According to Trump's letter, the designation aimed to prevent Antifa reinforcements from other nations from entering the U.S. "in light of federal laws that restrict the entry of aliens associated with terrorist organizations.
The effect of Trump's letter to Pompeo is unclear as it only advises the state secretary to review certain criteria. It instructed: "The Secretary of State shall, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security, review information received from the Department of Justice and other authorities to assess whether to classify Antifa as a terrorist organization."
The president also slammed Antifa's involvement in riots in Portland, Ore. and Louisville, Ky. Originally intended as protests against police brutality and racism organized by the Black Lives Matter movement, Antifa agitators goaded participants to destroy nearby properties. Trump noted that Antifa has partnered with BLM to push its own nefarious agenda.
Trump mentioned two particular instances of Antifa violence in his letter. Demonstrators wearing black outfits assaulted Trump supporters at protests in Berkeley, Calif. during February and August 2017. The attacks "resulted in 13 arrests on a range of charges, including assault with a deadly weapon and obstructing a police officer." Furthermore, 50 Antifa members caused an estimated $100,000 worth of damages to property.
He also cited the June 2019 attack on journalist Andy Ngo. Rioters attacked the conservative journalist while he was covering the protests in Portland, which led to Ngo being hospitalized. The attackers were counter-protesting members of the Proud Boys right-wing fraternity who gathered in the city.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray told Congress in September 2020 that Antifa was an ideology rather than an organization. He testified before lawmakers that the bureau has seen Antifa "working together in … small groups and nodes" and it is investigating "some anarchist violent extremists … [operating] through these nodes."
However, Trump's letter to Pompeo noted that the Justice Department has already deemed that "actions by Antifa and similar groups meet the standard for domestic terrorism."
Trump's Jan. 5 letter to Pompeo preceded hundreds of Trump supporters gathering in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Congress convened Jan. 6 to affirm Democratic nominee Joe Biden's Electoral College victory. Meanwhile, Trump spoke to crowds of his supporters at the "Stop The Steal" rally a few blocks from the White House on the same day.
The president tweeted Jan. 5: "Washington is being inundated with people who don't want to see an election victory stolen by emboldened Radical Left Democrats. Our country has had enough, they won't take it anymore. We hear you (and love you) from the Oval Office. Make America Great Again!"
He subsequently warned Antifa to stay away from the Capitol: "Antifa is a terrorist organization. Law enforcement is watching you very closely!" (Related: Police escorts receive chartered Antifa buses in D.C. ahead of Jan. 6 Trump rally.)
Back in September 2020, Trump announced a measure designating Antifa as domestic terrorists. The measure followed the president's tweet three months prior, saying the U.S. "will be designating Antifa as a terrorist organization."
Many businesses in downtown Washington, D.C. boarded up their windows for fear of vandalism. Business owners expressed concern that the protests could turn into riots like the city saw in May and June last year.
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser called in troops from the D.C. National Guard to augment the city's police force. She urged residents to avoid the downtown area and any confrontations with anyone "looking for a fight." Bowser warned: "We will not allow people to incite violence, intimidate our residents or cause destruction in our city."