President Donald Trump and his allies have sought to blame left-wing extremists for the violence and looting at U.S. protests over police brutality while local authorities and watchdog groups have pointed to the threat posed by right-wing movements.
A recent U.S. intelligence assessment reviewed by Reuters this week said most of the violence at protests appears to have been driven by opportunists. But the assessment also said there was some evidence that organized extremists were tied to violence or promoting it online.
Which Groups Were Being Singled Out?
President Donald Trump and some fellow Republicans have sought to blame the left-wing anti-fascist Antifa movement but have presented little evidence.
Liberal watchdog groups and some local authorities have warned members of the anti-government "boogaloo" movement or white supremacist groups could infiltrate protests.
Federal prosecutors filed charges this week against three alleged boogaloo members accused of plotting to cause violence and destruction at Las Vegas protest.
What is Antifa?
Antifa, short for "anti-fascist," is an amorphous movement whose adherents oppose people or groups they consider authoritarian or racist, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which monitors extremists. Antifa aims to "intimidate and dissuade racists," but its aggressive tactics including physical confrontations can create "a vicious, self-defeating cycle of attacks, counter-attacks and blame," the ADL said.
The FBI has been increasingly concerned about violence perpetrated by Antifa at public events, according to a 2018 report by the Congressional Research Service, a public policy research arm of the U.S. Congress.
Why is Antifa so well known?
Antifa grew in notoriety following a 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, organized by white supremacists and white nationalists who clashed violently with counter-protesters. Trump drew criticism afterward when he said there were "very fine people on both sides" and blamed "many sides" for the violence. Trump specifically mentioned Antifa.
"You know, they show up in the helmets and the black masks, and they've got clubs and they've got everything," Trump said of Antifa days after the rally.
Mark Bray, author of "Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook," said Trump was focusing on Antifa to redirect the conversation away from social and economic discontent in the United States at the heart of the protests.
"There just aren't enough members of Antifa groups out there to do everything they're being blamed for," said Bray, a lecturer in history at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
What is the boogaloo movement?
The anti-government boogaloo movement embodies a militant ideology whose members believe the United States will enter into a second civil war, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. Boogaloo followers anticipate the government will attempt to confiscate people's guns.
The boogaloo ideology itself is not white supremacist, but some white supremacist groups have embraced it, the ADL found.
"Whereas the militia movement [and] radical gun rights activists typically promote the boogaloo as a war against the government or liberals, white supremacists conceive of the boogaloo as a race war or a white revolution," the ADL wrote in a November analysis.
Boogaloo groups have grown in popularity online in the past year. The Tech Transparency Project, a Washington-based tech watchdog group, found tens of thousands of people joined boogaloo-related Facebook groups over a 30-day period in March and April as stay-at-home orders took effect across the United States to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Project researchers found discussions about tactical strategies, weapons, and creating explosives in some boogaloo Facebook groups.
What about white supremacists and white nationalists?
A small number of white supremacists and white nationalists have been spotted at recent protests, according to watchdog groups and media reports. The Nationalist Social Club, a neo-Nazi group, appeared to have had some presence at protests in Boston and Knoxville, Tennessee, the ADL said. Members of the far-right Proud Boys were seen at North Carolina and Oregon protests last weekend, according to media reports.
Nate Snyder, a former U.S. Department of Homeland Security counter-terrorism official, said it is likely anarchists were among the protesters in recent days, but doubted they would pose a credible violent threat.
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