President Trump combined his reliance on false equivalencies with his love for politicizing the federal government on Thursday, announcing that the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security would open a joint-operation center to “investigate violent left-wing civil unrest.”
“In America, we will never surrender to mob rule, because if the mob rules, democracy is indeed dead,” Trump said, claiming with an authoritarian flourish that the violence is ultimately “a result of left-wing indoctrination in our nation’s schools and universities.”
Throughout the press conference, Trump did not mention the threat of right-wing terrorism, which administration officials have reportedly tried and failed to get him to take seriously. He did, however, defend the suspected Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse and claim that men flying Trump flags from the back of moving pickup trucks shot paintballs at pedestrian demonstrators as a “defensive mechanism.” Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany claimed the president had not seen the video documenting the act, despite Trump sharing it in a tweet.
Though the president has not shown much concern about far-right violence, the FBI has: For the fiscal year 2020, the FBI upgraded its assessment of the threat of white-nationalist and other right-wing extremists to a “national threat priority,” which is “on the same footing” as the threat posed by ISIS, according to director Christopher Wray. To date, law enforcement officials have not considered movements on the left in the Trump era as a significant terror threat — in part because Antifa, which the president wants to designate as a terror organization, is not actually a unified group.
As the president continues to equivocate during acts of far-right violence —and white nationalists continue to feel emboldened during his administration — the investigation of incidents of “left-wing civil unrest” is a two-pronged concern. Trump’s declaration risks the further politicization of a DOJ that has already shifted its axis from the administration of justice to the carrying out of Trump’s personal wishes. And though it’s possible that this announcement may go by the wayside, as other recent press conference proclamations have, the president’s dismissal of far-right acts of violence draws attention away from the threat. According to one investigation from July, far-right terrorists killed 87 Americans during the Trump administration, compared to 17 killed by Islamist terrorists and four killed by left-wing extremists.