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While racial injustice is always and indeed cause for outrage, Antifa’s ambiguous objectives nurtured a setting wherein civil unrest could be instated and anarchy promoted. Soon, laws were broken, citizens were terrorized, and authorities were outnumbered. All the while, the true motivations of chaos and anarchy were able to fly under the radar, categorizing this brand of pandemonium as a “protest against racial discrimination.” These destructive riots coat-tailed on the justified cause of racial equality and corrupted the initial mission statement with elements that seemed to contradict earlier objectives. In fact, many of the consequences of these demonstrations injured the goal they were supposed to serve.

For example, many people of color were killed during the riots. Among them were seventy-seven-year-old retired police officer David Dorn, who was investigating an activated security alarm when he was killed by looters.[i] Federal officer Patrick Underwood became another casualty when shots were fired at a courthouse from a passing automobile at a protest in California.[ii] The life of twenty-two-year-old Italia Kelly was claimed instantly by a stray bullet as she was leaving a protest that had “turned unruly.”[iii] David McAtee, a fifty-three-year-old restaurateur, was killed in a volley of gunfire. The fifty-year-old father of four, Marvin Francois, was shot by three younger men presumably attempting to steal his car outside a protest.[iv] Thirty-eight-year-old Chris Beaty was killed while he tried to save two women from being robbed near one of the demonstrations.[v] The list of casualties continues, and each name on it leaves the upsetting story of violent, untimely, and unnecessary demise, along with heartbroken families and loved ones. Ultimately, while peaceful protesting would have been an ideal way for those seeking racial equality to make their voices heard, the escalation of these events into riots and intense outbursts led to further atrocities against the very ones they stated they wanted to advocate for.

Some who observe the sociopolitical climate in America perceive the country as being in the embryonic stages of armed insurgency. “The official definition of an insurgency is the ‘organized use of subversion and violence to seize, nullify, or challenge political control’ of an arena.”[vi] It is certainly true that, as the heat rises between citizens and the populace becomes more polarized, this definition could apply to what we see happening today. Certainly, some of the violence in the streets this year has come out of counterdemonstrations, nineteen of which escalated to violence.[vii] As the divide between political parties seems to broaden, tensions rise and the number of citizens taking up arms increases as well: Firearm sales hit a record high in June, when gun-purchase-related background checks spiked to 3.9 million in that month alone.[viii]

A report released by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project in September of 2020 stated that the country faces a mounting vulnerability to “political violence and instability” as a result of the increased need for governmental response to civic unrest and the recent spike in extremist activity, citing “violent political polarization” as a risk factor.[ix] Further, the report stated that, should the 2020 election results be “delayed, inconclusive, or rejected as fraudulent,” things could “boil over,” resulting in the need for governmental intervention.[x]

Many believe that to label this recent rioting as domestic terrorism would be a rational statement. It’s possible that domestic terrorism has become so commonplace in our environment that we’re both desensitized to it and hypervigilant about it all at once. “Instead of the vertical escalation anticipated after 9/11, we have seen a ‘horizontal escalation’—the proliferation of low-level attacks,” points out the writer of one article written in the summer of 2020. “Indeed, terrorism has become so widespread, repetitious, and familiar in the 21st century that we are almost inured to its effects.”[xi]

For many, saying that America is experiencing domestic terrorism may seem extreme. They may regard the recent turmoil as simply part of the ebb and flow of history’s cycles. Others readily accept this assertion, pointing to our cities’ current condition as proof. Some who desire diminished governmental control believe the true recent harassment stems from overreaching authorities who regulate masks, shutdowns, quarantines, and so on.

Other groups state that there has been rampant domestic terrorism throughout the year, and that it’s been dealt from multiple directions. As mentioned, the FBI’s definition of “terrorism” is classified as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”[xii] For those who remained locked in their houses while protestors outside filled their streets, shouting demands that they would relinquish their homes to another family based on race, this definition could apply. Those on the other side of the issue, who are aware of one killed or injured during an act of police brutality, would embrace the same vague definition for their position against authorities who have acted out of line and caused death or injury. For some, being intimidated into wearing a mask or mandated to stay home from work during the COVID-19 epidemic was a form of unlawful force and coercion to further both political and social objectives. Another crowd sees the definition as holding even to the way they’re bullied into keeping their religious views quiet—coercion for the propagation of political and social objectives via methods of unlawful censorship and hate speech.

Still others point to a double standard regarding who would receive what labels in the roster of players, should the tables turn. For example, these authors have heard many Christians say that if religious organizations were to gather in large cities and make demands of any kind by using such tactics as those adopted by Antifa during the riots of 2020, we most certainly would have been declared terrorists and arrested. But, does this mean that we’re living in a state of domestic terrorism? The picture of modern society is hardly a portrait of a peaceful, unified nation under God. Yet, perhaps domestic terrorism isn’t what this nation is experiencing. Maybe we’re merely suffering from adjustments that occur alongside normal societal shifts—“growing pains,” if you will—that wreak temporary havoc, but that will mellow out on its own over time. Or, worse, could it be the case that our societal structure is about to undergo the most seismic shift to date?

The Perils of Designating Groups “Terrorist”

The many issues culminating in the ignition of the 2020 riots and the various interpretations of modern culture make the question of domestic terrorism a cloudy one, especially while events are still playing out. With such unclear parameters outlining the objectives, leadership, and strategy of groups that propagated extremist activities during the riots, officials’ hands are tied where labeling groups as terrorist is concerned. After all, illegal acts carried out during these demonstrations can be pinned on individuals, allowing organizations to distance themselves from responsibility for such tactics.

Along that vein, it’s difficult for authorities to lay the responsibility for one person’s actions on an entire agency. For example, if three men associated with Antifa burn down a church building during a demonstration, everyone associated with Antifa can’t be arrested for planning to burn down their local churches. Nor can we even confirm who is or is not acting on behalf of the agency. Thus, the three men in question can be arrested for committing arson, but Antifa can’t be charged without the government risking being guilty of severe authoritative overreach. Antifa maintains no official roster of members and gives its supporters no specific orders. In this way, it stays in the background, where it’s able to fuel the fire while evading culpability.

Groups like this—when they protest legally—are able to bring their malleable and sweeping ideologies into nearly any promotable or trending cause, and thrive beneath the surface of the initial objectives: gaining followers and repute, but lingering in the background seemingly supporting a “host cause” or target goal. Likely, the primary cause would be operating under the legal rights to conduct peaceful protest and free speech. Then, as troublemakers arrive and escalate the violence of the demonstrations, the organization can remain completely detached from individuals’ actions.

This is where threats of classifying a group as “domestic terrorist” becomes easier said than done. When an organization’s mission statement is ambiguous or even nonexistent, it’s nearly impossible for officials to call the entire body of members “terrorists” just because some who claim affiliation with that organization have acted illegally. To attempt to classify all members in a certain way based on the actions of a few may instigate legislation that could backfire. For example, to say that a certain group, because of any one stated belief, should be viewed as a national threat could lead to responsive legislation. But the cost would be huge, and would likely result in reducing our freedom of speech.

If this were to begin to happen, Christians will be among the first to have their freedom of speech limited. In fact, one might wonder if some of the agenda that is currently dividing the populace might be provocative at its core. Perhaps a bigger enemy is at work, one whose entire objective is to foster such a string of events via distraction. For example, take Antifa’s stance against “far-right ideologies.” Because the group’s name has been associated with so much of the rioting this year, some people would have no problem whatsoever seeing it classified as a domestic terrorist group—but that could cause their statements to be branded as “hate speech,” and their stance, including their “anti-far-right-ideologies agenda,” would likewise fall into a category of potential threat. Then, others who make similar statements could be arrested as potential terrorists for expressing similar values. (This is the cleverness of Antifa’s stance; it isn’t officially “for” anything as much as being “against” certain other things. This ambiguity will perpetually allow it to dodge having its statements labeled as “hate speech.” But follow the scenario with us for a bit.) At this point, some may say they have no issue with this; the destruction our country has undergone demands that people take a stand and call terrorism what it is. But, this has the potential to backfire grotesquely.

