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. As the nation that was told to shelter in place for months, to not attend family funerals, to not gather at church, get your hair cut, to lose your livlihood….to do nothing but stay home….we are watching the massive crowds of protesters and marchers gather by the thousands all over the country…..

    Brandon Darby’s response to the “scientists” and “public health experts” like the Hillary-loving Tony Fauci sums it up perfectly —->>>

    ‘Don’t ever ask or order me to “flatten the curve” and give up my liberties again. I won’t comply.’ @brandondarby

    You hear that Fauci, et al? “I won’t comply.” Not ever again.

    1. Imagine being an American that wasn’t allowed to visit a dying family member, knowing they died alone & not being able to have a funeral. Imagine losing your livelihood. Imagine being arrested for not wearing a mask.

      Then you see this a few weeks later. (massive protests people filling the streets, encouraged by the “expert scientists” because “justice” trumps “science” in this case)

      We will never comply again. Don’t even try Fauci, you Hillary loving sycophant. Go to h*ll Fauci et al.

      1. I will never again listen to the advice of public health officials without also keeping in mind their possible political motives— because clearly such motives exist. @brandondarby

  2. WATCH: minority Dallas PD cops kneeling on uncooperative white suspect, killing him. Nobody claims racism. No marches. No riots. No wall-to-wall media coverage …@paulsperry

    1. “The Week: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor protests demand reforms beyond law enforcement

      Premiered 18 minutes ago

      The Hill

      Former National Co-Chair for the Sanders campaign Nina Turner shares her sentiment on the protests that have swept the nation and responds to Cornel West’s call for change beyond black leadership. D.C. Bureau Chief of The Intercept Ryan Grim explains how corporate America is high-jacking the protests’ movement to cash in on social liberalism. Host of the Working People’s podcast Max Alvarez discusses the symptoms of gross inequities in impoverished communities of color that are treated by police force instead of economic reform.

      About Rising:

      Rising is a weekday morning show with bipartisan hosts that breaks the mold of morning TV by taking viewers inside the halls of Washington power like never before. The show leans into the day’s political cycle with cutting edge analysis from DC insiders who can predict what is going to happen. It also sets the day’s political agenda by breaking exclusive news with a team of scoop-driven reporters and demanding answers during interviews with the country’s most important political newsmakers. “

  3. NBC Bay Area: “Facebook says it has removed nearly 200 social media accounts linked to white supremacy groups planning to rally members to show up at protests over police killings of black people — in some cases with weapons https://t.co/P63Li9SRCb

    1. David Benson is the God Emperor of Making Stuff Up and owes me forty-four citations (one from the OED, one from the town ordinances and two from the Old Testament), an equation and the source of a quotation, after seventy-eight weeks, and needs to cite all his work from now on. – that was an arbitrary, unscientific, and Just Made Up comment by the God Emperor of Making things up. Go get’um, David.

    2. If anybody world know that comments are “arbitrary, unscientific, and Just Made Up”, it would be you. You are a master of it.

  4. As evil a tactic as terrorism is – there is no “Terrorism Exemption” found in the U.S. Constitution. Politicians running for election and national security agencies love to label groups with “T” word because it gives them extrajudicial authority not granted by their Oath of Office. Many of these officials already have contempt for their constitutional Oath of Office (Title 5 US Code 3331) that they agreed to in order to hold and retain authority. The entire premise of Law & Order is that the “ends” never justify unconstitutional or illegal “means” – citizens and officials are required to follow the rules.

    For example, after 9/11 some state-operated “Fusion Centers” did this by Illegally watchlisting African-American college students, LGBT Americans and Environmental Rights activists. None of these groups have killed a single person but were surveilled and some searched using laws intended for real terrorists. In real practice, when blacklisted like this, local police and federal officials view these blacklisted individuals as “guilty” and take action to disrupt these groups using guilt-by-association (Cointelpro tactics). Officials view the “T” word label as a way to avoid following the “supreme law of the land“ and what they swore loyalty to (Article VI).

    Maybe we should be asking why AG Barr isn’t prosecuting the cabinet level members (not low level subordinates) of the Bush Administration for torture, warrantless domestic spying, warrantless wiretapping (6 months before 9/11) and punishing legal whistleblowers? Worldwide most war crime indictments happen 20-40 years after the war crime takes place, now is the time to provide accountability for war crimes. At minimum, war crime victims and Cointelpro victims deserve an official public apology. Barr swore to defend the U.S. Constitution from domestic enemies also!

    1. “For example, after 9/11 some state-operated “Fusion Centers” did this by Illegally watchlisting African-American college students, LGBT Americans and Environmental Rights activists. ”

      “…by illegally watchlisting AA college students…,” anti-war activists, and others. Your list is not all-inclusive. And their tactics include black bag jobs, thefts, property damage, and defamation — to name just a few of their Cointelpro tactics. Most “war crime and Cointelpro victims” deserve more than an apology. Lives have been needlessly ruined; lives have been stolen. It’s an abomination. And, yes, put those responsible on trial. It’s long overdue.

  5. John you left out a couple of important players and that is an overbearing government and a corrupt and unjust criminal justice system which only serves the pockets of lawyers and political attorneys.

  6. The reason why the Democrats want to blame Russia as a foreign agent influencing these riots is to take the heat off China, who is actually creating these riots. The chinese propaganda is coming from our universities and all the big corporations that desperately want to get into China because they are collapsing the Western world and those companies don’t want to go down with us. The democrat party is just the chinese party. Unfortunately, the same could be said for most Republicans. The average working class American doesn’t realize that it was decided long ago that America would be demolished and power transferred to China. The elite classes have known this for decades and most of the elites are concerned with ingratiating themselves to China so they can stay wealthy when China completely takes over. Pretty much every educated class in the country is working in chinese interests.

    What is going on now is what the Soviets called “normalization” which is an ongoing process of demoralizing and emasculating a conquered population.

  7. Dear Dr. Turley Thanks for finally saying what we’ve known to be true. I know it’s still hard to bluntly call out your colleagues and friends but the truth is that “Democrats” have vociferously supported these groups. Until Democrats renounce these groups, no American should vote for Democrats.

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