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How Trump's new enemy Antifa could be almost impossible to ban 

The President calls them terrorists. They have been accused of turning peaceful protests across the country into violent riots. So what is 'Antifa'?

Most Americans had never heard of the movement until 2016 when Donald Trump's rise to power coincided with clashes between the far left and white supremacists.

But one of the earliest reports of American anti-fascist groups was in fact almost a century ago, when hundreds of Milwaukee anti-fascists stormed a pro-Nazi meeting in 1934 and pelted the lead speaker with rotten eggs.

Today its supporters are still unified in fighting white supremacists – though many go much further with their beliefs, seeking to wage war on the police, bring down the government and ultimately overthrow capitalism through riots, protests, strikes and mass civil disobedience.

Experts say the movement has proven hard to pin down, with no leaders, financial structure or even official groups, making it near-impossible to analyze the true size or power of the group, which often spontaneously assembles as a violent fringe at peaceful protests.

President Trump has called Antifa terrorists and the group has been accused of turning peaceful protests across the country into violent riots 

Today its supporters are still unified in fighting white supremacists – though many go much further with their beliefs, seeking to wage war on the police, bring down the government and ultimately overthrow capitalism through riots, protests, strikes and mass civil disobedience. Pictured: A protester on a bicycle rides past a burning police car during a demonstration next to the city of Miami Police Department, Saturday, May 30, 2020

Experts say the movement has proven hard to pin down, with no leaders, financial structure or even official groups, making it near-impossible to analyze the true size or power of the group, which often spontaneously assembles as a violent fringe at peaceful protests. Pictured: A poster with the message 'Justice for George' and 'Antifa on the offensive' is held by a protester

Police officers guard the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago on May 30, as they hold back protesters during a rally and march over the death of George Floyd

However, the organizer of Antifa news site It's Going Down told CNN in 2017 that their website gets between 10,000 and 40,000 hits on its best days, and a 2019 report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, lists more than 70 arrests of Antifa supporters at violent clashes across nine states in the past two years.

Center director Brian Levin, who has studied Antifa and other radical movements for decades, told DailyMail.com the riots erupting after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police officers were a typical opportunity for Antifa to assemble and wreak havoc.

'Antifa goes back decades,' he said. 'It has a broad range of folks. It's really a loose network.

'Since these networks are so informal, they tend to come together around events rather than ideologies and personalities.'

Levin, a former NYPD police officer, said the movement includes people who believe in peaceful direct action and also those 'who want to burn down society and build it up once it's burned down.'

'When you have a catalytic event it becomes a lamp that not only attracts people looking for reform but also violent interlopers. Some of these folks, I would bet dollars to donuts, are Antifa,' he said.

'At their most ragged edge and extreme core this is a group that would like to see violence against civil society, and that not only includes racists but journalists and government officials.' 

Levin said support for the movement peaks at moments of social unrest. Antifa-aligned protesters clad in black and wearing masks caused violence at the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization protests (pictured)

Antifa-aligned protesters agitated for violence during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street marches  (pictured) that demanded economic reform after the 2008 crash

And in an infamous incident three years ago, Antifa joined other counter-protesters in violent clashes at a neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville in August 2017 (pictured) 

The Charlottesville rally led to 30 injuries and the death of a woman deliberately run over by a white supremacist in August 2017 (pictured)

Antifa members who have been convicted of violence during protests 

Gage Halupowski

Halupowski was arrested during clashes at a far-right rally in Portland, Oregon, last June. He pleaded guilty to assault, and was sentenced to nearly 6 years in prison.

Halupowski used an expandable baton to beat victim Adam Kelly as he rushed to help an older man who was being attacked. Kelly was left with a concussion and had 25 staples for wounds on his head. 

Eric Hancock

Hancock was sentenced to a year in prison for a felony unlawful wounding after a fighting broke out at a show by an allegedly fascist-affiliated band The Sentinels in Richmond, Virginia, in January 2018.

David Campbell

Campbell, 32, was arrested at a January 2018 counter-demonstration against a gathering of far-right supporters in Manhattan, New York. 

Prosecutors say Campbell punched and choked his victim. He pleaded guilty to two counts of felony assault and was sentenced to 18 months prison. 

Levin said support for the movement peaks at moments of social unrest. Antifa-aligned protesters clad in black and wearing masks caused violence at the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization protests, and agitated for violence during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street marches that demanded economic reform after the 2008 crash. 

The movement struggled to generate momentum after the re-election of Barack Obama helped to quell the radical left's resentment of the political system. 

But once Trump emerged as a Republican leader in 2016, the movement began to gain traction again.

Among several violent incidents, ten were hospitalized in June 2016 after a riot broke out at a white supremacist rally outside the California State Capitol in Sacramento. Antifa protesters turned up with wooden bats, sticks and fireworks and attacked the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Workers Party and Golden State Skinheads.

And in an infamous incident three years ago, Antifa joined other counter-protesters in violent clashes at a neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville in August 2017 that led to 30 injuries and the death of a woman deliberately run over by a white supremacist.

