Almost sixty years ago, President Eisenhower gave his famous “military-industrial complex” speech in which he stressed the threat of “unwarranted influence” and “misplaced power” through the combination of politics, the “permanent arms industry” and big business. Today we face an “Antifa/BLM-Industrial Complex,” combining violent extremists on the street and their broadly connected enablers in the media, culture, politics and big business.
The Trump Administration is supposedly looking into who funds the violent “activists” we’ve seen in America’s streets over the past few months, from Portland, Oregon to New York City. While this makes perfect sense from a narrow law enforcement perspective, from a political point of view it is short-sighted and even deceiving. It is like learning how much it cost al-Qaeda to fund the 9/11 attacks (about $500,000): an interesting and alarming fact, but of limited value. Trump’s investigation does not factor in the much larger and more diffuse informal support network that Antifa and BLM are drawing upon.
Militant movements like al-Qaeda or BLM/Antifa have a broad eco-system and a wide sociocultural context in which they thrive. The more urgent task for us in the weeks and months ahead will be to fully understand, name, shame, and expose the participants in this broader Marxist network. Law enforcement and political leadership can unmask these domestic terrorists in complementary and even overlapping ways, but they should do so by different rules and with different political tempos.
The small amounts of money Antifa enforcers on the street use is less interesting than how much money goes to entities like the Minnesota Freedom Fund and others who bail out repeat rioters. Still more important are the in-kind, informal, and indirect “contributions” to this broad-based movement made by tenured taxpayer-funded professors, tech companies, and media gatekeepers. The same is true of public servants who—coolly and intentionally—refuse to prosecute those repeatedly charged with felony riot and other serious crimes by local police.
There is a very rough analogy here with the global jihadist movement, which was and is made up of relatively small groups of people numbering in the tens of thousands, and a much broader informal community of interest which includes media amplifiers, ideologues, and political and financial patrons. The jihadist movement was a reaction and response to real events and even to some people’s honest perceptions of injustice. But it was also something that was fabricated and invested in for years by autocratic regimes for their own reasons. The leaders of those regimes are the ones who built the schools, publishing houses, religious centers, and even businesses that undergirded the more spectacular latter acts of the head-cutters and bomb-makers.
Salafi-Jihadism included those practicing direct action, those closely aligned with them, and several concentric circles of others with less and less connection who were nevertheless helpful to the greater cause in various ways. The authors of the new NPR-peddled book In Defense of Looting and the New York Times’s 1619 Project may not be directly involved with the activists who blind police with lasers in Portland, or the ones who assault diners in Washington. But they are fellow travelers along that same broad revolutionary road, happy to claim affiliation with the rioters and furnish intellectual cover fire for them among the urban and suburban intelligentsia who might otherwise find them appalling.
One could make the case that those who provide the political and ideological framework for violent action are even more responsible for them than those willing to carry them out, in the same way that a jihadist ideologue may bear more moral if not legal responsibility than an impoverished al-Qaeda foot soldier in Yemen. In a political system as free as ours these ideologues may avoid all legal sanction, but they are not free from the court of public opinion.
Uncovering legal responsibilities for criminal acts is something that can—and should—take time. Criminal investigations should certainly not be driven by political or electoral considerations. We have seen too much of that over the past four years: politicized and partisan vendettas have had disastrous consequences for our national life and severely damaged the credibility of institutions from the FBI to the media.
But to excoriate, with honesty and forthrightness, the cheerleaders and enablers in the destruction of entire city blocks and the livelihood of thousands of Americans is first and foremost a political task. If America is to maintain a healthy democracy it is necessary that we do so, particularly in an election year. In an era of so much distrust, disinformation, and selective and tendentious press coverage, we must now shine the bright light of transparency on America’s self-styled revolutionaries and their well-heeled fan club.
If we need a new class of leaders who are willing to do so, so be it. Citizens, donors, and media figures need to find and support those persons and organizations willing to speak out now—in the time remaining before November’s election.