Taking Out the Trash: Fact Checking Politico’s “Antifa Attacks”

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Far-Right militants have shot at antifascists in Minneapolis, Seattle, and Charlottesville. According to Politico, those who are being shot and killed are the ones to blame for escalating things.

A recent article by the normally respected blog Politico, “FBI, Homeland Security warn of more ‘antifa’ attacks,” claims that unnamed sources at the FBI and DHS reveal that antifa activism is being investigated as terrorism. While on one hand the article seems to be a based on an intentional leak to whip up public opinion against antifa, on the other the author’s biased treatment of the material appears to intentionally fuel this frenzy. Meanwhile, pro-Russian bots are attacking antifa online in order to shift public opinion and the Centrist press is busy conflating antifascists to everything from the Alt-Right to ISIS.

The author, Politico Senior Investigative Reporter Josh Meyer, doesn’t even attempt to fact check his unnamed source’s statements by Googling their claims or seeking a standard “two sides” comment on them. In presenting these outlandish claims in this way, he makes it seem as they are not in question. Even more damaging, other journalists have picked up this report as complete fact and used it to seal the fate of the growing antifascist movement. Additionally, throughout the article various bogeymen—so-called “anarchist extremists” and “antifa”—are continuously used in an interchangeable manner.

For Meyer, whatever came out of the mouths of his unnamed and anonymous government sources isn’t questioned – because after all, why would they lie?

Fact Check: 

* The cover photo—under a headline and subhead which has the words “‘antifa’ attacks” and “terrorism”—shows a masked individual holding a smoking canister.

What the subhead doesn’t indicate is that this person is holding is a harmless colored flare, of the kind that are typically seen at sporting events, such as soccer matches.

* Meyer leads with “Federal authorities have been warning state and local officials since early 2016 that leftist extremists known as “antifa” had become increasingly confrontational and dangerous, so much so that the Department of Homeland Security formally classified their activities as “domestic terrorist violence….”

An earlier article by Meyer, focusing on Nazi groups (“Domestic hate groups elude feds”), presents a very sober assessment of the legal notion of “domestic terrorism.” In that piece, the Meyer notes “the FBI and the Justice Department don’t keep lists of domestic terrorist organizations.” In his antifa article, he never says this—and in fact implies just the opposite. Which is it Meyer? 

Furthermore, no evidence is actually given as to what Federal authorities were warning state and local officials about in early 2016. Keep in mind that in early 2016, months before large scale antifascist and Alt-Right showdowns become common, the mass murder of 9 people at a South Carolina church by white nationalist Dylan Roof, a late 2015 shooting at a Black Lives Matter encampment in Minneapolis, and a February 2016 stabbing of antiracists at a KKK protest in Anaheim, California – were still fresh. While violent confrontations at Trump rallies has grown by the Spring of 2016, the clashes that broke out between protesters and Trump supporters, were far from one sided.

In some cases white nationalists and members of the Alt-Right were directly involved in the violence, such as when Unite the Right leader Matthew Heimbach attacked physically and verbally a young African-American woman in Kentucky. His defense later in court? He was egged on by Trump and shouldn’t have been held responsible. Again hardly a one sided “attack,” and the anti-Trump mobilizations were extremely broad as was and still is, rejection of Trump; bringing in a variety of sectors, groups, and organizations.

* The article claims that “Federal authorities have been warning state and local officials since early 2016 that leftist extremists known as “antifa” had become increasingly confrontational and dangerous.” The next line says “Since well before the Aug. 12 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly, DHS has been issuing warnings about the growing likelihood of lethal violence between the left-wing anarchists….” And again he says, “Previously unreported documents disclose that by April 2016, authorities believed that “anarchist extremists” were the primary instigators of violence at public rallies against a range of targets. They were blamed by authorities for attacks on the police, government and political institutions.” In the next paragraph, Meyer writes “After President Donald Trump’s election in November, the antifa activists locked onto another target—his supporters, especially those from white supremacist and nationalist groups.”

This passage should be a red alert for anyone, but in it, it shows that federal authorities believe that antifascists and anarchists are the driving force of violence at far-Right rallies. Furthermore, it also says that such violence, on the side of antifascists, will soon turn ‘lethal.’ It goes on to state that antifascists after the election of Donald Trump came to see Trump supporters as direct targets for violence.

To debunk each of these points is easy as it is to attack Trump for his “both sides” and “very nice people” comments. As we have seen over the past year, it has in fact been the far-Right and the Alt-Right which has both escalated violence as well as escalated the amount of weapons and firearms. In numerous cases, neo-Nazis, members of the Alt-Right, and militia members have both shot at antifascist demonstrators such as in Minneapolis, in Seattle, and in Charlottesville, and in the case of the latter, successfully killed Heather Heyer, 32.

