President Donald Trump tweeted

"The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization."

Can he do that? Why or why not?

  • He didn't in the end, right? It was just one other more or less crazy tweets by an exceptional US president. Mar 3, 2022 at 11:39
  • @Trilarion ... the issue is whether or not he had the intentions, not whether he did or didn't succeed "in the end" as you argue. And the answer is in the affirmative. And only a fascist would refer to fascist Don as "exceptional". Mar 4, 2022 at 15:37

6 Answers 6


As mentioned elsewhere, in theory, Trump cannot do this. Among the various obstacles is the fact that antifa is a philosophy. It would be like labeling anti-Semitism or anti-racism or deontology a terrorist group. It almost lacks meaning. Another problem, as also mentioned in other answers, is that there is no definition of domestic terrorist groups in the US:

When it comes to ISIS and other international groups designated as terrorists, U.S. terrorism statutes make it a crime to provide them with "material support" -- such as money or even one's own person. That's how so many Americans who fled the United States to join ISIS in Syria or elsewhere were eventually charged and arrested by the FBI.

But no such "material support" statute exists for a U.S.-based group.

That said, there are a variety of things that people have claimed are explicitly prohibited by the law, and that have been carried out anyway. For instance, under almost any plain reading of the Constitution, the internment of Japanese-Americans without due process during World War II was illegal, but with presidential authority, and compliant courts, it happened anyway. Many people believed that Trump's ban on immigration from primarily majority-Muslim countries was unconstitutional, and it happened anyway. I doubted that Trump could suspend almost all immigration indefinitely, but it happened. Nor is this limited to the Trump administration. For instance, many Republicans complained that Obama's executive order offering a stay of deportation and a path to a work permit to young immigrants was not provided for by law: it happened anyway. Obama was also able to expand government surveillance programs and conduct drone strikes against American citizens (which Trump has continued) despite many people claiming that the law did not allow this.

The fact is that with the expansion of executive power, there is probably some fashion in which Trump can label the "antifa" ideology a terrorist group that will have an actual impact. Legal theory is frequently insufficient to predict actual policy. For instance, although there are not definitions of domestic terrorist groups, there is a definition of domestic terrorism in the US, as established by the Patriot Act:

(5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—

(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;

(B) appear to be intended—

(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or

(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States; and

Trump could potentially order the Department of Justice to consider any criminal case in which adherents of an "antifa" philosophy were involved to be considered terrorism under this law, justifying it by saying that antifa wants to influence the government by coercion, say. Even if it is untrue, it is possible he could get away with it.

Or, in a more unlikely scenario, he might simply create a new executive classification of some groups as domestic terrorist groups, going around Congress altogether. Such a policy could be undone relatively easily by a future president of a different ideological persuasion, but it's possible that he could just do it. After all, his primary goal here may be less legal than rhetorical. Trump may desire to appeal to "law and order" elements in his party by promising to crack down on what many of them see as dangerous radicals. To do this, Trump need not actually arrest any believers in antifa philosophies, but rather convince he supporters that he is taking strong action against the aforementioned.


Currently, there is no official designation for domestic terrorist groups. The Department of State and the Department of the Treasury can designate foreign groups as terrorist under certain procedural guidelines. The president cannot do this unilaterally, though I suppose he could pressure the Secretary of State to do so. But in this case there is no context in which a domestic group can be officially declared as a terrorist group.

Of course, nothing is likely to stop Trump from continually calling antifa a terrorist organization on Twitter or in his speeches, or acting as though that name-calling has some official significance. And while the House has recently introduced legislation creating a framework for a formal designation of domestic terrorism — H.R. 1931 — the idea itself has met resistance from both liberals and conservatives.

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    @Sjoerd: that has to be an informal designation, because there are no federal criminal statutes for domestic terrorism. I don't disagree that there are groups and individuals in the US who ought to be considered domestic terrorists, but that's just words. I could declare myself 'Grand Poobah of the US' and it would have the same legal force as calling the WU a terrorist organization. Jun 2, 2020 at 17:12
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    @Sjoerd: And yes, I am Grand Poobah of the US. So there! 😃 Jun 2, 2020 at 17:13
  • I recommend removing the insinuation in your last paragraph that GOP leaders/voters support extremist groups or would be hesitant to get rid of them. Such a significant statement should be sourced and as it stands, it's likely to attract downvotes while not adding anything to your answer.
    – bta
    Jun 2, 2020 at 20:20
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    @bta: That 'insinuation' doesn't come out of nowhere. The idea of establishing a legal standard for domestic terrorism has been floating around since a couple of years after 9/11, and and has always met staunch GOP resistance. Heck, even as far back as the Oklahoma City Bombing the GOP avoided labelling any group terrorist (which would have cast aspersions on the entire militia movement), and instead treated the individuals involved as lone terrorists. But I'll see if I can soften it somewhat... Jun 2, 2020 at 21:11
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    @bta: I removed that section and added something most neutral, I may revise it again after I've looked into the issue further, but I think you're right that it was excessive. Jun 3, 2020 at 10:02

The biggest problem with designating Antifa as a terrorist organization is not whether or not President Trump has legal grounds to do that, but the simple fact that Antifa is not an organization at all. You cannot designate an organization as a terrorist organization if there is no organization to designate.

