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Extremist Groups, Mass Violence And Social Breakdown: Where Do The Real Threats Lie?

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Extremist Groups, Mass Violence And Social Breakdown: Where Do The Real Threats Lie?

Map of ‘anti-government’ groups

As noted in an earlier South Front report (“Widespread protests and violence continue in the US”), much of the early press coverage of developments related to the widespread protests, violence and rioting following the murder of George Floyd as he was being detained by police was taken up by US President Donald Trump’s allegations that ‘Antifa’ and the ‘radical left’ was responsible for most of the violence, property damage and looting that occurred.

Most of the rest of the coverage was devoted to the minutiae of the violent events and instances of looting, mob violence – usually portrayed either as violence without apparent motive or reason, or provoked by Antifa members and other ‘left-wing extremists’ who took advantage of the mass protests and demonstrations to further their own aims of generating conditions of wanton chaos and destruction as a precursor to full-scale social breakdown and/ or revolution.

There are however other sources claiming that demonstrations are being infiltrated by provocateurs, identifying the main culprits as ‘right-wing extremists’, ‘white supremacists’ and/ or companies that are regular contractors with the Pentagon, and even military and police personnel in some instances.

And just a couple of weeks ago, Trump was accusing ‘the social media companies’ of other forms of subversive and anti-democratic activities as he issued an Executive Decree purporting to regulate their censorship and blocking of certain types and categories of speech, dialogue and debate. This raises the immediate question, when access to reliable information is so crucial, and social media platforms have become  a primary source of information for so many people, could their usurpation of the right to censor peoples’ communications be considered ‘anti-democratic’, maybe even subversive in some cases?

Meanwhile, the deeper structural causes and factors involved, such as the creeping militarization of the police, embedded discrimination and racism in political, economic and social structures, and underlying conditions of extreme poverty and inequality, were often either omitted from the dominant narratives, marginalized, or covered in a limited and superficial manner.

While addressing the structural causes in a comprehensive and rational framework of analysis and debate is imperative if the situation is to improve in the long term, an immediate imperative is the initiation of detailed investigations and evidence-based analysis to determine to what extent the violence, destruction  and looting in each instance has been due to spontaneous outbursts of mass anger and mob rage; calculated actions, provocation and manipulation by organized groups of whatever persuasion; and/ or brutal measures or counter-measures employed by police, private security forces or the national guard.

The accusations begin, usually without a shred of evidence

US President Donald Trump announced last Sunday (31 May) that a ‘left-wing group’ he thinks is leading the violence at anti-police brutality protests will be officially labelled as terrorists: “The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.””The violence and vandalism is being led by Antifa and other radical left-wing groups who are terrorizing the innocent, destroying jobs, hurting businesses and burning down buildings,” Trump said during remarks at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida the day before.Attorney General William Barr then remarked:”With the rioting that is occurring in many of our cities around the country, the voices of peaceful and legitimate protests have been hijacked by violent radical elements. Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda,” Barr said.Barr said that in order to “coordinate federal resources with our state and local partners,” he would use the “existing network of 56 regional FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces.””The violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly,” Barr said.The American Civil Liberties Union said Trump did not have the power to label domestic terror groups. “Terrorism is an inherently political label, easily abused and misused,” the organization commented.Trump’s national security Robert O’Brien told CNN that the administration planned to “get to the bottom” of Antifa’s role in the protests. And he said the president and Barr want to know what the FBI is doing to “to track and dismantle and surveil and prosecute Antifa.” – From USA Today

But others have blamed right-wing extremists and other groups of infiltrators and provocateurs as the main culprits, seeking to incite widespread violence and manipulate or discredit the mass demonstrations and protests. A report by Veterans Today states:

“VT has carefully examined video in Detroit, Atlanta and Minneapolis and has found members of organizations, Pentagon contracting firms, present at each protest, handing fire bombs, throwing large rocks, and leading the violence.