Also the idea that antifascists and anarchists want to attack and kill all Trump supporters has been a lie that has been propagated by the Alt-Right as a means to attack the antifascist movement. Ian Miles Cheong, formerly of Heat Street and now with The Daily Caller, the same person who once argued that Pepe the Frog was not a racist symbol, has argued that antifascists want to kill Trump supporters. His evidence: a poster from anarchist media collective CrimethInc. that shows a WWII soldier aiming a bayonet at a member of the Alt-Right wearing a Pepe the Frog pin.

Furthermore, Meyer specifies that “By the spring of 2016” it was “anarchist groups” (even though earlier in the article it has been “antifa”) that “had become so aggressive.” But we’re not sure which anarchist groups he is talking about either. These are part of a pattern of constant reference to actions are never specified and it seems of course that Meyer, in search of a click bait headline, cannot be bothered to actually fact check.

* Meyer cites an anonymous “senior law enforcement official” saying that during the Trump campaign, “These antifa guys were showing up with weapons, shields and bike helmets and just beating the shit out of people. … They’re using Molotov cocktails, they’re starting fires, they’re throwing bombs and smashing windows.”

Two things are of note here: the first is the Meyer’s constant use of anonymous sources—including an unnamed report which was “read” to him, apparently without visual verification; and no less than four anonymous sources cited.

The second are the false and unchecked claims in this statement, which are presented as truth. It is true that in a single instance—during a February demonstration in Berkeley against Milo Yiannapoulos—it was reported by the mainstream press that a Molotov cocktail was thrown, which set a flood light fixture on fire.

In reality, which can be seen on multiple videos, people on the ground of the Milo protest reported that the light fixture was toppled over, began to leak gas, and then caught on fire on its own, quickly spreading to a nearby tree. This sort of over blown sensationalism is common place; during the protests in Berkeley on August 27th, some journalists reported that antifascists were releasing “gas” when in fact it was harmless colored smoke. It is also almost unheard of that Molotovs are thrown in the US because of the high legal penalties against using them.

But such sensational lies often spread much faster than truth – as many news agencies quickly ran with, and still do, the lie that Molotov cocktails were thrown at a cement building in Berkeley in early February.

The most outrageous comment which is presented without rebuttal is that “ they’re throwing bombs.” There are no instances we have heard of of antifa “throwing bombs” at demonstrations against Trump or the Alt-Right. The anonymous source does not provide details to this, and Meyer does not question the claim—instead, as in many other cases, presents this as an unquestioned fact. It is statements like these of which yellow journalism is made.

Such claims also almost always originate from inside the far-Right itself and then are picked up and used by people within the police and “intelligence” community, who then are reported on by mainstream journalists. We have seen this cycle again and again, as for instance pro-Trump and Alt-Right trolls pushed local police departments to arrest antifascists after demonstrations, such as Eric Clanton.

This kind of relationship, from internet conspiracy, to police and intelligence officers, to then journalists, and then on to politicians and even the President – is an engine in of itself. Just in the past few weeks, it has come out that police and federal authorities have turned to neo-Nazi websites in order to gather information on antifascists. Moreover, during the Berkeley antifascist demonstration on August 27th, far-Right Twitter ‘bots’ were seen to have been able to influence journalists and the media narrative around the events, specifically by attacking antifa and labeling their terrorists.

This reality places the burden of fact checking and proof squarely on journalists when reporting verbatim ‘anonymous’ sources from within the police and intelligence agencies. Clearly these institutions are not neutral nor do they pretend to be, and the history of government repression and surveillance of social movements should make anyone at least fact check what is coming out of their mouths, especially at a time when both the far-Right and the President is actively attacking social movements for liberation. Guess that is just too much work for Meyer. 

* Meyer quotes Brian Levin from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, who is extremely hostile to antifa: “Both the racists and a segment of violent antifa counter-protesters are amped for battle in an escalating arms race, where police departments are outmaneuvered, resulting in increasingly violent dangerous confrontations.”

This is a classic fallacy in which facts are manipulated to show fascists and antifa as equal. First, there is no “arms race” that antifa are engaged in. Fascists and militias use lethal and often illegal weapons. The amount of firearms present at Charlottesville shows that antifa-allied groups have not formed large militia groups – and last time we checked the neo-Nazis were the ones who fired their guns at someone and ended the day by murdering someone.

Second, this implies that antifa should remain unarmed while facing a armed enemy—or otherwise it’s an “arms race.” Does Levin think only the racist factions should be armed? It appears so.

