ANALYSIS: Free Rein For Radical Elements Partly to Blame For Protests Turning Hostile

If you ask National Police Association spokeswoman Betsy Smith, Antifa—not the police—seems in charge at many American protests.

Political radicals control the streets because politicians have told police to stand down, Smith said.

“What we’ve seen since 2014—and then being ramped up after 2020—is this unfortunate atmosphere where Antifa and Antifa-like groups seem to run the show at protests, depending on where you’re at. And law enforcement finds it incredibly frustrating,” she said.

This choice by local governments nationwide has far-reaching consequences for freedom of speech, freedom to protest, and potential for violence, she said.

Two protesters carried rifles
Two protesters carried rifles
Two protesters carry rifles at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Nov. 21, 2021. (Jackson Elliott/The Epoch Times)

Smith said that after the police shooting of Michael Brown in 2014 and the death of George Floyd in 2020, riots swept the nation.

Often, local politicians feared that any police use of lethal force, however justified, would provoke a violent response by political radicals, she said. The media also tends to cover justified police shootings negatively, she added.

“We are unfortunately in an atmosphere now where the majority of the media is going to side with Antifa. Our federal political leadership is likely to side with Antifa,” Smith said.

“Remember, we have been told by the federal government that Antifa doesn’t exist or that they’re just a disorganized group.”

In Democrat-held cities, political leadership often considers Antifa a less concerning threat than police, Smith said. Therefore, these politicians demand a light hand against political radicals at protests, she said.

“All of that political leadership that has dominion over local law enforcement, they don’t believe Antifa is crazy,” she said. “[Police have] been told for the last two-and-a-half years that we’re bad and we’re the problem, that we’re the ones killing people.”

According to Smith, left-wing radical groups given free rein by local governments spearhead the wave of nationwide violent protest.

This situation has allowed radical, armed protesters to make rules on the streets in a way that once only law enforcement could, Smith said.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Betsy Smith, the spokeswoman for the National Police Association. (Courtesy of Betsy Smith)

At protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin; Knoxville, Tennessee; Katy, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; Gainesville, Florida; Washington; and many other places, The Epoch Times has watched the way people use the right to peaceful assembly change due to the actions of radical activists.

Across America, protest by armed activists has become more common. Crowds are more aggressive. Veteran reporters have noticed increasing hostility from protest participants.

These differences aren’t accidental or the result of simple hot-bloodedness. For radical activists, protest means exerting physical control of the street.

This focus changes the entire point and meaning of the demonstrations. A radical protest cares more about silencing the opinion of others than voicing its own.

This approach can lead to violence. And with armed activists in the streets on both sides, it’s likely a matter of time until protests turn bloody.

‘Whose Streets? Our Streets!’

Today’s most important protest chant is the phrase, “Whose Streets? Our Streets!”

This phrase doesn’t proclaim an opinion. It proclaims power.

If the streets belong to a protest group, they don’t belong to the police or other citizens.

Protesters across the nation have all used this phrase while marching.

Whoever owns the streets can threaten anyone. Locals face attacks. Businesses face looting. Supreme Court Justices faced weeks-long campaigns outside their own homes, as The Epoch Times previously reported.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
A homemade poster honoring Kyle Rittenhouse’s attacker, Anthony Huber, displayed at a protest in Kenosha, Wis., on Nov. 21, 2021. (Jackson Elliott/The Epoch Times)

“At the very least, I hope he’s annoyed. I hope he’s very inconvenienced,” said Connor, a protester outside Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house.

In some situations, protesters have openly defied the law. Sometimes this defiance takes place through brute force. Other times, it takes the form of clever loopholes in the law.

On Jan. 6, 2020, protesters breached the Capitol building.

Some of these protesters have been charged with bringing firearms to the protest. Others had melee weapons like wooden sticks.

In Michigan, armed right-wing protesters shouted with a bullhorn outside the home of Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

“Through threats of violence, intimidation, and bullying, the armed people outside my home and their political allies seek to undermine and silence the will and voices of every voter in this state, no matter who they voted for,” said Benson.

In Kenosha, after Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial, police told a crowd including armed protesters to confine their march to a single road lane.

The crowd disobeyed, and the police backed down.

“Come on, man! You can’t tell us how to protest,” one Kenosha protester told police.

In Knoxville, Tennessee, Antifa members surrounded a reporter and physically blocked him out of a crowd. Police urged The Epoch Times not to video the incident.

“We just don’t want any problems,” said Sgt. Nate Skellenger of the Knoxville Police Department.

In Virginia, it’s illegal to picket outside a private residence or protest to influence a judge. But police permitted protesters to march outside the homes of Supreme Court justices for weeks.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Armed Antifa members with orange ribbons prepare to intimidate the press at a drag show accessible to children on the street outside the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Dec. 22, 2022. (Jackson Elliott/The Epoch Times)

“You can’t picket a specific residence. However, as they march through the neighborhood, they’re not picketing necessarily a specific residence,” he said. “That’s the tack that they take,” police Captain Alan Hanson told The Epoch Times.

According to Smith, charging protesters who break the law works wonders in keeping protests civil. But left-wing prosecutors often don’t want to press charges against protesters, she said.

This decision in turn affects the behavior of officers on the street.

