By Sandra Harris
In the weeks following massive uprisings across the US, federal, state, and local agencies have been quick to surveil, track, imprison, and prosecute thousands who rose up around the country in support of George Floyd and other Black people murdered by the police.
Similar repression took place in the months and years following the rebellions in Ferguson and Baltimore, as is generally the case after any popular uprising of the people. Under the Trump administration in this particular moment of imperialist crisis, the state has acted quickly in an attempt to repress the defiant demonstrators. It is estimated that over 11,000 protesters across the country have already been arrested, many facing trumped-up charges that do not correspond with the crimes they supposedly committed.
During the first weekend of uprisings, Donald Trump was quick to state that he would be designating ‘antifa’ as a terrorist organization. Attorney General William Barr has released several statements following Trump’s lead, claiming there is “a witches’ brew” of “extremist groups” who he claims “hijacked the peaceful protests,” ignoring the fact that the rebellion in Minneapolis that motivated thousands upon thousands to take to the streets had never been peaceful. Barr recently said that the Department of Justice has launched “approximately 300 to 500 investigations” nationwide, including into some people he claimed were associated with ‘antifa.’
One of the most publicized examples are the cases of two attorneys in New York City, Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman, who were arrested for allegedly attempting to set fire to an empty police car. While the car had already been vandalized and no one was injured, the federal government clearly wanted to make examples of Mattis and Rahman by ramping up the charges against them and quickly labeling them as “antifa.”
In an interview earlier that night, one of the attorneys was supposedly quoted saying “…the only way they hear us is through violence, through the means that they use.” Due to this statement along with the alleged crime, the two attorneys are facing a mandatory minimum of 45 years, or a maximum of life in prison. The two were released earlier this week after initially being denied bail due to the outside pressure of organizers.
Many of Trump’s claims about protesters have been debunked outright, for instance when he claimed a 75-year-old protester in Buffalo, New York was a “covert antifa provocateur,” after his skull was fractured and he was unable to walk as a result of being shoved to the ground by police officers.
The federal government, through the Federal Bureau of Investigations Joint Terrorism Task Force, has been working with state and local governments across the country to review video footage of protesters and pursue charges.
On Monday, the LAPD and the FBI announced a new effort called “Safe LA,” offering $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of those suspected of vandalism, arson, and attacks on police.
When a Wendy’s in Atlanta was burned down after Rayshard Brooks was murdered there, multiple reports were quickly released to identify those who had started the fire. Many on social media were quick to report seeing a white woman setting fire to the Wendy’s, claiming that because she was white, she was a part of ‘antifa.’ She was later identified by the police as Natalie White, the girlfriend of Rayshard Brooks.
Law enforcement noted how they were able to arrest and detain White quickly because they “received several tips on social media about suspect Natalie White.” Opportunists who aid the state in the prosecution of combative protesters have latched on to the ‘antifa’ label, as well as the myth of ‘outside agitators,’ in an effort to justify their collaboration with police.
At a news conference in early June, the Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Steve McCraw said the protest of a Target in Austin was “done and organized by an Antifa web page…” Broadly claiming any organization opposed to racism and fascism are somehow ‘antifa’ is how the state justified the surveillance and jailing Austin’s Targeted Three, who were all criminalized upon receiving the label.
Weeks after the May 30 protests, DPS officials have have arrested another three people accused of vandalizing and causing damage to the Texas Capitol, a racist symbol of the state which is laden with monuments to the Confederacy.
Media and police have worked relentlessly to divide the ‘good’ protesters from the ‘bad,’ ignoring the fact that both ‘non-violent’ and combative protests alike have been violently repressed by the state. Any mention of ‘antifa’ has been used by police as an excuse for their reprehensible acts. Over the last weekend, the Police Chief of Aurora, Colorado claimed they were targeting “antifa” when police stormed a violin concert vigil for Elijah McClain who was murdered by police last year.
Others who have attended protests and posted about it on social media have been targeted by federal agents. One man attending the protests in Minneapolis was arrested by the FBI for posting about protests on Facebook, however the charges were dropped suddenly. Three other people in the United States were charged with violating the Anti-Riot Act based on their social media posts alone.
Even legal observers, who attend protests as neutral parties to monitor and document interactions between protesters and law enforcement, and are easily identifiable at protests, have been arrested in cities such as Las Vegas and New York City.
Nationwide, estimates of the damage caused during the protests are estimated at up to $1.4 billion. The people have rightfully attacked symbols of what police truly exist to protect, private property.
To destroy this resistance, the state has swung back against the people, doling out punishments far more severe than those against the police who have ruthlessly murdered Black people and caused irreparable physical harm to demonstrators in recent weeks. In addition, the state is pushing to isolate protesters, scaring them into submission with trumped up charges and locking them in prison to decay. It is critical that all those who support the movement for Black lives also give their relentless support to those have been targeted by state repression for their participation.