Evidence of White House antifa boogeyman remains elusive

While Team Trump tries to convince the public that the antifa boogeyman is definitely out there, creating societal threats, there's little actual evidence.
Image: Violent Clashes Erupt at "Unite The Right" Rally In Charlottesville
White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" clash with counter-protesters as they enter Emancipation Park during the "Unite the Right" rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. After clashes with anti-fascist protesters and police the rally was declared an unlawful gathering and people were forced out of Emancipation Park, where a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is slated to be removed. fileChip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

On May 30, with social-justice protests unfolding in communities nationwide, Donald Trump turned to Twitter to assign blame for social unrest. "It's ANTIFA and the Radical Left," the president wrote. "Don't lay the blame on others!"

The next day, Trump and his team announced plans to designate antifa "a terrorist organization," which was problematic for all sorts of reasons. For one thing, U.S. law appears to limit such designations to foreign entities. For another, there really isn't such a thing as an antifa "organization," per se. It's a label that loosely applies to "anti-fascist" activists who associate with a decentralized and unstructured group, to the extent that it should be seen as a group at all.

And yet, the president has convinced himself that he's properly identified a societal scourge, tweeting antifa theories almost every day of late, and even falsely applying the label to an elderly man who was hospitalized after a confrontation with police in Buffalo.

But while Trump, the White House, and Attorney General Bill Barr try to convince the public that the antifa boogeyman is definitely out there, creating threats to society, there's little actual evidence to bolster the claims. NPR examined recent court records in civil-unrest cases brought by the Justice Department and found "no sign of so-called antifa links so far."

NPR has reviewed court documents of 51 individuals facing federal charges in connection with the unrest. As of Tuesday morning, none is alleged to have links to the antifa movement.... The single instance in which an extremist group is mentioned in court documents is a case against three Nevada men. Federal prosecutors allege the trio belong to the right-wing Boogaloo movement that wants to bring about a civil war. The men have been charged with plotting violence during Las Vegas protests.

In other words, when reviewing recent federal criminal cases, there's evidence of right-wing activists, not antifa activists.

Similarly, the Associated Press analyzed "court records, employment histories, social media posts and other sources of information for 217 people arrested" in Minneapolis and the District of Columbia. The AP found scant evidence of antifa, though the analysis pointed to some of the accused "being on the political right, including some Trump supporters."

To take the White House's antifa rhetoric seriously is to take a leap that's unsupported by the available evidence.