“Why would I arrest somebody who’s breaking the law during a protest when I know that the charges are just gonna get dropped? What’s the point?” Smith asked.

Police refusing to punish these actions seems a more peaceful path, but their choices leave locals with a quiet sense of helplessness against the protesters on the streets.

In many cases, neighbors and businesses refuse to comment to the media. When they do comment, they don’t give their names.

“I’m not commenting on anything,” one Kenosha business owner said while declining to comment. “If I say something wrong, my business is gonna get targeted.”

According to Smith, this emphasis on street control can be traced to anarchist movements in the Pacific Northwest. These groups used chants like “Whose streets? Our streets!” These political groups joined with criminal gangs and Black Lives Matter during the wave of 2020 protests, she noted.

“People don’t understand the origins of Black Lives Matter. They don’t really understand what they stand for,” Smith said. “They’re a Marxist organization that got infused with an enormous, unthinkable amount of money after the death of George Floyd.”

This money gave the anarchist movement rocket fuel, she said. Although some of it was lost to grift, much of it allowed far-left radicals to fund travel for protest and bail arrested activists out of jail, she said.

Control The Streets, Control the Narrative

Unlike traditional protests, control-focused protests oppose media coverage. Their participants don’t want them covered by neutral media.

This approach seems surprising when the same protesters make enormous efforts to protest publicly.

Radical protesters make homemade signs, wear special clothes, and organize dozens of people. They shout for hours at a time. Often, they travel to protest locations in all weather.

But these same protesters do everything they can to block fair media coverage of their activities. It seems only friendly eyes are allowed to describe their actions.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
John, an Antifa leader, attempts to avoid being photographed on the street outside the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Dec. 22, 2022. (Jackson Elliott/The Epoch Times)

Epoch Times reporters in Texas, Tennessee, Florida, and other places have faced intimidation or interference attempts from left-wing protesters.

Radical protesters block Epoch Times’ attempts to photograph them. They push reporters out of crowds. Often, control-focused protesters interfere when reporters try to interview people.

With these actions, radical protesters make it less likely that news readers nationwide will see the public displays they create. Often, only a whitewashed description of their cause reaches national news, while the intimidation, street control, and media suppression remain local.

This approach allows radical protesters to play underdog to the nation and bully to the neighborhood.

For local communities, the impacts of violent protests don’t end with just one night of violence.

Smith noted that in Seattle, Washington, the city had to pay $3 million in compensation to business owners impacted by the Antifa-created Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ). The protesters held territory within Seattle for nearly a month before authorities permitted police to re-exert control.

In Chicago, some major business districts hit by the 2020 riots still haven’t recovered, Smith said.

“Lori Lightfoot, the former mayor of Chicago, mismanaged the 2020 and 2021 riots and destroyed some of the most beautiful little shopping in the world,” she noted.

Groups like Antifa also threaten political freedom, Smith said. When people fear reprisals by a radical group that controls the streets, they aren’t really free, she added.

“Unfortunately now, people in the United States have to balance their speaking their views and worrying about the safety of themselves or their families,” Smith said.

Future of Radical Protest

As protests aiming to control territory spread, violence has already increased, Smith said.

With a nationwide network of armed members, Antifa has become an increasingly common sight at protests.

Their members wear black clothes and masks. They are responsible for physical violence and property destruction. Some wear bulletproof vests and military-style helmets.

When The Epoch Times attempted to contact Antifa for comment, its Miami chapter sent back a picture of an Epoch Times reporter taken in Washington.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Pro-abortion activists Patrick Young (L), LaDona, (C), Nadine Bloch (3R), Sophia M (2R), and others pose for a picture at a protest meeting at Petworth United Methodist Church on June 12, 2022. (Jackson Elliott/The Epoch Times)

“[Expletive] you. Anti-fascists nationwide know everything about you,” its email read.

Antifa isn’t the only left-wing movement interested in building armed networks. Various “John Brown Gun Club” groups also work to arm far-left actors.

On the right, the Proud Boys may be the most famous aggressive protest group. This right-wing body also has a nationwide network, including armed members.

At protests, they wear masks and bulletproof vests. They also coordinate their clothing.

They have been involved in street violence and property destruction, as covered by The Epoch Times.

When The Epoch Times attempted to contact them for comment, they didn’t respond.

Other nationwide right-wing militias include the Salt and Light Brigade, the Three Percenters, and Patriot Prayer.

These groups have all brought weapons to protests too.

Members of the Salt and Light Brigade and Three Percenters played a role in the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol. Patriot Prayer has gotten into street fights with left-wing protesters.

Far-right and far-left armed radical groups have already engaged in street fights with each other, Smith said.

“You can look at some of the things that have happened in Portland and Seattle—where there were protests where the police just sort of didn’t show up—and so you had the alt-right, and you had the far left. And they indeed did lead to violence,” she said.

Both the Proud Boys and Antifa sometimes show up armed at the same protest locations. The protests they attend often have hundreds of innocent bystanders, sometimes including families.

With the right spark, these protests could become shootouts with children in the crossfire.

But according to Smith, it’s unlikely that local governments will let protests spiral out of hand indefinitely. Voters are already weary of bullying by radical political groups with guns, she said.

“I think we’re going to start to see the pendulum swing back,” Smith said.

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