We have confirmation from our personnel in Minneapolis, who have their own sources in the police and local FBI.

Working with these contracting firms is a sub-group within the departments, “intelligence” and “counter-terrorism” units, who do surveillance and who were, in every department we looked at, both trained in Israel and overseen on a daily basis by “handlers” either from an Israeli consulate or from the ADL/JDL/JINSA or similar group representing Shin Bet…” LINK

It could be some time before the full details and dynamics behind the developments are known, and it is quite likely that they will be lost in the barrage of competing claims and narratives. The Attorney-General of Minnesota referred to this in remarks to the press, and the grave dangers involved in making allegations before investigations have been conducted:

“The truth is nobody really knows,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”

“What the exact political motivation is is unclear at this point. We need to investigate it,” Ellison said.

He faulted Barr and Trump for focusing on Antifa, rather than addressing the “systemic police abuses in America.”

“So I think the federal government does have a role, but it needs to be constructing a better relationship between cities and the police departments that serve them. And making incendiary comments about who’s to blame here as opposed to actually investigating it isn’t helpful.”

As a starting point, there are the most visible or high-profile ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’ extremist groups alleged to be taking advantage of the protests and disturbances to further their own agendas, utilizing and seeking to augment mass violence and social breakdown to push for social revolution or civil war against their opponents. (As yet, there are no suggestions that religious extremists are involved in a major way.)

Beyond this, there are other more powerful but less visible groups who may in turn be seeking to manipulate some or all of these groups, and/ or manipulate the actions of mass protests through infiltration, social media, false news, etc.

To what extent is there evidence proving or suggesting that one or more of these groups is involved in systematic  infiltration of demonstrations and involvement in acts calculated to set off mass violence and rioting? In many cases it is quite likely that events are the result of ‘pure’ mob rage and frustration, opportunist looting and sacking, or a reaction to police/ national guard/ private military or security contractor brutality and oppression.

It is important not to over-simplify or generalize from individual cases and events – while there may be nation-wide trends and common factors, as well as evidence of infiltration by members of specific groups in certain moments and locations, there are also a lot of other factors and local variants involved.

It is of course also possible that in some cases organizers of protests are encouraging violence and/ or looting to up the stakes, drama, tension and press coverage.

Many commentaries take evidence of a certain group’s infiltration of specific protests and extrapolate from there to argue that this is proof that the group involved is behind all such acts of infiltration and provocation throughout the US. Maybe they are right, but it should not be assumed that this is the case.

Moreover, for each instance of proven infiltration and incitement to violence, there are often many other instances where other members of the same group are demonstrating and protesting in a non-violent, responsible and disciplined manner.

At another level is how developments in the streets is portrayed and explained by politicians and the media. If it can be demonstrated that they are censoring and manipulating information to promote a certain perspective or agenda and perpetuate a state of confusion, fear and misinformation, is this less ‘anti-democratic’ and criminal than inciting violence from a street corner?

Investigations of extremist groups

Several years ago, Foreign Policy published a series of detailed reports on extremist groups active in the US:

Amid a rancorous debate over whether the Trump administration has downplayed the threat posed by white supremacist groups, the FBI’s counterterrorism division has declared that black identity extremists pose a growing threat of premeditated violence against law enforcement.

“The FBI assesses it is very likely Black Identity Extremist (BIE) perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will very likely serve as justification for such violence,” reads the report, marked for official use only and obtained by Foreign Policy.

The August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was the catalyst for widespread anger and violence, the FBI report says, concluding that continued “alleged” police abuses have fueled more violence.

“The FBI assesses it is very likely incidents of alleged police abuse against African Americans since then have continued to feed the resurgence in ideologically motivated, violent criminal activity within the BIE movement,” the report states.

Some 748 people have been shot and killed by police so far in 2017, including at least 168 African-Americans.

