President Donald Trump increased the scrutiny on Portland's leftist demonstrators over the weekend, saying he might designate antifascists as domestic terrorists.
On July 27, Trump described Antifa on Twitter as "gutless Radical Left Wack Jobs" and compared them to international criminal gang MS-13. He indicated that he would consider a Senate resolution introduced by U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) introduced to the Senate several weeks ago, which calls for the designation of antifa as a domestic terrorist organization.
The idea of labeling leftist protesters as domestic terrorists has been floating around law-enforcement circles for nearly as long as those groups have been protesting Trump's election. Portland's antifascists have been the subject of particular ire from conservatives, because they engage in violent brawls with right-wing protesters who visit town to fight them.
But this resolution was triggered by a specific event in Portland: an assault on conservative journalist Andy Ngo by masked attackers while he filmed a march in June. (Trump's public support for the resolution came the day after Fox News dedicated a segment to Antifa violence.)
The resolution by Cruz and Cassidy mentions Antifa action in Portland in particular, highlighting the attack on Ngo and the blockade of an ICE office in Southwest Portland last year.
But others say the label "domestic terrorism" is unwarranted. Antifascists haven't killed anyone—all U.S. based, extremist-related murders last year were actually overwhelmingly linked to right-wing extremism—and although antifascists have damaged property and harassed media, the impact of their violence has been limited.
Still others point out that the label "Antifa" doesn't actually refer to a single organization; instead, it references a collection of communities and individuals who support aggressive resistance against white supremacy and the far right. The designation of the group as "domestic terrorists" wouldn't alter any existing law, but it would expand law enforcement's ability to investigate Antifa demonstrators.
Hina Shamsi, director of the national security project at the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Washington Post she found that expansion alarming. "It is dangerous and overly broad to use labels that are disconnected [from] actual individual conduct… any such scheme raises significant due process, equal protection and First Amendment constitutional concerns," she said.
Rose City Antifa, Portland's antifascist organization, issued a response condemning the resolution on July 25, before the president's tweet.
"Anti-fascists are your neighbors," the statement says. "Anti-fascists are regular people: moms, teachers, carpenters, servers, healthcare workers, and veterans… Stopping fascist activity is a goal common to all people of conscience. These Senators would call us all domestic terrorists."
Rose City Antifa argues the resolution would leave anyone who publicly opposed "white supremacists and concentration camps" vulnerable to violations of their civil rights.
The statement has been signed by Rose City Antifa, Portland DSA, the Queer Liberation Front, OccupyICEPDX, Anarchist Agency, and the National Lawyers Guild, among others.
"Portland has been a target for the most violent elements of the right because of its progressive character," the statement says. "The strategy of the far-right has been to attack the left wherever we have the audacity to exist: in higher education, in Berkeley, at Pride events, at union meetings, at Planned Parenthood, and in a symbolic city of progressive values such as Portland."