Attorney General William Barr has established a task force aiming to put a halt to “violent anti-government extremists of all persuasions.”
Barr made the announcement in a June 26 memo to all heads of department components and U.S. attorneys, shared publicly by Department of Justice (DOJ) spokesperson Kerri Kupec.
“Some pretend to profess a message of freedom and progress, but they are in fact forces of anarchy, destruction, and coercion,” Barr wrote in the memo, noting that the aim of the task force is to lead DOJ efforts to investigate and prosecute those who commit violent acts, prevent extremist violence before it happens, and “ultimately eliminate it as a threat to public safety and the rule of law.”
Protests in the wake of the police-custody death of George Floyd, who died on May 25 after a Minneapolis officer restrained him by kneeling on his neck, have largely been peaceful. At times, however, the protests have descended into scenes of looting, arson, and violence.
“In recent weeks, we have witnessed significant threats to the rule of law,” Barr wrote in the memo. “Amid peaceful demonstrations protected by the First Amendment, we have seen anti-government extremists engaged in indefensible acts of violence.”
Barr noted attacks on police officers and other government officials, destruction of public and private property, and threats to innocent bystanders.
Clashes with protesters in Seattle several weeks ago led police to abandon a precinct and prompted the establishment of a so-called “autonomous zone.” While largely peaceful, the zone has also been the site of acts of violence, including a recent shooting. There have also been reports of armed activists patrolling the zone, checking IDs, and extorting businesses.
Nearby property owners and businesses on June 24 filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Seattle for its tolerance of the zone, saying officials had been complicit in depriving them of their rights to their property.
Barr said extremist groups targeted by the new initiative seek to deny constitutional rights to others and resort to methods that are illegal.
“Although these extremists profess a variety of ideologies, they are united in their opposition to the core constitutional values of a democratic society governed by law,” Barr wrote in the memo, adding that the DOJ has obtained information suggesting that some extremists intend to sow more chaos.
“We have evidence that anti-government violent extremists—including those who support the ‘Bugaloo,’ those who self-identify as Antifa, and others—will pose continuing threats of lawlessness,” Barr wrote, adding that some of those who in recent weeks have undercut public order and tried to “become a law unto themselves” through violent acts may be supported by “foreign entities seeking to sow chaos and disorder.”
The task force will provide training and resources to local law enforcement in an effort to arrest perpetrators of violence. It will also work closely with the FBI to “develop detailed information about violent anti-government extremist individuals, networks, and movements—and will share that information as appropriate with federal, state, and local law enforcement, especially in places where these extremists pose a threat.”
Barr’s announcement came on the same day President Donald Trump signed an executive order protecting American monuments, memorials, and statues from being destroyed.
“I just had the privilege of signing a very strong Executive Order protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues—and combatting recent Criminal Violence,” Trump wrote in a tweet. “Long prison terms for these lawless acts against our Great Country!”