Last week we learned that the Department of Homeland Security designated Antifa’s activities as domestic terrorist violence months ago. Today the LA Times reports authorities in California are considering taking a tougher stance against Antifa by classifying them as a street gang:
Such a designation could give law enforcement new tools to combat the groups. Numerous laws on the books give authorities the power to restrict the movements of gang members and enhance criminal charges against them…
“There’s an argument for it, but there’s also a very grave concern because they are exercising their constitutional rights,” said San Bernardino County Deputy Dist. Atty. Britt Imes, a nationally renowned expert on gang activity. “Their criminal actions, not their free speech actions, their criminal actions, will determine whether they qualify as a criminal street gang.”
So-called gang enhancements can add serious jail time to convictions for anyone judged part of a gang, which could mean Antifa members convicted of a crime going away for a decade or more. But there are at least two problems here. One is that Antifa is an ideological/political group. That means they have rights to speech and assembly which courts might feel the need to protect.
The other problem is that determining who is part of the “gang” could be practically difficult. Gang’s have leaders, regular members, identifying tattoos, etc. Antifa members are not as clearly organized. Obviously, police can’t start making lists of anyone who owns a bandana and a pair of black jeans. Problems aside, some believe Antifa fits the definition of a gang:
“I think under state law they could easily be declared a gang,” said Wes McBride, president of the California Gang Investigators’ Assn. “They behave like a gang. They have defined commitment to violence. They have their own gang dress.”
Imes, who said that he was speaking as an expert and that his comments did not reflect the opinions of the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office, added that many black and Hispanic factions defined as gangs under the law also lack structure or formal membership.
Antifa’s stated goal may be to defeat white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but if the means by which its followers achieve that mission are violent, they could still be defined as a gang, he said.
That sounds reasonable and yet I hesitate because of something else I was reading about recently, the FBI classification of Juggalos as a gang. Yes, Juggalos, those people who have found an identity in the music of Insane Clown Posse and who are now planning a march on Washington. From Reason:
ICP sued the FBI in 2014, but after three appeals, the case hasn’t made it to trial. So now the group is heading to D.C.
“It’s a publicity stunt,” says ICP’s Violent J (Joseph Bruce). “We want to say to everybody, ‘we’re not cool with that.'”
“[If] Juggalos are being f**ked with, we got to do something about it,” says Violent J’s partner Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph Utsler). “If that ties us into some First Amendment movement, whatever, we’re First Amendment warriors. I don’t know.”
Here’s a recent video by Reason on that topic that may give you some second thoughts, at least with regard to Juggalos. Even if it doesn’t give you second thoughts about Antifa, it’s worth noting authorities can take gang designation too far: