deductibles

    So 40 billion rough guess. That isn’t including hospital/police/NG costs, clean up, sustaining, rebuilding…always costs go up.

  11. Mark Bray is no longer a Dartmouth professor. He’s a part time adjunct at Rutgers. Please stop giving lip service to the Russia interfered in the election nonsense. Even the Facebook ads story break down as was shown by the Mueller dismissal of the case. When you going to speak about the intelligence agencies leaders interference in the election as an organized cabal.

    1. Ken, what’s your investment in Russia? Why are you so concerned with ‘clearing them’?

      1. SETH– You go on about Russian trolls so much I believe you are the Russian troll here.

        What better disguise than to accuse everyone else of being what you are.

      2. They’re already cleared, it’s been a lie since day one. It’s you and yours that aren’t cleared but have been and are the continuing threat to elections and their outcomes.
        The streets are awash in blood, death, glass, burned out vehicles and looted stores, that’s your political movement.
        That’s your election meddling.
        Destroy the USAs best cities.

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