This would change U.S. policy, which generally only officially designates foreign — rather than domestic — terrorist groups.
A shortening of “anti-fascist,” Antifa is a label for a decentralized and loosely connected coalition of left-wing activist and protest groups. Although they’re not a formally registered organization, don’t have any official members, and their cause is not explicitly violent or militant, some people associated with Antifa have indeed been linked to violent actions and crimes.
This has caused many Republicans to talk about Antifa as if it’s a formal organization that must be stopped. Former President Donald Trump vowed to label Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization, a move that then-Attorney General Bill Barr appeared to endorse. However, this didn’t actually occur during Trump’s presidency.
Why? The U.S. government officially designates foreign terrorist organizations and state sponsors of terror, but generally refrains from officially designating domestic terrorist organizations and even then, limits itself to entities that are in fact organizations. Instead, the government investigate and prosecute individual acts of domestic terrorism or violence.
Many Republicans also accuse Antifa of crimes they didn’t commit. An April poll from Rutgers and Ipsos found that 55 percent of Republicans believed the January 6 Capitol Building riot was led by violent left-wing protestors posing as Donald Trump supporters to make the former president look bad. This is untrue.
What the resolution does
While only the executive branch has the power to officially designate terrorist organizations, a new resolution in Congress urges the Biden Administration to do so.
It would take a statute passed by Congress to create an official domestic terrorism organization list. For example, the foreign state sponsors of terrorism list was created by Congress through the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, with updated provisions in the Arms Export Control Act of 1976. (Although the State Department decides which nations are actually added to the list.)
This resolution, however, does not attempt to create a similar official compilation for domestic terrorism organizations — meaning it’s attempting to add Antifa to a list that, as of yet, does not exist.
What supporters say
Supporters argue that Antifa merits being officially called a terrorism organization.
“When an organization targets the home of a sitting U.S. Senator, burns down cities across the country, and murders Americans because of their political beliefs, it would normally be designated a terrorist organization. Instead, Democrats like Kamala Harris fundraise to bail them out of prison,” Rep. Boebert said in a press release. “ANTIFA, and the Democrats who support it, are enemies of the American people.”
She references a January protest outside the Virginia home of Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), which Hawley characterized as violent but local police said was actually peaceful.
Harris, now vice president and at the time a California senator, indeed fundraised for the Minnesota Freedom Fund in the wake of June 2020’s protests. The organization assists any Minnesotans unable to afford their cash bail after arrest, regardless of the nature of their alleged crimes. Arrest is only an accusation that one committed a crime, not proof of guilt, for which a trial and possible conviction are intended. Harris wasn’t specifically fundraising to “bail out Antifa members.”
Rep. Boebert may be correct that someone who called himself Antifa appears to have “murdered an American because of their political beliefs,” if she was referencing the killing of Aaron Danielson shortly after participating in a pro-Trump demonstration by Antifa supporter Michael Reinoehl. However, we don’t know for sure exactly what happened or why, because police shot Reinoehl to death soon after.
What opponents say
Opponents counter that *even if *you despise Antifa, on a technical level, they still don’t merit inclusion on such a list.
“The US has no list of domestic terrorist organizations, only a Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list,” Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center associate director Heather Williams wrote for RealClearPolicy. “Antifa does not clearly meet the definition of the F, the T, or the O — it is primarily domestic, it is unclear whether their acts of violence rise to crimes of terrorism, and it is a loosely oriented movement.”
The current FTO list generally focuses on jihadist terrorist groups, and whether it should be expanded to be more inclusive of other extreme groups has been seriously debated for the last few years. The Trump administration for the first time designated a white supremacist group in April, but it was also clearly a foreign group,” Williams continued. “Designating a largely domestic organization as an FTO would likely invite legal challenge.”
Odds of passage
In the previous Congress, GovTrack located three resolutions that more or less called for the same thing. H.Res. 536 from Rep. Mark Green (R-TN7) attracted four Republican cosponsors, S.Res. 279 from Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and H.Res. 525 from Rep. Brain Fitzpatrick (R-PA1) attracted none. None received a committee vote.
Rep. Boebert’s current version has so far attracted 11 cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee. Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled chamber.