Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
On Saturday, right-wing activists gathered in Portland, Oregon, for a rally (unironically) titled, “End Domestic Terrorism.” Among the groups reportedly at the event was the “Proud Boys,” an organization formally designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for spewing white nationalist memes as well as for being horribly anti-Muslim and misogynistic.
Some members of this group have been arrested in the past for acts of violence. To add to that, the FBI, according to a July 2018 internal memo from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office in Washington, described the Proud Boys as “an extremist group with ties to white nationalism,” that has “contributed to the recent escalation of violence at political rallies held on college campuses, and in cities like Charlottesville, Virginia, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington.”
Given the Proud Boys’ history, you would expect the President of the United States to send a clear message before this rally that he not only denounced the hate group, but that he was dedicating all federal resources needed to help local authorities ensure these extremists don’t injure or kill innocent people.
Instead, the morning of the event Trump took to Twitter to only condemn Antifa, short for anti-fascists, who had come to counter-protest the extremist groups involved in the rally, tweeting, “Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an ‘ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.’”
To be clear, Antifa, not one but a collection of anti-fascist groups with no centralized leader, has engaged in deplorable violence where people have gotten hurt. For example, members of Antifa were reportedly involved in a violent protest ahead of provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos’s planned appearance at the University of California, Berkeley in February 2017. In June, a conservative reporter was punched and had milkshakes thrown at him reportedly by members of Antifa in Portland during a rally held by the Proud Boys.
Yet, Trump singled out Antifa as the group to be deemed a terrorist organization. This is not a surprise given Antifa has protested Trump in the past while the Proud Boys have been outspoken Trump backers, with Southern Poverty Law Center stating that the red MAGA hat “is nearly as prominent at one of Proud Boys gatherings” as the polo shirts the members wear as uniform. One of the Proud Boys first public outings, as the SPLC noted, was a 2017 pro-Trump art exhibit.
More recently it appears the support for Trump among the Proud Boys has become more visible. In June, members of the group had to be blocked by the police as they repeatedly tried to physically confront anti-Trump demonstrators at Trump’s re-election kick off in Orlando. The Proud Boys has since vowed to send more members to attend future Trump rallies during the 2020 election campaign cycle. And the group’s chairman, Enrique Tarrio, somehow even scored himself a prime seat right behind Trump at a February event in Miami. (Tarrio claims he secured the seat simply by showing up early, while the White House didn’t respond to an inquiry at the time about his seat location, the Washington Post reported.)
Trump’s failure to clearly denounce the Proud Boys and instead only go after collection of groups that make up Antifa is even more outrageous given the surge in right-wing violence we have seen in the last two years. As the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has documented, a total of 50 killings took place on US soil in 2018 by extremists and 49 of those murders were tied to right-wing ideologies, with 78% linked to white supremacy
One of the most horrific instances was the attack in October 2018 on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were murdered in their place of worship. The suspected shooter blamed Jews for helping immigrant “invaders” come to America.
Since then, there have been several other deadly attacks by apparent right-wing extremists, most notably in El Paso by a suspected gunman who is believed to have posted anti-immigrant writings online shortly before killing innocent people. In addition, the deadly April attack on a synagogue in Poway, California was also carried out by a gunman who had allegedly espoused white supremacist views.
Get our free weekly newsletter
Despite that uptick in right-wing violence, this is the second time in the past month that Trump has taken to Twitter to raise the idea of labeling Antifa a terrorist group. In a July 27 tweet, Trump stated he was considering naming Antifa a “major organization of Terror” since in his words it, “Would make it easier for police to do their job!” That tweet was just one week before the El Paso attack. (Days after the mass shooting, Trump did finally state that he asked the FBI “to identify all further resources they need to investigate and disrupt hate crimes and domestic terrorism.”)
While groups that are a part of Antifa have incited inexcusable violence, you might ask, how many people has the group killed? The answer is zero. In fact, no Americans were killed by people motivated by left-wing ideologies in 2018 per the ADL. And in the past 20 years in America, a total of 15 people were killed by left-wing extremists, while in contrast, in 2018 alone three times as many people were killed by right-wing extremists.
Nonetheless, by all indications, Trump never seems to slam violent right-wing and white supremacist groups the way he goes after Antifa – or for that matter, the way he has gone after four black and brown Democratic congresswomen known as “The squad.” Those attacks play well with his base. Going after far right-wing groups who publicly support him does not.