Republicans are banking on public congressional hearings to spotlight the violence carried out by left-wing Antifa radicals in the face of what they see as denial by national media, Democrats and the Biden administration.
They are using the tactic as Antifa ramps up violence in Portland, Oregon, and other cities including, Minneapolis and Washington, in the aftermath of police killings of Black suspects. Antifa extremists, in the name of countering fascism, set more fires Saturday in downtown Portland, an area already pockmarked by boarded-up businesses.
Republicans have used three recent House and Senate hearings to counter Democrats’ hands-off approach to Antifa.
At one, they summoned on-the-ground social media journalist Andy Ngo, who testified that Antifa-infiltrated cities regularly suffered what is tantamount to Trump supporters’ Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
At another hearing, Republicans grilled FBI Director Christopher A. Wray on what they see as the bureau’s indifference to Antifa’s marauding. Mr. Wray generally calls Antifa an “ideology” and not a national organization. A congressman said a committee has compiled a “binder” full of evidence of Antifa’s national coordination.
President Biden, during his campaign, called Antifa an “idea.” He blamed months of summer riots — in protest of the police-custody death of George Floyd — on “White supremacists.” The riots were carried out by a mix of Black Lives Matter supporters, Antifa and people exploiting the urban chaos.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrod Nadler, New York Democrat, said Antifa violence is a “myth.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki had no criticism of Antifa violence in the Pacific Northwest after Mr. Biden’s inauguration. She said the national security team was monitoring the situation.
Days later, she said, “President Biden condemns violence and any violence in the strongest possible terms.”
Prominent journalists at CNN and NPR have likened Antifa extremists to the American troops who stormed the beaches at Normandy to fight the Nazis.
The FBI’s Mr. Wray appeared alongside other Biden intelligence officials last week before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Two Republicans, Reps. Michael Turner of Ohio and Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, focused on the FBI vis-a-vis Antifa.
“They have obviously been deployed throughout the United States,” Mr. Turner said. “We’ve seen them burning federal buildings, self-professed members claiming members of Antifa. … Director, people have seen with their own eyes the reports across the country, and your testimony does not comport to what the American public are actually seeing, and it weakens their confidence.”
Mr. Mullin said there is ample evidence that Antifa organizes and deploys people nationally.
“Because we’ve reviewed many large binders full of information about people being arrested in Portland and by viewing their social media sites, by viewing what they’ve been saying,” the congressman said. “Antifa is clearly coordinating their finances, clearly coordinating their hotels, coordinating their travel throughout the whole thing.”
Mr. Wray told the committee that the FBI is trying to obtain a fuller picture of Antifa finances as well as other anarchist players.
“We are using our joint terrorism task forces to investigate things like tactics, funding logistics, targeting,” he said.
As a backdrop, Republicans believe the Biden national security team is focusing on right-wing groups such as militias and the Proud Boys, who participated in the Capitol riot, as a way to taint Republican voters.
Mr. Turner told Mr. Wray: “You’re confirming that there is no organization or entity named Antifa that perpetuates violence against United States government by attacking United States government federal buildings or violence against the people of the United States government.”
Mr. Wray answered: “There are certainly local and regional nodes, individuals who self-identify with Antifa who commit violent attacks, citing that as their motivation. And we have a number of predicated investigations into such individuals. Antifa is a real thing. It is not fiction. It’s a concern.”
“Does Antifa have any coordinated or organized training for self-professed members of Antifa?” Mr. Turner asked.
“We have seen individual instances in small regional nodes of people coming together to train in some cases,” the FBI director said. “I guess the distinction I’m trying to draw, and maybe that’s why we’re sort of talking past each other is that there’s not some big national structure that is responsible for the violence.”
He added, “I think the financing issue is something we continue to investigate, but there’s nothing that I can share at this time with the committee on that.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat and chair of a House Judiciary subcommittee, held a hearing on extremism in late February.
The Republicans’ chosen witness was Antifa chronicler Mr. Ngo, who was beaten so badly by radicals at one riot that he had to be hospitalized.
“For more than 120 recurring days, Antifa carried out nightly riots targeting federal, county and private property,” Mr. Ngo testified.
“They developed a riot apparatus that included streams of funding for accommodation, travel, riot gear and weapons,” he said. “This resulted in a murder, hundreds of arson attacks, mass injuries and mass property destruction. To put that into context for those here today, similar actions that occurred at the Capitol Hill riot on the 6th of January 2021 were repeated every night months on end in the Pacific Northwest. In Seattle, Antifa and far-left extremists seized six blocks of city territory that they said was autonomous. It resulted in six shootings and two murders over a period of three weeks.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said in January that Antifa is trying to destroy his city.
“There are no ‘both sides’ in this debate,” Ms. Lee said during the hearing. “We must not be misled by efforts to divert the attention and accountability for these acts of right-wing violence and terror. Any attempt to do so, for instance, says that the real problem is something called Antifa is irresponsible and belittles the seriousness of the threat of extreme right-wing violence and misidentifies who the perpetrators predominantly are in this community.”
In early March, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, condemned Antifa during a hearing on domestic extremism.
“It’s been a relatively frequent sight at the summer’s violent events to see individuals acting in coordination, holding the ‘A’ symbol of Antifa,” Mr. Grassley said. “An admitted Antifa adherent in Portland murdered a conservative protester. Antifa supporters have been charged federally for promoting riots and using Molotov cocktails. Even after President Biden’s electoral victory, Antifa rioters attacked the Oregon Democratic Party headquarters on Inauguration Day.”