The report, dated Aug. 3 — just nine days before the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville turned deadly — appears to be the first known reference to “black identity extremists” as a movement. But former government officials and legal experts said no such movement exists, and some expressed concern that the term is part of a politically motivated effort to find an equivalent threat to white supremacists…

The concept of “black identity extremists” appears to be entirely new. FP found only five references to the term in a Google search; all were to law enforcement documents about domestic terrorism from the last two months. One of those online references is to law enforcement training on identifying “domestic terror groups and criminally subversive subcultures which are encountered by law enforcement professionals on a daily basis.”

Among the six acts of premeditated violence linked to black identity extremists — it excludes violence toward police carried out in the normal course of their duties — the reports cites the July 2016 shooting of 11 police officers in Dallas. The shooter, Micah Johnson, was reportedly angry at police violence.

“Based on Johnson’s journal writings and statements to police, he appeared to have been influenced by BIE ideology,” the FBI report states. The attack took place during a Black Lives Matter protest of police shootings, though the BLM movement is not mentioned by name in the report.

Yet those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement have voiced concerns about FBI surveillance.

DeRay McKesson, an activist involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, told FP that the FBI visited his house in the run-up to the Republican National Convention. “I spoke about the FBI visit to my house and the houses of other activists in our final meeting with [President Barack] Obama,” he said.

“There is a long tradition of the FBI targeting black activists and this is not surprising,” McKesson said.

The FBI declined to comment on the report itself and did not respond to specific questions, but in an emailed statement to FP, the bureau defended its tracking of “black identity extremists,” saying that “the FBI cannot initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

… Some experts and former government officials said the FBI seemed to be trying to paint disparate groups and individuals as sharing a radical, defined ideology. And in the phrase “black identity extremist” they hear echoes of the FBI’s decades-long targeting of black activists as potential radicals, a legacy that only recently began to change.

“They are grouping together Black Panthers, black nationalists, and Washitaw Nation,” said the former homeland security official. “Imagine lumping together white nationals, white supremacists, militias, neo-Nazis, and calling it ‘white identity extremists.’”

The FBI is linking the people discussed in the report based only on them being black, rather than on any sort of larger ideological connection, the official said…

In 2009, Daryl Johnson, then a Department of Homeland Security intelligence analyst, warned of the rise of right-wing extremism, setting off a firestorm among congressional critics. Johnson, who left the department in 2010, said while there have been concerns about rising violence among black separatist groups in recent years, he said, but it does not approach the threat of right-wing extremism. “When talking about white supremacists versus black supremacists, there are way more white supremacists,” Johnson said…

The FBI also appeared to be focusing more attention on the threat of white supremacists. In May, the FBI warned that white supremacist violence was growing, according to a report obtained and published by FP. That same report noted that white supremacists were responsible for more attacks in the United States than any other extremist group, including Islamic extremists.

Critics, however, accuse President Donald Trump of shifting attention away from right-wing violence. This year, the Trump administration decided to focus the Department of Homeland Security’s “countering violent extremism” program on Islamic terrorism and deprioritized funding to counter white supremacist groups…

The FBI says there are “nine persistent extremist movements” in the United States at present. Those include “white supremacy, black identities, militia, sovereign citizens, anarchists, abortion, animal rights, environmental rights, and Puerto Rican Nationalism.” LINK

While the evidence and analysis of the FBI must be included in any rigorous assessment of what is happening and who is involved, some argue that it is also important to not accept their reports a face value without further investigation and verification, as demonstrated by the revelations concerning the COINTELPRO program. (VIDEO: COINTELPRO The FBI’s War on Black America 1990)

A study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies provides another perspective on the emergence and expansion of some of these groups: The Rise of Far-Right Extremism in the United States.

Who or what is Antifa, the group Trump wants to declare a ‘terrorist organization’?

The American anti-fascist movement, known as Antifa, is a combative radical movement that, after Trump’s arrival in the White House, has become increasingly active against the protests of white supremacists.

