President Trump is launching into a familiar pattern of distraction, scapegoating and fear-mongering. This time, the president’s accusations are rooted in political desperation. But one result is that he is diverting attention from the surge in right-wing violence that followed the killing of George Floyd.
This is by no means a recent phenomenon; Trump’s election unleashed a wave of reported far-right political violence in the United States. In 2018, for example, every domestic extremist killing was rooted in right-wing ideology. A similar trend emerged last year. Hate, after all, does not begin in a vacuum.
In this case, Trump and some right-leaning media commentators have focused the attention of millions of Americans on Seattle’s police-free “organized protest” zone, portraying it as an orgy of left-wing violence, looting and chaos, a cauldron of liberal anarchy. It is an image that bears little resemblance to reality on the ground, and only spurs more senseless hatred of left-leaning Americans.
President Trump undoubtedly tapped into this when he blamed left-wing anti-fascist (“antifa”) groups for the shocking looting and rioting that followed Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. By falsely blaming antifa for the violence, Trump sought to distract from right-wing involvement in riots while simultaneously scapegoating the left – Joe BidenJoe BidenJoe Biden wins New York primary The Memo: Trump’s law and order bet falling flat Pro-Trump group ad questions Biden’s mental fitness MORE & Co. – in the midst of his increasingly challenging re-election bid.
Thankfully, federal law enforcement agencies roundly debunked the president’s divisive attempts to leverage political advantage during a national crisis. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made no mention of antifa in the context of the riots, finding instead that unorganized, non-ideologically motivated opportunists were responsible for the vast majority of the violence. Similarly, the FBI found “no intelligence” indicating that antifa was involved in particularly violent protests in Washington, D.C. A joint DHS-FBI-National Counterterrorism Center document further undercut Trump’s claims of antifa involvement in the violence. Investigative media reporting confirmed the government’s assessments: Antifa had virtually no control or influence over the violence that swept the United States in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.
But the damage was done. Trump’s misrepresentations have further fueled animosity and division between otherwise good-natured right- and left-leaning Americans.
To be sure, the absurdities of the political Left – including a vicious undercurrent of illiberalism – deserve much of the criticism heaped upon them by the likes of President Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and many others. Fortunately, the loudest, most obnoxious voices on the left, no matter how often they are gleefully trotted out by conservative commentators, are a wholly unrepresentative sample of American liberalism.
Perhaps most importantly, while antifa and its ideological ilk have engaged in violence, they have not killed any Americans. That bears repeating, especially since the same cannot be said of right-wing extremists.
As President Trump was busy falsely blaming left-wingers for the staggering violence sweeping America, right-wing extremists allegedly killed two California law enforcement officers, one a soon-to-be father. Days after the first killing in California, three right-wing extremists were arrested in Las Vegas on federal charges for plotting to use explosives to violently exploit mass protests for their own political ends.
Where were the searing words of condemnation from Trump about those killings? Had antifa or other left-wing extremists murdered these men in furtherance of their political ideology, Trump and his supporters would have gone ballistic. Instead, their collective silence in the face of these right-wing attacks against law enforcement is truly unconscionable.
Such right-wing violence has been repeated all too often across the country, from the Army soldier accused this week of plotting with a neo-Nazi group to attack his own unit to the anti-immigrant extremist who, less than a year ago, allegedly targeted Hispanics in an El Paso, Texas, shooting spree, killing 23 people. The El Paso attack followed a string of right-wing plots and bloody attacks against Jews, African-Americans, Trump critics, abortion clinics, Democrats and journalists, resulting in dozens of deaths.
Unfortunately, the surge of right-wing extremism catalyzed by Trump’s rise is unlikely to abate anytime soon — because, in times of crisis like these, the president’s political instincts invariably seem to lead him down the most divisive, destructive path imaginable, whipping some of his supporters into an unnecessary, hate-fueled rage against their left-leaning countrymen.
Marik von Rennenkampff worked as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation and as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.