Judging by most of the traditional news reporting about the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s first annual “Threat Assessment,” the only takeaway worth relentless reporting was that white supremacists now pose America’s “most persistent and lethal” domestic terrorism threat.
No one has challenged the 25-page DHS report’s credibility on the white supremacist threat matter, despite its having come out of the Trump administration. That’s because the white supremacists are indeed a domestic security threat, as I testified before Congress last year. But American media coverage somehow entirely bypassed the fact that this same highly credible DHS report expends perhaps more ink about the domestic terror threat posed by the Antifa movement.
The movement’s name – Anti-Fascist Action Network, or Antifa – is never uttered anywhere in the document, for reasons unconfirmed, but the description of it throughout provides ample and clear recognition: “violent anarchist, anti-government, anti-authority extremists” who have been destroying cities, attacking law enforcement and hurting Americans in protest riots for the last six months in cities such as Portland, Brooklyn and Chicago. These violent anarchists, the report said, “have been associated with multiple plots and attacks” and are “increasingly taking advantage of large protest crowds to conduct violence against government officials, facilities, and counter-protestors.”
“Say the name – Antifa!” could become the new rallying cry outside DHS headquarters and American newsrooms. But that’s plainly Antifa throughout the 2020 threat assessment.
The discussion about Antifa movement adherents, or “violent anarchist extremists,” starts high up, in the same much-quoted Forward by Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, where he opined about white supremacists. And predictions about what it might do are below in the body of the document.
While intelligence community analysts were developing the assessment, Wolf wrote in the Forward, “we began to see a new, alarming trend of exploitation of lawful protests causing violence, death, and destruction in American communities.
“This anti-government, anti-authority and anarchist violent extremism,” as Wolf called it, caused “violence and destruction in our cities. The co-opting of lawful protests led to destruction of government property and has turned deadly.”
The DHS document reported 300 injuries in “increasingly pervasive” attacks on law enforcement personnel, who have been “assaulted with sledgehammers, commercial grade fireworks, rocks, metal pipes, improvised explosive devices and more.”
“This violence, perpetrated by anarchist extremists and detailed in numerous public statements that remain available on the DHS website, significantly threatens the Homeland by undermining officer and public safety – as well as our values and way of life.”
That’s all recognizably Antifa.
Predicting Antifa’s Near Future
DHS analysts park this fully triggered domestic terrorism threat under a rubric the government calls “Domestic Violent Extremists,” or DVEs. Just like white supremacists or violent Islamists that also fall under the DVE umbrella, the assessment predicts that anarchist extremists of Antifa ideology will continue to use violence to further political or social goals, which is the statutory definition of terrorism in the United States.
The DHS report sometimes asserts more than it explains, which could be justified by the possibility that the agency did not want to divulge sensitive or classified intelligence. For instance, the report asserts that these anarchist extremists have been “exploited by hostile nation-states, which seek to promote it through disinformation campaigns and sow additional chaos and discord across American society.” DHS leaves unexplained this last intriguing bit about hostile nation-states promoting anarchist extremist violence.
DHS would certainly count anarchist Antifa extremists as among DVEs that “will drive an elevated threat environment at least through early 2021.” There’s no reason to believe DHS doesn’t see Antifa’s violent anarchists in predicting that “some DVEs and other violent actors might target events related to the 2020 Presidential campaigns, the election itself, election results, or the post-election period. Such actors could mobilize quickly to threaten or engage in violence.”
Although the report doesn’t say which ones, it seems likely the report is referencing Antifa again in saying DVEs will “continue to target individuals and institutions that represent symbols of their grievances (Confederate statues anyone?), as well as grievances based on political affiliation or perceived policy positions.”
Imagine if Trump wins the presidency.
Plenty of Hands for Juggling
Acting Secretary Wolf, in his Forward, seems to take Antifa every bit as seriously as white supremacy. Professional analysts are working to understand the threat, or so he said.
“We are still in the nascent stages of understanding the threat this situation poses to Americans, the Homeland, and the American way of life,” he wrote, referring to the violent, anti-government anarchist extremists tearing up the country.
White supremacy is a serious threat and deserves time in the spotlight, as well as resources. But so does Antifa.
In terms of priorities, the nation need not be forced to choose one over any other threat problem. The U.S. homeland security establishment is big enough to handle more than one threat at any given time.
The American media is big enough to equally report about all of them too.
Todd Bensman in the author of the forthcoming book (Posthill Press/Bombardier Books): America’s Covert Border War, the Untold Story of the Nation’s Battle to Prevent Jihadist Infiltration
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