Testifying before Congress, FBI Director Christopher Wray faced questions from lawmakers on the FBI’s flawed understanding of Antifa.
“Antifa is a real thing. It is a not a fiction,” Wray said, “but it is not an organization or a structure, we understand it to be more of a kind of a movement, or maybe you could call it an ideology.”
Rep. Daniel Crenshaw was not impressed, and immediately challenged the FBI Director’s assertions,
“That seems to me to be down-playing it… This is an ideology that organizes locally, it coordinates regionally and nationally, it wears a standardized uniform, it collects funds to buy high-powered lasers to blind federal officers, build homemade explosive devices, feed their rioters since they clearly aren’t working and then bail out those who have been arrested… This is an ideology that has trained its members, makes shield wall phalanxes to attack federal officers. It formed an autonomous zone in an American city and besieged a federal courthouse in another, so it just seems to be more than an ideology.”
Crenshaw, a former U.S. Navy Seal, obviously knows that just because you operate as a member of a small and highly independent group doesn’t mean you aren’t part of a larger organization or structure.
As I wrote in my testimony to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Antifa is very organized, although its structure is non-traditional but rather “a diffuse bottom-up organization and horizontal network of networks.” Yet such structures are not uncommon in other criminal conspiracies or within overseas insurgencies, and the FBI must be able to understand and address such groups effectively. This is impossible if FBI leadership insists on seeing each member of Antifa as an atomized individual with no connection to his criminal compatriots except nebulous ideology.
The FBI views Antifa through the lends of what they call “Anarchist extremism.” As I noted in my Senate testimony:
The director’s recognition of Antifa opens the way to further discussion and action, but also reflects a misunderstanding of Antifa operating as “individuals” rather than as a horizontally organized network with a developed internal structure and shared ideology.
The FBI’s 2010 “domestic terrorism primer” on anarchist extremism notes that “much of the criminal activities of anarchist extremists fall under local jurisdiction, so they’re investigated by local police.” This inaccurate, uninformed view appears to have been institutionalized within the FBI. It does not seem to address –and indeed avoids –the Bureau’s legal responsibility to investigate interstate subversive threats to the Constitution and to enforce the internal security provisions of U.S. federal law, which are directly applicable to Antifa. This myopic, artificial view has allowed Antifa violence to run rampant in cities and states where local and state political conditions have discouraged the enforcement of the state law against Antifa offenders.
While Wray said he didn’t mean to undermine the seriousness of Antifa by his description, the FBI’s refusal to view Antifa as an organization, or a networked group of aligned smaller organizations, will effectively paralyzes any attempt at major federal law enforcement action to dismantle the threat, such as RICO, material support for terrorism, or seditious conspiracy charges, as Attorney General William Barr recently proposed.
The FBI must do better.