Antifa activists are often identified by Trump and his supporters as ‘alt-left’, as opposed to the ‘alt-right’ groups that support the ruler and include white supremacist groups.

The group made headlines in June 2019 when its members clashed with those of a far-right group called ‘Proud Boys’ in Portland. Those violent riots left several wounded on both sides, including a journalist for a conservative newspaper.

In the United States the creation of the movement has been traced to the late 1980s, linked to the ARA (Anti-Racist Action) group, forerunners of anti-fascist movements in this country that confronted US supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.

It is inspired by the anti-fascist movements that emerged in Europe from the 1920s in response to the rise of fascism, especially in Italy. In fact, it uses the same flag, with the colours red and black and the motto Antifascist Action. Ideologically they are generally considered as being located on the most radical left and define themselves as anti-capitalist.

It is not a unified organization but a movement without hierarchical structure that is made up of various organized groups and individuals, especially in recent years, through social networks. Its members are generally youths, who dress completely in black and wear masks or scarves to cover their faces and avoid being identified.

In the United States, it has regained vigour, especially since 2016 with the arrival of Donald Trump to the presidency and in response to the rise of supremacist movements linked to the Tea Party and the extreme right that support the president. In recent years they have been present in the demonstrations against racism and police brutality.

Although Antifa does not have a formal organizational structure, groups identifying themselves with the movement have had a presence in several European countries (in Madrid, Barcelona, ​​the Basque Country, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, among other cities) and have focused on the United States in recent years. More recently, Antifa flags and banners have also been seen in some Latin American countries.

The causes for which Antifa fights are varied within a mosaic of the revolutionary left, with many members supporting oppressed populations and protesting against the accumulation of wealth among the elites.

Antifa members have been present at different events promoted by what they see (or declare) as ‘right-wing groups’ for years. In August 2017, they appeared in Charlottesville, Virginia, to condemn racism and counter protests against the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee.

In the early stages of the most recent protests, the FBI’s Washington Field Office indicated that it had “no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement/presence” in the violence that occurred on May 31 during the D.C.-area protests over the murder of George Floyd, according to an internal FBI situation report obtained by The Nation.

“The FBI report, however, states that “based on CHS [Confidential Human Source] canvassing, open source/social media partner engagement, and liaison, FBI WFO has no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement/presence.” The statement followed a list of violent acts like throwing bricks at police and the discovery of a backpack containing explosive materials, which were flagged by the FBI under a “Key Updates” section of the report. The FBI has been issuing such reports daily since the weekend, according to a Bureau source, who added that none of these documents contained any evidence of antifa violence.

Antifa, short for “anti-fascist,” is a type of militant anti-racist, anti-nationalist organizing that does not rely on the justice system to confront the far right. Groups associated with antifa have destroyed property and committed violence in the past, but the fact that the FBI’s situation reports cannot find any evidence of such involvement now suggests that fears about such groups may be exaggerated.

The report did warn that individuals from a far-right social media group had “called for far-right provocateurs to attack federal agents, use automatic weapons against protesters.” (The Nation is withholding the name of the group in order to not disrupt any potential law enforcement investigations.)

Last year, FBI documents obtained by this reporter showed that the Bureau has listed “Racially Motivated Violent Extremists” among its top counterterrorism priorities. While those priorities did include white supremacist groups, they also included what the FBI called “Black Identity Extremists.” The documents reveal that the Bureau linked “retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement” to the “shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri,” from which the Black Lives Matter movement originated…” LINK

Regardless of the abovementioned conclusion, the participation of Antifa in the ongoing wave of protests across the US is an open secret.

Right wing extremist groups

According to a report posted by VICE news, several members of one of the more recently created right-wing extremist groups have been arrested at protests after attempting to instigate or escalate mass violence:

The Boogaloo Bois are bringing Hawaiian shirts, AR-15s — and now, apparently, explosives — to anti-racism protests across the country.

