President Trump on Sunday announced that the US would be designating ‘Antifa’ a terrorist organization, but the movement isn’t easily defined, and the US government isn’t authorized to designate a domestic group a terrorist organization, legal experts say.
SEATTLE, WA – MAY 30: Protesters riot in the streets following a peaceful rally expressing outrage … [+] over the death of George Floyd on May 30, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Protests have erupted nationwide after Floyd died while in the custody of police in Minneapolis. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
“The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization,” Trump tweeted after days of nationwide protests in response to the death of George Floyd.
But Trump lacks the authority to deem a domestic group a terrorist organization, according to legal experts.
“There isn’t a general terrorism statute for domestic groups,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond. “There’s no authority to designate any domestic organization a terrorist organization in the US code.”
“The Government can always investigate if they suspect terrorist activity,” he added, but he noted it would raise concerns about privacy and the first amendment.
Conservatives have cheered Trump’s decision as an example of him cracking down on violence, but, as some critics have noted, Antifa, short for anti-fascists, is not an easily-defined group, but a fluid movement consisting of left-wing activists, anarchists and other militant anti-fascist demonstrators.
Some have instead argued that the president’s move is an attempt to crack down harder on protestors more broadly–he has previously threatened to send the US military to intervene in the Minneapolis protests.
Minnesota officials on Saturday warned of a heavy out-of-state presence among arrested protestors in Minneapolis, which has seen heavy protests and looting since video of Floyd’s death surfaced. “There are detractors. There are white supremacists. There are anarchists,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said. But Attorney General Barr focused in more specifically on left-wing protestors, blaming the violence on “extremist groups using Antifa-like tactics.”
“As this tweet demonstrates, terrorism is an inherently political label, easily abused and misused. There is no legal authority for designating a domestic group. Any such designation would raise significant due process and First Amendment concerns,” said ACLU National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi.