The summer of 2020 resembled a political revolution. Militants associated with Black Lives Matter and Antifa led the most destructive riots in American history. Radicals burned down city blocks, perpetrated acts of violence, and briefly established an “autonomous zone” in Seattle characterized by a police-free political order and a homicide rate 50 times higher than that of Chicago.
For those who monitor left-wing radical movements, this shouldn’t have been a complete surprise. Federal law enforcement had long acknowledged the threat of left-wing, anarchist, and racialist violence. In 2016, the FBI published a report raising the alarm about the threat of anarchist groups that deployed arson and violence for political ends. The following year, it published an intelligence assessment warning about the rise of “black identity extremism,” which was linked to ambushes and violent attacks against police officers.
In the wake of the George Floyd protests, however, FBI director Christopher Wray changed his tune. In testimony to Congress, Wray distanced himself from the report on black-identity extremism and repeated the canard that Antifa was “not a group” but “an ideology,” an evasion that invites the obvious rejoinder: ideas don’t torch buildings—people do. Activists exerted tremendous social and political pressure on mainstream institutions to fall in line with BLM.
Three years later, accountability hasn’t been forthcoming. In Portland, federal prosecutors quietly dismissed nearly half the cases against George Floyd rioters. In Seattle, ringleaders of the ill-fated “autonomous zone” were never charged with crimes, and the paramilitaries who served as the zone’s armed security and murdered a minor were never identified. Many of the downtown neighborhoods most affected by the riots have still not recovered.
A vacuum has ensued. Violent militants in cities such as Portland have become increasingly brazen in their public statements, confident that law enforcement won’t stop them. During a civil trial against Antifa-affiliated militants who allegedly participated in an attack on journalist Andy Ngo, the defense attorney declared to jurors, “I am Antifa,” and vowed to “remember their faces.” The jury decided in favor of the “anti-fascists,” with jurors telling the judge that they feared having their identities exposed.
Federal law enforcement should intervene. The public has an interest in ensuring that this situation cannot continue. These violent, left-wing radical networks can be disrupted through proactive investigations and, as necessary, prosecutions. Violence in the name of social justice remains violence. Americans must become confident again that their government will enforce the law, without fear or favor.
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