Can Trump enforce a terrorism label against antifa?

Civic Affairs

There is currently no domestic terrorism law in the U.S.

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump returns to the White House after visiting outside St. John’s Church, Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Part of the church was set on fire during protests on Sunday night. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — President Donald Trump recently tweeted the U.S. would “be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization,” in the wake of violence at nationwide protests against police brutality that included skirmishes with the police, people setting fires and looting.

But can the president enforce such a designation, given that there is currently no domestic terrorism law in the U.S.?

“I’m no political expert, but it would appear to be more of a political stunt than a legal designation that would have any real-world effect,” Michael Fuller, a Portland lawyer who specializes in consumer protection and civil rights cases, told KOIN 6 News.

Fuller said the president’s statement is rather ambiguous and that he’s unaware of any legal ramifications of a terrorist designation for a domestic group in the U.S.

“I’m not aware of any authority to do that outside of a foreign terrorist organization,” he said. “It’s a hard question to answer because at this point, it’s a hypothetical.”

Partially in response to Trump’s tweet about labeling antifa as terrorists, a Portland-based activist and author has created a petition urging governors and congressional leaders across the country to designate racially motivated crimes as an act of terror and to declare hate groups terrorist organizations.

“I wanted to present this to the world because how on one hand do you say antifa is this terrorist organization/group and on the other you have proud boys, you have the Ku Klux Klan,” Michael Anthony, the petitioner’s creator, told KOIN 6 News. “There is no clear definitive explanation why one gets to exist with impunity and why one doesn’t.”

The petition has so far gained more than 140,000 signatures of an ultimate goal of one million on Change.org.

Anthony named the petition “George’s Law,” in honor of George Floyd, an African American man who was killed when a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on his neck for several minutes as Floyd was handcuffed on the ground. The grim incident was caught on widely-circulated cellphone footage. Chauvin has been charged in the killing and three other officers who were there were charged with aiding and abetting following sweeping nationwide protests.

Michael Anthony is a Portland-area activist and author behind a petition to designate hate crimes as acts of terror and hate groups as domestic terrorist organizations in the wake of the death of George Floyd. (undated photo courtesy Michael Anthony).

“As a person of color in America, I shouldn’t have to be worried that when I walk outside that, I might never come home simply because of my skin tone and neither should anyone else,” Anthony wrote in a press release.

Anthony said he isn’t a legal expert, but created the petition more so to start a “conversation” between citizens and lawmakers about how to better hold people who commit hate crimes accountable. Anthony is a mentor and coach for adult survivors of child abuse, according to his website.

The petition includes proposing officially designating hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan as “terrorist groups” and be put on a federal watch list, enact strict penalties for those who aid and abet in acts of “racist terror;” and enact a policy in which a police officer who kills a civilian in the line of duty is immediately held in police custody for up to 30 days pending a full investigation.

Fuller said he commends people who petition their government for change when there is a lack of justice about a certain issue. However, he said introducing a domestic terrorism law into the U.S. — whether it be directed at antifa or the KKK — may have unintended consequences in terms of going against the First Amendment.

“As far as designating a group a terrorist organization, I think that sets a dangerous precedent if the group is a domestic organization,” Fuller said. “Because then it could potentially subject members to that group to penalties just for being a member, which the constitution does protect generally the rights of citizens to assemble and join groups.”

In terms of holding people accountable when they commit hate motivated crimes, for instance, there is a conversation to be had about potentially expanding federal hate crime laws or even petitioning lawmakers for the government to better enforce existing laws, Fuller said.

“Conspiracy is already illegal. So if all you’re talking about is a group of people conspiring to break the law, there’s already punishment for that. And if they’re motivated by hate, there’s already punishment for that,” he said.

In the past, there have been periodic calls to establish a domestic terrorism law, particularly after mass shootings by white supremacists. But no such domestic terrorism statute currently exists.

Trump has blamed the violence at recent protests on antifa, an umbrella term short for “anti-facists” encompassing far-left-leaning militant groups that confront or resist neo-Nazis and white supremacist demonstrations. The loosely defining antifa label makes placing the blame of the violence solely with the group difficult to pinpoint while others have pointed to evidence of right-wing extremists being involved.

In addition, since antifa is a domestic entity, it could not be included on the State Department’s list of foreign terror organizations.

It was only in April that the Trump Administration labeled a white supremacist group with a terrorist designation for the first time, though the group had transnational links. The designation was for the Russian Imperial Movement. The global terrorist label had in the past been frequently used for Islamist extremists.

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has pushed through its congress an anti-terrorism bill that has seen wide opposition in the form of hundreds who protested on the streets of Manila Thursday, opposition from the United Nations and even a condemnation from pop star Taylor Swift. Authors of the bill say it would strengthen Philippines’ defense against violent extremism while critics fear the government would use it to silent dissent in the country and erode free speech.

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