Levin's center released a report in July last year detailing 'a string of politically motivated assaults and suspected crimes—and non-violent protests—by Antifa, anarchists, and hard left extremists.'

The report, titled the Factbook on Hate & Extremism in the US & Internationally, listed 19 incidents of violence or harassment by Antifa supporters in 2018 and 2019 across nine states.

Many of the incidents, which resulted in at least 23 injuries or assaults and 77 arrests, were attacks by members of the movement on perceived supporters of the far right.

The increased violence and support for the movement in the past few years has caught the attention of federal law enforcement.

According to a joint intelligence assessment by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation obtained by news site Politico, federal agencies were investigating potential 'domestic terrorist violence' by 'anarchist extremist' groups including Antifa as early as Spring 2016.

The report, titled 'Baseline Comparison of US and Foreign Anarchist Extremist Movements', discovered that although the movement was disparate and without a formal structure, violent cells could still be well-organized. 

According to the news site, the DHS report said that at the June 2016 clash in Sacramento, Antifa protesters 'engaged in several activities indicating proficiency in pre-operational planning, to include organizing carpools to travel from different locations, raising bail money in preparation for arrests, counter-surveilling law enforcement using three-man scout teams, using handheld radios for communication, and coordinating the event via social media.'

A June 2017 statement by the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness identified Antifa groups in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco, and named three chapters in New Jersey alone: North Jersey Antifa, the South Jersey Antifa, and the HubCity Antifa New Brunswick.

The statement predicted that 'violent confrontations between Antifa members and white supremacists—as well as militia groups—will likely continue because of ideological differences and Antifa's ability to organize on social media.'

As well as highlighting violence, the statement described other methods used by Antifa groups, including the 'doxing' (public identification) of a prominent member of white supremacist organization American Vanguard by the group Antifascist Action-Nebraska, which posted fliers on the University of Nebraska Omaha campus calling for his expulsion. 

 A man throws a Molotov cocktail on Melrose Avenue in the Fairfax District during demonstrations following the death of George Floyd on May 30, 2020 in Los Angeles

Demonstrators react as a helicopter circles low as people gather to protest the death of George Floyd, Monday, June 1, 2020, near the White House in Washington

Riot police hold shields as demonstrators rally near the White House on May 30 

Levin told DailyMail.com the Antifa movement has previously thrived by rallying left leaning potential sympathizers against the perceived spread of far right groups – and also waned in support when white supremacists groups were less active.

'They got some of their energy and fervor from direct confrontations at rallies with these folks,' he said.

'When the alt-right groups collapsed post-Charlottesville and didn't rally nearly as much, Antifa were all dressed up with no party to go to,' he said.

Levin added Antifa's support was deflated by more progressive politicians in the Democratic Party like Bernie Sanders and the 'Squad' – a group of radical young women including Ilhan Omar and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez who joined Congress in the last election, helping bring potential radical recruits back into the party fold.

But Levin said when Sanders failed to win the nomination, Antifa saw another chance for recruitment, and some in the group have been waiting for a spike in social unrest to try to foment violence.

'They were not only boxed in by the alt-right but also by the progressive left, which made some incredible political in-roads during this campaign season,' Levin said. 'But they didn't get their candidate.

'I think what Antifa is trying to do now is say hey, now the progressives weren't successful in mainstream politics as they thought they'd be, we can take those grievances and say we're going to run with it, not the mainstream leaders.'

Levin added Antifa's support was deflated by more progressive politicians in the Democratic Party like Bernie Sanders and the 'Squad' – a group of radical young women including Ilhan Omar and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez who joined Congress in the last election, helping bring potential radical recruits back into the party fold

The domestic terror expert said that perversely, Trump's tweets last week blaming Antifa for violence at protests will only encourage the movement. On Saturday Trump tweeted 'It's ANTIFA and the Radical Left. Don't lay the blame on others!'

The next day he congratulated the National Guard brought in to control riots in Minneapolis, and wrote 'The ANTIFA led anarchists, among others, were shut down quickly… The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization'

Despite the President's announcement, the White House already admitted two years ago that there is no 'mechanism for formally designating domestic terrorist organizations', especially movements with no formal structure like Antifa – though prosecutors can characterize particular incidents as 'domestic terrorist violence'

Levin said angry protests over the death of a black man under the knee of a white police officer was the perfect opportunity.

'The killing of Mr Floyd resonates with all Americans but particularly with Antifa partisans who view the police as some kind of racist occupying force,' he told DailyMail.com.

The domestic terror expert said that perversely, Trump's tweets last week blaming Antifa for violence at protests will only encourage the movement.

On Saturday Trump tweeted 'It's ANTIFA and the Radical Left. Don't lay the blame on others!' 

The next day he congratulated the National Guard brought in to control riots in Minneapolis, and wrote 'The ANTIFA led anarchists, among others, were shut down quickly… The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.'

Despite the President's announcement, the White House already admitted two years ago that there is no 'mechanism for formally designating domestic terrorist organizations', especially movements with no formal structure like Antifa – though prosecutors can characterize particular incidents as 'domestic terrorist violence'. 

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