If our government were to begin assigning terms like “domestic terrorism” in this way, all it would take would be a few strategically placed “radicals” or a manipulated “trigger event” to begin to illegalize Christianity. Think it’s not possible? Many organizations that embrace traditional values are already being labeled as “hate groups,” and many biblical statements have already been pointed to as “hate speech.” Further, terrible things have been done by people who proclaim to be Christian. If we allow the government extensive freedom to interchange groups, statements, and actions, the Church could find itself in the bull’s eye. Even more concerning is the ambiguity we’ve discussed in the definition of domestic terrorism. Once activated against an organization, anti-terrorist laws provide a heightened allowance for surveillance, censorship, and prohibition of assembly.[xiii] These are dangerous lines for the government to be tampering with.

Are these authors saying we should ignore terrorism because there’s no clear legal way to define it? Not at all. Demonstrations that result in the destruction of property and personal death or injury should be dispersed—or even better, prevented; protests should be required to be carried out peacefully and legally. Those who break the law should be arrested, and when organizations that promote destruction or violence can be identified, sanctions should be applied.

However, if citizens frustrated with organizations such as Antifa want—in order to obtain immediate relief from the consequences of the group’s actions—to slap a “terrorist” label on any who may be associated with it, they run the risk of their own affiliations being illegalized next.

But maybe that is precisely what is happening. Perhaps that’s where some entities are currently going with all of the chaos of 2020. It seems possible that much of these turbulent circumstances could have been deliberate—with tragedies such as the death of Floyd seized to incite calculated chaos—to inspire a moment of desperation on the part of citizens. This, perhaps, to pave the way for an America that will allow entire organizations to be labeled as hate groups or terrorists without extremely careful filtering the wording of the legislation. Could this be the entire subplot of the pivotal year’s drama? If that’s the case, and if such maneuvers were to begin occurring, we are very concerned about the future of the Church’s ability to operate legally in America. Soon, Christian beliefs about marriage, family, the unborn, the Second-Amendment rights, and oh so much more could be enough to brand believers as terrorists.

As mentioned, many Christian-affiliated organizations that assert patriotic and traditional values are already listed on certain “hate group” rosters. A simple Google search of the term produces surprising and dismaying truth of this reality.

UP NEXT: The War on Churches

If you would like more information on the topics covered in this article series, see the book Dark Covenant by Donna Howell and Allie Anderson, available below:

[i] Fox News. “Deadly Unrest: Here Are the People Who Have Died Amid George Floyd Protests Across US.” June 8, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Foley, Ryan. “Woman, 22, Killed at Protests as Civil Unrest Roils Davenport.” AP News. June 1, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020.

[iv] Spoerre, Anna. “Man Shot and Killed after Protest Sunday in Kansas City Was Family man, Photographer.” Kansas City Star. June 8, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020.

[v] Brew, Tom. “Chris Beaty’s Final Moments: ‘He Died Trying to Help Others.’” Hoosiers Now. June 2, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020.

[vi] Kaplan, Fred. “Is America in the Early Stages of Armed Insurgency?” Slate. September 8, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Craig, Tim. “‘The United States Is in Crisis’: Report Tracks Thousands of Summer Protests, Most Nonviolent.” Washington Post. September 3, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Jenkins, Brian. “Deadly Terrorist Threats Abound in U.S. and Abroad. Here Are Danger Keys.” RAND. July 20, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020.

[xii] “Terrorism.” States and Services: FBI. 2002–2005. Accessed November 6, 2020.

[xiii] Williams, Heather. “The Dangers of Designating Antifa as a Terrorist Organization Now.” RAND. June 22, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020.

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