Democrats in the post-Jan. 6 era are downplaying Antifa’s years of violence, saying the left-wing group’s rioting is not comparable to the right-wing militias and Proud Boys who stormed the U.S. Capitol.
In a series of House and Senate hearings over the past two weeks, Republicans repeatedly raised Antifa’s violent history. They say Democrats have remained silent, even in denial, as Antifa set fires, tossed Molotov cocktails at police, killed a Trump supporter and rampaged through banks, shops, government buildings, police stations and clinics.
Ted Wheeler, the mayor of Antifa’s home base of Portland, Oregon, said after weeks of nightly riots that Antifa was trying to destroy his city.
Democrats dismiss the Antifa-Jan. 6 comparisons.
“There are no ‘both sides’ in this debate,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat, said during a hearing before a House Judiciary subcommittee she chairs. “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.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, sounded the same theme.
“I join my Republican colleagues unequivocally in condemning left-wing violence, but let’s stop pretending that the threat of Antifa is equivalent to the white supremacist threat,” Mr. Durbin said at a hearing to examine the Jan. 6 invasion. “Vandalizing a federal courthouse in Portland is a crime. It should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But it is not equivalent to a violent attempt to overturn the results of elections, nor is it equivalent to mass shootings targeting minority communities. This false equivalency is an insult to the brave police officers who were injured or lost their lives on January 6th, as well dozens of others who’ve been murdered in white supremacist attacks.”
Journalist Andy Ngo was nearly beaten to death by Antifa protesters. Mr. Ngo, who has chronicled Antifa’s rise in Portland and other cities, testified at Ms. Jackson’s hearing that the black-clad anarchist army has done far more damage than the summertime attempt to burn down the city’s federal courthouse.
He said Antifa has launched dozens of Jan. 6 equivalents.
“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.”
Antifa’s anti-fascist branding has attracted a liberal following.
CNN anchor Chris Cuomo tweeted in 2017: “Let’s not forget anti-fascists disrupted a large gathering of white supremacists” he said. He was referring to his tweet’s photo of American troops storming the beaches of Normandy, France, in 1944 to liberate Europe from the Nazis.
In 2018, he issued a long defense of Antifa, saying right-wing white supremacist violence is worse than Antifa violence.
“If you’re a punk who comes and starts trouble in a mask and hurt people, you’re not about any virtuous cause. You’re just somebody who’s going to be held to the standard of doing something wrong,” Mr. Cuomo said. “But when someone comes to call out bigots and it gets hot, even physical, are they equally wrong as the bigot they are fighting? I argue no.”
The news site Mediaite.com wrote this headline: “Chris Cuomo: Antifa’s Attacks on Police, Journalists Are ‘Not Equal’ To Attacks Carried Out By Bigots.”
In 2020, riots broke out across the country to protest the May 25 death of unarmed George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers who forcibly subdued him.
Antifa began again to win plaudits from some liberals.
On the anniversary of the June 6, 1944, Normandy landing, NPR reporter Mara Liasson tweeted “Biggest antifa rally in history.” Her words appeared with a time-lapse map of Allied troop movements over 87 days to reach Berlin.
Commentator Stephen L. Miller tweeted a response with a photo of Antifa’s defacing the World War II Memorial in Washington: “Mara, if Antifa and DDay Troops are the same, then why did they deface their own memorial in DC this week?”
A month later, amid intense Antifa rioting in Portland, including attacks on police, YouTube show host Austen Fletcher did a street interview with Rep. Jerry Nadler, New York Democrat.
From his Uber ride, Mr. Fletcher spotted Mr. Nadler on the streets of Washington. He asked the congressman if he was concerned about Antifa’s violence in Portland.
Mr. Nadler responded, “That’s a myth that’s being spread only in Washington D.C.”
Antifa is loosely organized, has no discernible national or state leaders and organizes riots via social media. A common chant is, “No more USA, at all.”
In September, after Antifa had rioted continually, FBI Director Christopher Wray downplayed the group.
“It’s not a group or an organization,” Mr. Wray told a House committee. “It’s a movement or an ideology.”
Ms. Jackson repeated that characterization at her February hearing.
“So in fact, as the FBI says this is an ideology,” she said. “These are ideologues and you can evidence that in the actions that they promote across the nation. They show up and they do create havoc. And as one of our members indicated, though we all abhor violence we recognize civil protests but in the midst of civil liberties and civil rights.”
Said Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat: “I didn’t approve of some of the Antifa actions of coming to Washington and breaking windows that do some of the things they did after Trump was inaugurated. And I said that … but that’s not the issue. It doesn’t compare.”
Mr. Ngo, author of the new book “Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy,” said Antifa’s destructive paths travel beyond showing up in Washington to rough up Trump supporters.
“With my own eyes, I witnessed black-clad, masked militants setting fires to buildings occupied by people,” he testified. “The Antifa came armed with homemade IEDs, guns, and knives. They blinded their targets with powerful lasers before throwing projectiles like rocks, glass, and frozen water bottles.”
As for being “anti-fascists,” Mr. Ngo said, the marauders take that description to “shield themselves from criticism, and to fool well-meaning people into becoming allies.”
In August 2019, Mr. Ngo wrote an op-ed for the New York Post examining the pro-Antifa leanings of Connor Betts, who shot and killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio.
“Betts had long expressed support for Antifa accounts, causes and individuals,” Mr. Ngo wrote. “His case also makes clear that Antifa’s violence goes far beyond the street hooliganism it has become infamous for. The group espouses the belief that liberal democracy is irredeemably oppressive — fascistic, even — and must be thoroughly destroyed.”
On Aug. 29, an Antifa supporter, Michael Reinoehl, shot and killed Aaron Danielson, a counter-demonstrating Trump supporter in Portland. Reinoehl told Vice News he was providing security for Black Live Matter protesters.
Armed with a murder warrant, a federal task hunted Reinoehl down in Washington state and killed him in a hail of gun fire. He had a loaded handgun in his pocket.
After the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot, the FBI arrested Daniel Alan Baker, an Antifa supporter who played a part in anti-police demonstrations across the country.
Mr. Baker was attempting to recruit others for a violent attack on protesters at the state capitol in Tallahassee. His social media posts rail against the police, white supremacists and fascists.
Mr. Baker, a former Army infantryman, posed in photos with Antifa flags and assault weapons.