This also leaves out the reality that far-Right and Alt-Right militants have escalated things on all on their own. At the shooting in Minneapolis in late 2015, in Sacramento in 2016, where neo-Nazis who stabbed 9 counter-demonstrators dropped a gun in the melee and were seen with another concealed weapon while fleeing to their cars, Seattle in January 2017, and in Charlottesville on August 12th, when a KKK leader was filmed firing at an African-American man he addressed as a racial slur. At demonstrations across the US, militia groups arrived at far-Right and Alt-Right rallies heavily armed, and often mobilized to harass and intimidate progressive and liberal demonstrators at various Left events. Moreover, many of the groups that organized Unite the Right also have been escalating a strategy of going after what they call, “soft targets,” or liberal and social justice groups that refuse to fight back. In short, to think that antifascists are ‘escalating’ things is ridiculous at best, and by Meyer overlooking the reality of what the far-Right is doing is dangerous and helps normalize calls for repression of antifascists.

* Meyer writes, “More recently, the antifa groups, which some describe as the Anti-Fascist Action Network…”

This shows how Meyer’s work has received no fact-checking—even a quick once-over from an overworked Politico intern. There is no group called the “Anti-Fascist Action Network,” which a quick Google search would show. (A British group, called merely “Anti-Fascist Action,” disbanded years ago.) There is an “Anti-Fascist Network” group, however it is based in the UK.

* Meyer says antifa, “have evolved out of the leftist anti-government groups like ‘Black bloc,’ protesters clad in black and wearing masks that caused violence at events like the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization protests.”

As has been repeated many times, the “black bloc” is an organizational tactic (not an “anti-government group”), and the direct precursor of today’s antifa groups is the 1990s and 2000s group Anti-Racist Action—but to point this out would disrupt Meyer’s attempts to build a grand narrative that he can easily manipulate. This history is also something that isn’t secret and is celebrated within the antifascist movement.

* Meyer says, “Dozens of armed anti-fascist groups have emerged, including Redneck Revolt and the Red Guards, according to the reports and interviews. One report from New Jersey authorities said self-described antifa groups have been established in cities including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco.”

This passage is exceptionally laughable. “New Jersey authorities” that Meyer is referring to is the New Jersey DHS, who issued their own shoddy report on ‘antifa’ entitled, “Antifa: Anarchist Extremists.” This report most likely served as the template for Meyer article, but like the Politico article itself, can only point to the June 2016 demonstration in Sacramento that became violent (9 antifascists were stabbed and sent to the hospital, as was one neo-Nazi), as an example of ‘antifa violence.’ Again, even this example over looks the reality that neo-Nazis carried out more violence than the antifascists, came with concealed firearms, and also who’s very leadership was later arrested this year for vandalizing a synagogue and ironically, on weapons charges.

Incredibility, the New Jersey report goes on to state that antifa groups engage in such horrific acts as releasing the information of neo-Nazis and attending demonstrations. Also, at the same time as the ‘antifa’ report was released by New Jersey DHS, the same group released reports on neo-Nazi and Alt-Right groups, correctly reporting that unlike antifacists, they were actually linked to selling narcotics, trafficking weapons, and carrying out murders.

Meyer also shows no evidence that these ‘armed groups’ are in the cities where the named antifa groups are and furthermore, groups like the Red Guards actually identify politically as Maoist. Thus, throughout his piece, Meyer works to construct an argument based around political identity, but when he needs to, he simply lumps various groups together in order to fit them all into whatever box he needs at the time.

The reason Meyer does this is clear: if he was to instead base his claims on actual facts about groups and movements carrying out acts of violence – he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. This is exactly why his “evidence” is anonymous hearsay and fabrication.

* Meyer says that, regarding “a June 2016 rally at the California Capitol in Sacramento organized by the Traditionalist Workers Party and its affiliate, the Golden State Skinheads…. counter-protesters linked to antifa and affiliated groups like By Any Means Necessary attacked, causing a riot after which at least 10 people were hospitalized, some with stab wounds.”

Again, this information that 10 people were hospitalized, leads the reader to believe that by extension this violence was the work of antifascists or anarchists, is completely misleading – and it’s also not like the actual facts are hard to find.

What Meyer fails to explain is that 9 of the 10 hospitalized were injured by the neo-Nazis—who had two handguns on them as well, one of which was dropped at the scene. If there is any question about Meyer’s intentional bias in presenting the material in this article, this passage should resolve it. Ironically as previously stated, the Golden State Skinheads soon came under FBI investigation, and their leader, Nathan Lowery was recently arrested for selling illegal weapons.

Seems none of this made it’s way into Meyer’s report; we can assume because not only did he fail to do the research, but also because it wasn’t handed to him.

