When Donald Trump was first elected, I joked to my family that should I disappear, they ought to look for me in a gulag in the Utah desert. I was convinced a man with authoritarian leanings would attempt to crack down on free speech, especially from those of us opposed to his racist regime. It took a little longer than I expected, but with his latest tweeted edict, the mango Mussolini has finally ripened.
“The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a terrorist organization,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. Antifa is short for “anti-fascist,” something you would think an American president would naturally be. Not so. Eager to jump on the “anti-anti-fascist” bandwagon, Trump’s tweet was quickly followed by a Senate resolution introduced by Republicans Ted Cruz and Bill Cassidy “[c]alling for the designation of Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization.”
This is bonkers, not least because Antifa is not an actual organization. Rather, it is a nebulous collection of autonomous activists, a loose web of folks who share similar tactics and an opposition to fascism. Antifa is not a club you can join. There is no structure, no leadership, no membership roster.
It is not the Junior League for anarchists, nor is it the second coming of the Weather Underground, though that is what Donald Trump would have us think. They have blown up no buildings and they have killed no Americans. Yet, according to Republicans, they are domestic terrorists.
What makes them terrorists? They disagree with the president, and anyone who dares question Dear Leader, like the press, is an “enemy of the people. This is about cracking down on opposition to the Trump regime, as historian Mark Bray points out in a recent column for the Washington Post. “If antifa groups are composed of a wide range of socialists, anarchists, communists, and other radicals, then declaring antifa to be a ‘terrorist’ organization would pave the way to criminalizing and delegitimizing all politics to the left of Joe Biden,” he writes.
Donald Trump is a man who pathologically loathes dissent. Charlottesville Nazis are “very fine people” because they support him. Black Lives Matter protestors are “thugs” because they do not. This is not about terrorism. If it were, Republicans would be going after white nationalists, who since 9/11, have killed 110 Americans according to the research institution New America. Antifa, remember, has killed exactly zero people. This is about criminalizing leftwing activism and speech.
Historically, the United States has not labelled domestic political groups as terrorist organizations, and for good reason. Belonging to such groups is protected under the First Amendment. You cannot be arrested for simply believing in or espousing radical, even odious views. We don’t criminalize thought in this country, only actions. It is why belonging to the Ku Klux Klan is not a criminal offense but burning a cross in someone’s yard is.
And while setting fire to a police station is not the wonton act of racist terror that burning a cross is, it is still a crime. Last night, Washington burned brighter than it has since the British torched the White House. Whether vandalism, looting, or arson are committed by white nationalists or Antifa or some other group (and right now there’s a lot of confusion as to who is doing what), they are prosecutable. It is the act that is the crime, though, not the belief, not the speech, not the peaceful protest that came before it.
Trump, Cruz, Cassidy, and the braying mob of rightwing pundits all know this. It is why the Senate Resolution uses “Antifa” and “leftwing activists” interchangeably. The goal of Donald Trump is not to combat domestic terrorism. It is to silence leftwing opposition. If Trump and the Republicans get their way, simply belonging to Antifa will be a criminal offense. Yet because there is no concrete way of defining Antifa, this regime can label anyone who disagrees with it a member, and therefore a terrorist. Dissent will become punishable by law.
Pack some sunscreen. I’ll see you in the desert.
Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan