“Too vague to discuss.”
That’s the view of a national security attorney, one of several TPM reached out to about President Trump’s much-discussed but apparently little-thought-out designation of antifa as a terrorist organization.
President Trump tweeted Sunday that his administration will designate antifa — a loosely organized, left-wing movement and occasional conservative bogeyman — as a terrorist organization.
The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2020
Attorney General Bill Barr followed it up with a statement late Sunday evening, making the slightly more tailored statement that “the violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly.”
TPM undertook this morning to ascertain the legal particulars of the Trump administration’s policy. For sure, there are a lot of questions to be asked.
What’s the precedent for this? How could a designation used for foreign organizations apply to a domestic group? How could it apply to a group like Antifa, less an organization than a collection of people who label themselves anti-fascist? What?
The deafening answer was silence. None of the specialists in this area of national security law contacted by TPM would bite on the underlying topic. The reason? The order is too half-baked to comment on.
And, besides: The president has a well-known history of proclaiming tough executive actions, and then following them up with actual proclamations that fall far short of what he said he would do, or which have been lawyered down to the bone.
For one attorney, the lack of clarity was both a factor of the President’s lack of understanding of what he’s discussing and a reflection of how chaotic the Trump administration has been in following Trump’s own directives.
It’s a loud bark, so to speak, but one that’s too incoherent at this point to have much bite.
Rather, it follows on years of Trump and his cohort attempting to turn antifa into a violent enemy of peace and prosperity in the U.S.
In August 2018, speaking about the then-upcoming midterm elections, Trump reportedly warned of “violent people” from antifa wreaking havoc were the Democrats to win.
After the elections, in which the Democrats retook the House, Trump continued to play out the fantasy, saying in an interview with the Daily Caller that “they better hope that the opposition to antifa decides not to mobilize. Because if they do, they’re much tougher. Much stronger. Potentially much more violent.”
Even on the merits, various legal analysts have dismissed the proposal to designate antifa as a terrorist group as unconstitutional.
CNN legal analyst Peter Bergen called the move “crazy” in a column, saying it was “surely unconstitutional because it would effectively criminalize joining an American domestic ideological group.”
Yet the move by Trump has paid dividends as his very online supporters spin rhetoric that’s as inflammatory as it is cringe-inducing.
Benny Johnson, the fired Buzzfeed staffer who now works for the right-wing group Turning Point USA, took it as an opportunity to fantasize:
Imagine how many scared little white skinny jean communists are sitting in their parents basement right now shaking and clutching their Soy Latte while trying frantically to delete their ANTIFA laden FB profiles before federal agents drag them to GITMO.
What complete bitches.
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) May 31, 2020