Former president Donald Trump was so convinced that the radical left and antifa posed a domestic threat to the country, he drew law enforcement resources away from focusing on violent groups on the far-right.
“The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization,” Trump tweeted in May of 2020. Right around that same time, according to reporting from the New York Times’ Adam Goldman, Katie Benner and Zolan Kanno-Youngs, the Justice Department began reassigning federal prosecutors and FBI agents from investigating white supremacists to investigating anarchists and antifa, an anti-fascist protest movement.
According to agents and federal prosecutors who spoke to the Times, they felt “pressure” from the administration to find a radical left criminal conspiracy, despite the FBI’s increasing concern about the threat posed by the far-right. Meanwhile, the Trump administration denied agencies extra funding to pay analysts to search social media for potential threats from the far-right. But those threats became immediately apparent when the Capitol was attacked by Trump supporters, militias, and conspiracy believers on January 6.
Then-Attorney General William Barr aided the president in focusing the Justice Department on the radical left and antifa. When he took office in 2019, the paper reported, Barr opened a weekly national security briefing with a question to the FBI, according to two people briefed on the meetings: What action was the agency taking against antifa? And throughout his tenure, Barr continued to pressure investigators to investigate the movement.
Barr has, of course, denied the allegations, saying in a statement that “there was no ‘prioritization’ ” of investigations into threats from the left. “The FBI already had a robust program to combat violence driven by white supremacy and nationalism,” Barr told the Times. “I wanted there to be a comparable one for antifa and antifa-like groups.”
Over the summer, as anti-racist protests spread across the country, the administration continued to pull people and resources away from far-right groups, focusing instead on the radical left. And as winter approached, far-right groups started to plan their response to Trump’s electoral loss.
In the days immediately before the devastating attack on the Capitol that left five people dead, Homeland Security issued an assessment saying that white supremacists could carry out “mass casualty” attacks, but the Capitol was not mentioned as a target. And before January 6, Homeland Security only told the Secret Service to expect an “elevated threat environment.”