* Meyer writes, “At the Sacramento rally, antifa protesters came looking for violence, and ‘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,’ the DHS report said.

Carpools, radios, social media, and bail-funds – oh my! What perfectly standard demonstration planning and absolutely legal practices will those antifa think of next? Again this sensationalist writing and conspiratorial thinking is designed to imply to the reader that any sort of organizing in a threat to their very safety, as opposed to necessary for building up a strong movement for self-defense.

Of course Meyer’s report doesn’t also mention the decades long history of violent neo-Nazi activity in Sacramento that included murder and the bombing of buildings. He also failed to mention that in the months leading up to the demonstration, neo-Nazi flyers were found in the city which encouraged whites to find places to hide bodies of Muslims and immigrants.

* Meyer writes, “By the spring of 2016, the anarchist groups had become so aggressive, including making armed attacks on individuals and small groups of perceived enemies…”

Once again, Meyer moves between whatever political label suits him while offering up no actual details, facts, or accounts about what these “armed attacks” refer to. We know of no attacks that have involved guns in the US—except by right-wing extremists. There are plenty of those.

* Meyer says, “Some of the antifa activists have gone overseas to train and fight with fellow anarchist organizations, including two Turkey-based groups fighting the Islamic State, according to interviews and internet postings.”

Here, one has to wonder if Meyer’s knowledge of Syria rivals Gary Johnson’s. The groups that are fighting ISIS he refers to are the YPG and YPJ – and it is legal for US citizens to fight with these groups. Many have done so including former military veterans, and have returned to the country without facing legal repercussion. But as in much of Meyer’s article, the point is not to state fact, but to imply that something much more sinister is happening behind the scenes.

* “In their April 2016 assessment, the DHS and FBI said the anarchist groups would likely become more lethal if ‘fascist, nationalist, racist or anti-immigrant parties obtain greater prominence or local political power in the United States, leading to anti-racist violent backlash from anarchist extremists.’ The assessment also said the anarchist groups could become more aggressive if they seek to ‘retaliate violently to a violent act by a white supremacist extremist or group,’ they acquire more powerful weapons or they obtain the financial means to travel abroad and learn more violent tactics. Several state law enforcement officials said that all of those accelerating factors have come to pass. And recent FBI and DHS reports confirm they are actively monitoring ‘conduct deemed potentially suspicious and indicative of terrorist activity” by antifa groups.’”

After this long and very scary passage warning about lethal force, which notes that “all of those accelerating factors have come to pass,” Meyer can’t come up with a single incident of lethal violence by antifa, despite the government’s “active monitoring.” SAD!!

* Meyer writes, “Authorities also ‘lack information to identify the travel patterns linking U.S. and foreign anarchist extremists,’ the assessment said.”

Another way to say that authorities “lack information” is that “there is no evidence.”

* Meyer writes that, “The two agencies also said in their April 2016 assessment that many of the activities the groups engaged in ‘are not within the purview of FBI and DHS collection’ due to civil liberties and privacy protections, including participating in training camps, holding meetings and communicating online.”

All groups hold meetings and communicate online. But seamlessly mixed in with this is the statement that “anarchists” – or “antifa,” depending on Meyer’s mood at the time – are holding “training camps.” But in whether antifa or anarchists are being referred to here, there is simply no evidence of this—something, again, not stated by Meyer.

This reality is also counter poised to the fact that far-Right, neo-Nazi, and militia groups are actively training, promoting violence, and encouraging acts of terror. In the leaked chat rooms of the Unite the Right organizers, people openly discussed bringing weapons to demonstrations and the need to target counter-protesters. After the August 27th Berkeley demonstrations, white nationalists livestreamers with The Red Elephants recorded a video where they stated that the Right needs to form militias to kill the Left, and praised the murderer of Heath Heyer.

Conclusions

Meyer’s article should be a major warning to all radical and left activists that while Nazis murder people in the streets and thousands of heavily armed militias actually run training camps, the FBI and DHS are allegedly fixating antifascists as terrorists—and are quite possibly conflating the two in order to manufacture greater hysteria.

Meanwhile, the FBI and DHS turn an almost complete blind eye to Nazi violence, and members of the Trump administration have pushed the idea that white supremacist and far-Right violence is not a threat to the public and acts of terror are also possibly ‘false-flags’ from the Left. It’s almost like they don’t care. While antifa are labeled terrorists, those who really did organize an international murderous event—the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville—go largely scot free.

Hacks like Meyer, giving a mouthpiece either to neo-Nazis who want to justify their actions or ‘anonymous’ federal authorities who wish obscure them – are only helping to advance an agenda a fascism and repression.


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