Three of these new right-wing anti-government extremists were arrested by federal authorities in Las Vegas on Thursday, accused of trying to spark violence at the protests there for their own gain.

Now this congressman wants to know what, exactly, the Department of Homeland Security is doing about it.

Rep. Max Rose, Democrat from New York, sent a letter to DHS asking that they conduct a specific threat assessment of the Boogaloo movement “and any potential violent threats that they may pose in order to ensure that state and local partners are informed and aware.”

…Federal investigators in Nevada started looking into Stephen Parshall, 35, Andrew Lynam Jr., 23, and William Loomis, 40, after they received a tip in early April. Their tipster later became their informant, and went to meet Parshall and Lynam at a ReOpen Nevada rally around that time. They were heavily armed, and the informant recalled that they bragged about their group and how their ultimate goal was to overthrow the U.S. government.

On a separate occasion, during a hike, they talked about their plans in a little more detail: they wanted to target power plants or ranger stations, according to the complaint.

They continued to show up to future ReOpen Nevada rallies, heavily armed. Around mid-May, they came up with a plan modeled on tactics used by the Irish Republican Army , federal prosecutors say. They would set off fireworks, or other explosives, at the next ReOpen protest on May 16, in order to create a confusing and chaotic scene, and bait law enforcement and other attendees into opening fire…” LINK

Another report from the same source states that:

“perhaps the most troubling of all are the hardcore “accelerationists” who are encouraging their neo-Nazi followers to go to the protests and carry out acts of violence against black people — all with the goal of “exacerbating the ethnic tensions” and sparking a “race war.”

Accelerationists promote violence to speed up the collapse of society. An eco-fascist Telegram channel wrote to its nearly 2,500 subscribers on Thursday that “a riot would be the perfect place to commit a murder.” Accelerationists often seek to exploit moments of political or civil unrest, and the widespread protests that have unfolded across the country fit the bill. Similarly, 4chan is full of racists cheering the violence and saying that they hope it’s the beginning of a “race war.”

… While more established militia types sometimes share those perspectives, they often view themselves as intermediaries between law enforcement and civilians. For example, two armed white men were interviewed by the Minnesota Reformer, a local independent news organization, outside a tobacco store in Minneapolis this week. They said they were protecting businesses from looters, but were also there to defend civilians should they need to.

“Cops are less likely to tread on people’s rights when there’s other armed people around them,” one of the men told the interviewer…

Local activists identified another group in Minneapolis as members of the III% militia, one of the largest militia networks in the U.S… LINK

To the above extremist groups must be added the ‘extremists’ among the police who have been filmed exercising excessive and unnecessary violence: LINK

Moreover, the violence and looting that has occurred in many cities is miniscule compared to the violence and looting perpetrated by the political and economic elite in their never ending ‘wars of choice’, regime change operations and forced distribution of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the most wealthy and powerful.

Another possible factor that must be take into account is the ‘secret societies’ and other groups that include many of the political and economic elite among their members, as well as recruiting from and infiltrating the military, intelligence and police leadership and rank-and-file members. A preliminary list would include the Freemasons, Opus Dei, the Jesuits, the Pilgrim Society, the Knights of Malta, the Council of Foreign Relations, AIPAC and B’Nai Brith, among others. Veterans Today has published numerous reports claiming that religious extremist Dominican sects have infiltrated key sectors of the military, for example. To the extent that such membership of such groups can be ascertained, is there evidence that they are pushing specific actions and policies in the midst of the mayhem and confusion, and if so what are there apparent objectives?

Perhaps a proper investigation of 9/11 would provide some clues? See, for example, this analysis by Veterans Today, and another by Kevin Ryan. Or the documentary by Giulietto Chiesa: Zero: An investigation into 9/11

Social media platforms

A couple of weeks ago US President Donald Trump signed an executive order targeting social media companies, days after Twitter called two of his tweets “potentially misleading.”

