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DOJ Cases Brought Over Protests Show No Links To Antifa So Far


President Trump and his attorney general, William Barr, have repeatedly blamed antifascist activists, known as antifa, for the recent violence on the streets following George Floyd's death. Here is Barr talking to reporters last week.


WILLIAM BARR: We have evidence that antifa and other similar extremist groups, as well as actors of a variety of different political persuasions, have been involved in instigating and participating in the violent activity.

KELLY: Oh, NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been digging into court records for dozens of individuals charged by the Justice Department in connection with the unrest. Ryan joins us now.

And Ryan, what have you found?

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, I looked at court papers. Primarily, these are criminal complaints against 51 people who had been charged by the Justice Department as of late Monday, early Tuesday in connection with the unrest. And the most notable thing here really isn't so much what I found as what I didn't find. And that's because I didn't find any mention or reference to antifa. None of the 51 individuals are alleged in these court papers to have any link to the antifa movement, broadly speaking, or to antifa ideology.

Now, former federal prosecutors told me that if the government had such evidence, it would likely reference it somehow, even obliquely, in the criminal complaints in order to cite it, for example, during a bail hearing. This doesn't rule out the possibility, of course, that investigators could uncover some sort of link to or interest in antifa ideology as they investigate further. Still, the lack at the moment of any clear link is noteworthy because Barr and the president have repeatedly singled out antifa as the main instigator of the violence.

KELLY: And yet you found no mention of antifa itself. OK. So what did you find in terms of charges that the Justice Department has brought against these people?

LUCAS: Well, unsurprisingly, these cases are spread out geographically. They cover 18 states. Of the cases against 51 people that I looked at, 20 involve allegations related to arson. That includes things like Molotov cocktails, setting police cars alight or government buildings.

Sixteen involve the illegal possession of a firearm, more often than not by a felon. In one instance, police found a man during protests in Madison, Wis., who had a gunshot wound in his leg. Court papers say he had a gun with him. It turns out he was a felon, so he couldn't legally have that gun. He was arrested. It also turned out that he had accidentally shot himself in the leg.

There are also a number of cases related to inciting a riot or civil disorder. There are a couple of cases related to looting. Now, the one instance in which authorities have alleged that those arrested had ties to an extremist group was a case in Nevada against three men who prosecutors say belong to the right-wing Boogaloo movement. And these men were allegedly planning violence during protests in Las Vegas.

KELLY: Well, if you were able to find all this, Ryan, the Justice Department certainly knows it. Has the attorney general changed his tune at all in light of the cases that his department has brought so far?

LUCAS: Barr has said publicly that there is a mix of groups on both sides of the political spectrum that have been involved in the violence, but he's come back time and again to antifa as the main culprit. Here's what he said in an interview with Fox News this week.


BARR: We have some investigations underway - very focused investigations on certain individuals that relate to antifa.

LUCAS: Barr also said in that interview that the people who have been identified and arrested so far were arrested for crimes that don't require the department to identify a particular group. And digging down on antifa, he said that the department is looking into what he called sources of funding for antifa as well. So the department is still pushing forward with this.

KELLY: Thank you, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.