President Trump said Sunday that the U.S. will designate the anti-fascist street movement known as Antifa as a terrorist organization, placing the focus squarely on far-left agitators as the nation’s major cities braced for another night of protest violence.
Attorney General William Barr backed up the president’s declaration. He said the “violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly.”
“It is time to stop watching the violence and to confront and stop it,” Mr. Barr said. “The continued violence and destruction of property endangers the lives and livelihoods of others and interferes with the rights of peaceful protesters as well as other citizens.”
The protests that broke out in Minneapolis after the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, who died in police custody after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, began peacefully but soon spun out of control as tens of thousands of mostly young rioters descended on major U.S. downtowns.
Democrats have avoided pinning the blame on Antifa by name, although New York Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged Sunday that a well-organized “anarchist movement” with an “explicit agenda of violence” was behind the mayhem.
“I would call them not just protesters, but people who came to do violence in a systematic, organized fashion,” Mr. de Blasio said at a press conference. “That is a different reality we need to grapple with. We did not see that in 2014 and 2015. We are seeing something new, and not just here in New York City but all over the country, and we have to recognize it and we have to address it.”
About 5,000 National Guard troops in 15 states and the District of Columbia were called up before Sunday night protests in an effort to control the assaults, fires, looting and vandalism that have beset cities including Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta.
On Sunday evening, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced that he would be taking over the prosecution of officers involved in the Floyd case.
“I just want the public to know we are pursuing justice and truth and accountability,” the former Democratic congressman said at a press conference.
Within hours of his having done so, his son Jeremiah Ellison, a Minneapolis City Council member, announced his support for Antifa. “I hereby declare, officially, my support for ANTIFA,” he tweeted.
A January 2018 photo of Mr. Ellison holding up a copy of the book “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook” by Mark Bray has drawn attention since the rioting began, but the attorney general told reporters Sunday that it meant “nothing.”
“It means nothing. Look, I was at a bookstore, and I saw a book,” said Mr. Ellison. “It means nothing. It’s just a complete diversion. It’s nothing.”
In his 2018 tweet, Mr. Ellison said, “I just found the book that [strikes] fear in the heart of @realdonaldtrump.”
At least two people have been killed in the mayhem: an unidentified 21-year-old man in Detroit, who was gunned down in his car, and Federal Protective Services Officer Dave Patrick Underwood, 53, who was shot Friday night as he guarded the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building in Oakland, California.
Officer Underwood, who was black, was identified by his sister, Angela Underwood Jacobs, a banking executive and the first black woman to serve on the Lancaster City Council. She briefly sought the Republican nomination for the U.S. House seat vacated last year by Katie Hill, a Democrat.
“My brother, Dave Patrick Underwood, a federal officer, was murdered 5/29/20 in Oakland California, while on duty during the riots,” Ms. Jacobs said in a Facebook post. “This Violence Must Stop.”
The biggest share of the property destruction has been in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Hundreds of businesses there have been looted and vandalized, resulting in untold millions of dollars in property damage. Target temporarily shut down more than 30 stores in Minnesota and more than 100 nationwide.
On Sunday, however, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, and other officials said the state had turned a corner by revamping its law enforcement tactics and increasing its deployment of the National Guard from 700 to 4,000 troops.
We “all came together to take a different approach to how we were going to keep the peace,” said Minnesota Department of Public Safety commissioner John Harrington. “We created a different organizational model at the multiagency coordination center, and we briefed that model, and we sent out fast-moving teams throughout the Twin Cities area to targets that we knew were of high value and high probability of attack.”
Asked why the state waited until the weekend for the heightened show of force, Mr. Walz cited the arrest of Mr. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was suspected of using a fake $20 bill at a grocery store.
“There’s logistics of adding the type of force we had out there,” Mr. Walz said. “There’s also the dynamics of a community that is raw, and from law enforcement. Keeping in mind what the spark was that lit this was law enforcement killing an innocent man on the street.”
The former officer, 44-year-old Derek Chauvin, was arrested and charged Friday with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The three other officers at the scene were also fired and may face charges.
“I will not make excuses,” said Mr. Walz. “In retrospect, I think you could go back — if we had assembled this force last Friday, we’d have been better off, but that wasn’t going to be, that wasn’t the case.”
The governor and other Minnesota Democrats have yet to point the finger at Antifa. They said Saturday that white supremacists, drug cartels and even organized crime may be behind the raucous protest violence.
Mr. Eliison said Sunday morning that Mr. Barr should be investigating instead of “making incendiary comments.”
“The truth is, nobody really knows,” Mr. Ellison told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “What the exact political motivation is is unclear at this point.”
He had retweeted a post by former Democratic state Rep. Erin Maye Quade: “This is not the first time white supremacists have been violent against peaceful demonstrators and Black neighborhoods before.”
As evening fell across the nation Sunday, an increasing number of reports of violence began to trickle in, though most demonstrations remained peaceful and/or constrained by curfews.
A crowd of demonstrators in San Diego and Washington D.C. pelted police with rocks and bottles, prompting them to fire tear gas back; a shopping center in North Philadelphia was looted in front of a CNN reporter; and thousands of marchers in New York taunted police reportedly keeping them away from a burning car.
At the Minneapolis intersection where Mr. Floyd was killed, people gathered with brooms and flowers early in the day, saying it was important to protect a “sacred space.” The intersection was blocked with the traffic cones while a ring of flowers was laid out.
Among those present were Michael Brown Sr., the father of Michael Brown, whose killing by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, set off the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014.
“I understand what this family is feeling. I understand what this community is feeling,” he said.
Later in the afternoon, an unidentified man drove a semitrailer, apparently deliberately, onto a downtown Minneapolis freeway where a crowd was marching. Minnesota officials said no protesters were apparently hit but the driver was injured and briefly hospitalized before being taken into police custody.
In the nation’s capital, where a major demonstration was held outside the White House on Saturday night, crews worked Sunday to cover windows that had been shattered on nearby buildings.
Buildings for blocks were marked with graffiti, including curses about President Trump. Shattered glass still covered the sidewalks. The damaged buildings included the Department of Veterans Affairs directly across the street from the White House.
Mr. Trump’s presumed Democratic opponent in November, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, visited the site of the Wilmington, Delaware, protests on Saturday night and told his social media followers that the demonstrations presented a reason to vote for him.
“We are a nation in pain, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us. We are a nation enraged, but we cannot allow our rage to consume us. We are a nation exhausted, but we will not allow our exhaustion to defeat us,” he wrote Sunday on an Instagram post accompanied by a photo of him talking to a man and a child on the other side of a police tape line.
“The only way to bear this pain is to turn all that anguish to purpose,” he said. “And as President, I will help lead this conversation — and more importantly, I will listen, just as I did today visiting the site of last night’s protests in Wilmington.”
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union immediately questioned Mr. Trump’s intentions about the Antifa designation. It warned that the terrorism designation is reserved for foreign entities and the label may be stretched for nefarious purposes.
“As this tweet demonstrates, terrorism is an inherently political label, easily abused and misused. There is no legal authority for designating a domestic group. Any such designation would raise significant due process and First Amendment concerns,” said Hina Shamsi, national security project director of the ACLU.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter made another plea Sunday for protesters to engage in a constructive rather than destructive response to Mr. Floyd’s death.
“We can either channel this energy towards destroying our own communities, towards burning and looting our barber shops, our restaurants, our family owned businesses, the lives and livelihoods that have gone into all of those institutions,” said Mr. Carter, “or we can take this energy and channel it toward building a better future.”
⦁ Jeff Mordock contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.