AntiFA is short for "Anti-Fascist Action" and it basically just means that you believe that actions should be taken against fascism.

Personally, I find the fact that President Trump wants to make taking action against fascism illegal both very telling and completely unsurprising.

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    This is not quite correct. Etymology aside, at least in English antifa usually refers to people who believe that violent means must be used to confront fascist groups. No one would call Merkel antifa, for instance, even though she presumably believes in Germany's ban on supporting Nazis.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jun 2, 2020 at 7:40
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    No, it does not just mean that. Believing actions should be taken against fascism is common sense. Calling yourself part of Antifa means you believe in the extreme left views and methods that carries with it.
    – towe
    Jun 2, 2020 at 13:16
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    The personal opinion could be removed. It's not because people claim to be doing something that they are. Officially, the USA wages war throughout the world with an aim to combat terrorism and bring about democracy and peace. If you're against waging war, it does not mean that you don't want democracy and peace, or want terrorism. Similarly, AntiFA philosophers claim to fight fascism, but it's debatable whether they fight it or actually encourage it, and being against them does not mean one is pro-fascism.
    – user
    Jun 3, 2020 at 0:10
  • On the etymological point, such evidence as I can find suggests that the final A in "antifa" is from the "a" in "fascist", not the "a" in "action" or "Aktion". Jun 4, 2020 at 12:48
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    and yet Antifa not only has a flag, but a website and affiliates even sell merchandise. If Trump does get it listed as a terror org, then the NSA might even find people who have been funding and organising it. Much the same way ISIS is "not an organisation" - neither exactly has an office and headed notepaper.
    – gbjbaanb
    Jun 5, 2020 at 10:37

Yes, with certain limitations

First to make clear that strictly legally US President could not designate certain groups, as terrorist organizations. But officials and functionaries appointed by him (and confirmed by Senate) could, and it is assumed that they would be under his influence. Therefore, for the sake of simplicity, we would take that administration moves according to President's wishes, which in Trump case may not be so due to effects of so called "deep state", professional bureaucrats and other elements with agendas of their own.

To designate Antifa as foreign terrorist group would be relatively easy. It would take a decision from Secretary of State (currently Mike Pompeo, person relatively loyal to Trump). As we can see from current list of FTO, beside usual Islamic and Jihadi groups, there are few leftist (communist and anarchist) groups on the list. Therefore, to designate Antifa as a foreign terror group would not be a precedent. Note that various organizations which style themselves anti-fascist and use violence against their opponents (anyone I don't like is a fascist) exist all over Europe and in some other continent. What repercussion would that have on US citizens ? Beside travel bans and arrests of foreigners, any US citizen caught communicating with these foreign groups, or even supporting them, could become a target for law enforcement. This is similar to anyone publicly supporting ideas of Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL ...) suddenly becoming interesting to FBI.

What about domestic terror groups ? This is a bit more complicated. Definition of domestic terrorism is designed under 18 U.S.C. § 2331 and includes activities "to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion" which could be pined to present actions of Antifa. This is further expanded in Patriot Act Title 8, which gives Attorney General free hands to investigate activities of certain groups accused of planning acts of terror as defined in the law. If Secretary of State were to designate Antifa as foreign terrorist organization, Attorney General would have even more motivation to investigate their activities on US soil. However, in any case, this activities would have to be physical, not just offensive speech which is protected by First Amendment.

Note that in any case, Antifa does not have to be well structured organization (with card carrying members, statute and rules, hierarchy etc ..) , because law does not require any of this. It is sufficient to have various like-minded individuals with relatively similar ideology, to designate them as a group.


While others have answered your specific question, I want to point out that creating this designation isn't Donald Trump's main goal.