Speaking from the Oval Office ahead of signing the order, Trump said the move was to “defend free speech from one of the gravest dangers it has faced in American history.”

“A small handful of social media monopolies controls a vast portion of all public and private communications in the United States,” he claimed. “They’ve had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter, virtually any form of communication between private citizens and large public audiences.”

As CNN subsequently reported, the order marks a dramatic escalation by Trump in his war with tech companies as they struggle with the ‘growing problem of misinformation’ on social media. The President has regularly accused sites of censoring conservative speech.

“Trump and conservatives have long complained that tech platforms algorithmically censor right-wing voices. The claims derive from a perception that Silicon Valley’s largely left-leaning workforce has designed social media products to discriminate against conservatives, though the companies strongly deny the allegations.

Last year, the White House set up a website to solicit complaints from the public about tech companies’ perceived political bias, and Trump has called for an examination of NBC’s television license. “The Radical Left is in total command & control of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google.”

So, who are some of these social media companies and tech companies exactly that control and manage such a large proportion of the world’s most-used social media platforms? Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are singled out for mention.

While the largest individual shareholders and senior executives receive almost all the attention (as with many of the other companies mentioned here), the largest institutional investors of Twitter, Inc. are Vanguard Group (10.6%), Blackrock (7%), Morgan Stanley (6.1%) and State Street Corporation (4.5%), between them around 28% (directly – this is probably a considerable under-estimate, as it doesn’t include smaller shareholdings of other subsidiaries or controlled entities). They are also among the largest mutual fund holders through a range of investment vehicles. Vanguard, Blackrock and State Street are also among the 5 largest shareholders of Morgan Stanley.

Facebook acquired the WhatsApp messaging and calling platform in 2014. It acquired Instagram in 2012, and has purchased a variety of other technology and data collection companies with capabilities with many diverse capabilities such as face recognition technology. The largest institutional investors of Facebook are Vanguard (7.4%), Capital R&M (6.9%), Fidelity M&R (5%), State Street (4%) and Blackrock (2.4%) – between them around 28.7%.

The largest institutional investors of Google are Vanguard (7.4%), Capital R&M (5%), Fidelity M&R (4%), State Street (3.9%) and Blackrock (2.4%) – between them around 22.8%.

And who owns CNN, for that matter, one of the bastions of the fourth estate and the ‘free press’? Apparently, through one or two degrees of separation AT&T is the parent company (via Time Warner). So who are the largest shareholders of AT&T? Vanguard (7.8%), Capital R&M (4.8%), State Street (4%) and Blackrock is 6th with (2.4%) – between them around 19%.

How about ‘Silicon Valley’? Just to take two examples, the four largest shareholders of Microsoft are Vanguard (7%), Blackrock (4%), State Street (4%) and Capital R&M (4%): the four largest shareholders of Apple are Vanguard (7%), Berkshire Hathway (5%), Blackrock (3%) and State Street (4%) – in both cases, for a total of 19% between them.

The same financial/ investment fund monsters have large stakes if not between them a controlling interest in many of the most influential mass media companies, weapons producers, among many, many other key economic, industrial and technology sectors. A more detailed of the multi-layered, interlocked financial pyramid of ownership and control is available here.

The new executive order raises the need to reconsider the regulation of social media platforms. As the fear, uncertainty and confusion increase, the matter takes on added significance and urgency.

Beyond this is the challenge of seeking to ensure diversity, freedom of choice and real alternatives among social media platforms, as well as deciding who should have the power to censor or control their use, and according to what principles and objectives. What happened to freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of the press, etc.? But at the same time, how can deliberate misinformation and manipulation of information be confronted. One thing is certain, it is not something that should be left up to the social media companies. A federal agency subject to government control would not be much better.

Going a step further, how have such a small number of relatively recently established investment funds and financial conglomerates managed to obtain control over such a staggering share of most of the major companies involved, as well as just about everything else?

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