He's much more interested in creating an unconscious association between Antifa and terrorism by prompting discussions like these. This is an age-old sales tactic and it's very effective, unfortunately.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priming_(psychology) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implicit_stereotype

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    The question was not "what is your personal opinion on Trump's possible motives?"
    – vsz
    Jun 2, 2020 at 19:34
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    making a riot the responsibility of a terrorist organization make it so insurance doesn't have to cover the cost... follow the dollars.
    – CGCampbell
    Jun 2, 2020 at 20:40
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    Insurance companies don't cover riots in the first place.
    – Eric Brown
    Jun 3, 2020 at 0:25
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    @EricBrown on the contrary, riot and looting typically are covered.
    – phoog
    Jun 3, 2020 at 5:01
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    @CGCampbell in the US, coverage for acts of terrorism is controlled by federal law. For an act of terrorism to be covered by a terrorism policy, the act must be certified by the government as an act of terrorism. An existing designation of any person or group committing the act as a terrorist does not require the act to be designated as an act of terrorism, nor does the absence of such designation prevent it.
    – phoog
    Jun 3, 2020 at 5:05

A few of the other answer (for example, this one and this one ) have mentioned that if Antifa were a foreign group, then it could be designated as a terrorist group. But under the assumption that it is a domestic group, there is no legal basis for such a designation by the US President.

However, it is simply not the case that Antifa is a US movement. They were active in Europe long before they were even known in the US. The "black bloc", as they are known for their attire of choice, has been protesting at WTO meetings for many years before most people in the US even knew who they were. In fact, when they made their 1st high-profile appearance in the US in organized WTO protests in Seattle in 1999, many in the media asked the question "Who were those masked anarchists in Seattle?"

They are an international movement. I won't call them an "organization" because I don't have any way of knowing who, if anyone, is behind the movement.

The Wikipedia entry on Antifa(Germany) does give some evidence for the international nature of the movement in the section on the "Contemporary Groups"

...Steffen Kailitz notes that "the difference between the autonomist scene and terrorist networks gradually lost importance from the 1990s" and that a number of antifa groups were involved in violent activities from the 1990s. In October 2016, antifa in Dresden campaigned on the occasion of the anniversary of the reunification of Germany on 3 October for "turning Unity celebrations into a disaster" to protest this display of new German nationalism whilst explicitly not ruling out the use of violence. Antifa protesters were involved during the 2017 G20 Hamburg summit confrontations.

So there is enough basis for considering Antifa an international movement. Can a movement be treated as a group? On the surface, the answer is probably "no." But it allows for investigation into the question of whether there are any covert funding or organizing entities which fuel the movement. This is a question which can be investigated by law enforcement.

If the law enforcement can find evidence that there are such behind-the-curtains organizers, then the fact that their organizing spreads across national borders would allow them to be designated as a terrorist organization.

  • Do you have anything that actually indicates that the "black bloc" is linked to antifa in any way? While I can easily believe that some of the same people are involved, since there is some overlap in goals and methods, blindly assuming that they're the same thing would be the equivalent of assuming that the various militia groups are the same thing as white supremacists. I'm sure there's overlap, but I don't think that either one automatically implies the other.
    – Bobson
    Mar 3, 2022 at 21:45
  • @bobson other than the links I already provided? The "black bloc" link has references to Antifa and the Antifa link has a reference to "black block." And the fact that it's the Antifa attire of choice? If I were cynical, I'd think you were sealioning. But maybe you just didn't bother doing a search or even click on the links. I've given enough evidence for the idea that there enough for LE to investigate. I am not claiming that I have definitive proof of guilt.
    – wrod
    Mar 3, 2022 at 21:55
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    "Black bloc" is a tactic. Antifa is a philosophy/worldview and label for organizations that promote such. It's entirely reasonable to say "Antifa used black bloc tactics." It doesn't make sense to say "Everyone using black bloc tactics is antifa". I did skim the links you gave, and I don't think the pages imply any closer linkage than that. The black bloc page only mentions antifa in the same context as the 19th century Rebecca Riots, and the antifa page refers to them "using black bloc tactics" and "along with black bloc activists".
    – Bobson
    Mar 3, 2022 at 22:05
  • @bobson black block is a tactic. But, as a brand, it was used to refer to antifa using this tactic. Just as shaving one's head bold is a choice of grooming. But as a brand, "skinheads" was a reference to neo-nazis using this choice of grooming.
    – wrod
    Mar 3, 2022 at 22:08
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    I think you're right, we got off track. I'll just say "Downvoting because shadowy, manipulative conspiracies on this scale don't exist." and move on with my day. If you want to believe in one (or at least the possibility of one), go right ahead. You're not wrong that if one exists law enforcement would investigate and that organization could be designated as a terrorist group. I just think that positing one is silly.
    – Bobson
    Mar 3, 2022 at 22:42

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