Not so 'ideological'? Volunteer group warns of planned Antifa election violence, regardless of outcome

FBI Director Wray: Antifa is a real thing

Former Assistant FBI Director Chris Swecker weighs in on testimony from FBI Director Christopher Wray during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing.

Local and federal law enforcement agencies around the country have had security plans drawn up for weeks in anticipation of any possible civil unrest that may be triggered by the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Major cities – still reeling from a summer of relentless demonstrations and riots – are bolstering securities in their downtown areas as shops board up their windows.

Security experts say that there are a legitimate concern and reason for cities to brace for brutality.

“Our intelligence shows that no matter who wins the election, they [Antifa] are planning a massive ‘Antifa Tet Offensive,’ bent on destroying the global order they are not beholden to any one party,” Robert Lewis told Fox News. “Their sole purpose is to create havoc, fear, and intimidation.”

Lewis is a former U.S. Army Green Beret and founder of First Amendment Praetorian (1AP), a crowdfunded, volunteer force of military, law enforcement, and intel agency community professionals “standing up to protect the First Amendment and those who use it.”

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1AP bills itself as a team dedicated to providing "intelligence and security services to protect grassroots events from fear of outside agitators and disruptors" with the purpose of "making patriotic and religious events safe again."

"We specifically focus on grassroots religious or political events. Larger companies can afford to hire their own security and intelligence teams, but we want the smaller and grassroots organizations to be able to keep safe," Lewis said. 

PORTLAND, OR – JUNE 29: Andy Ngo, a Portland-based journalist, is seen covered in unknown substance after unidentified Rose City Antifa members attacked him on June 29, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Moriah Ratner/Getty Images)

Short for "anti-fascist," the left-wing group has come under intense scrutiny by the White House and Justice Department as an acute security threat, with President Trump earlier this year threatening to label the outfit a terrorist organization. However, critics of the administration's focus on the shadowy leftist collective insist that the peril posed has been overplayed dramatically.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has also framed Antifa as an "ideology" rather than a cohesive body, as was depicted by FBI director Christopher Wray.

FBI Director Wray: Antifa is a real thing

Former Assistant FBI Director Chris Swecker weighs in on testimony from FBI Director Christopher Wray during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing.

But, the likes of Lewis and those at the helm of 1AP – comprised of hundreds of volunteers with backgrounds working in law enforcement, government intelligence, military, and special operations – begged to differ.

Lewis said that while they started primarily as a security service, efforts on intel collection have ramped up in recent months, which includes a significant number of their volunteers quietly "embedding" with Antifa-like wings. Their intel efforts, he said, have also brought to life a trove of documents that indicate Antifa is far from a hodge-podge, spur-of-the-moment mobilization.

"We use the traditional intelligence fusion cycle – planning and direction, collection, processing, analysis and production, dissemination, re-evaluation. We are currently in the Collection phase, and we have HUMINT, SIGINT, OSINT, and TECHINT capabilities," he continued. "And like any network, the [Antifa] planning and funding comes from a few main sources and people, and then is splintered, filtered, and laundered out to their many 'affinity groups' to maintain the 'no organization lie.'"

In the report breakdown of one Washington, D.C., event helmed by the volunteer group in October, personnel depicted Antifa as having "organizers, spotters, people to probe our defenses and operatives who changed clothes multiple times at the event to try and evade detection."

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"They also attempted to launch PSYOPS and, if you believe it, tried (once again) to insert a false Russian collusion / operative narrative via an 'actor' at the event," 1AP states. "The most interesting part is when they start fake fights with each other to try and draw onlookers into the fray."

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Lewis also maintains that Antifa is "much more advanced than people give them credit for in terms of intelligence collection and counterintelligence" and that they are "frequently changing their Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) and logistics."

"For anyone who believes Antifa is just a grassroots idea and their attacks are organic, we have a simple answer: do organic, spur of the moment movements and actions need logistics?" he continued, citing multiple open-source documents that point to "having a comprehensive funding and planning group, a PR group and logistics."

1AP's collection and analysis allege a network of food distributors to sustain "foot soldiers on the ground," along with fundraising efforts for financials, and pre-planned events, "which negates the 'organic, spur of the moment' talking point directly."

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"How else did they have pallets of bricks pre-positioned on street corners? How do they have a comprehensive legal network ready to defend and bail out their operatives and foot soldiers at the drop of a hat?" Lewis continued, underscoring that the apparent "leaderless" movement is comprised of different cells nationwide, with "inner circles and outer circles."

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"The inner circle only meets with certain leaders of the outer circle, who then pass the directions off to their peripheral groups – these cells in the other circle can be anywhere from five to thousands of people," Lewis claimed. "This exact methodology is what allows them to say they aren't an organized group, as the majority of their numbers are made up by these peripheral groups or cells."

In the 1AP view, Antifa is a "deliberately decentralized organization" in which there is "no overall leader" – and yet a number of cells are issued "similar instructions, or specific, complementary instructions with other sections they were working with. "

"This strongly indicates a model of command where individual cell leaders are given instructions in private or through anonymous media," Lewis contended. "There is zero possibility of such a large 'coincidence.'" 

Multiple groups, including Rose City Antifa, the Proud Boys and conservative activist Haley Adams protest in downtown Portland, Ore., Saturday, June 29, 2019. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP)

Moreover, Lewis claimed that professional analysts on their team routinely "scour the internet, social media, and dark web," with some "infiltrating their encrypted forums to have an ear out for anything they are saying and planning," highlighting that the level of operational security and tech-savviness of the Antifa-affiliated is especially advanced.  

Nonetheless, some security experts argue that the danger posed by the Antifa-affiliated pales in comparison to the far-right extremists.  

An Associated Press review of court documents released last month denoted that very few charged with crimes connected to the protests appeared to have been affiliated with organized extremist groups, and instead, many were "young suburban adults from the very neighborhoods Trump vows to protect from the violence."

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Indeed, many experts concur that common denominators for the discord are extreme anti-government views of either a left or right basis, with many traveling to significant cities such as New York from other states such as New Jersey or Pennsylvania to participate in the protest movement.

Some people in the security sector conclude that regardless of a Biden or Trump triumph, cities should expect some form of dissension. 

"I also believe there will be some foreign instigation in causing the violence to boil over as well. If I were our enemy, I'd be preparing to take advantage of all of this chaos," observed Ty Smith, retired Navy SEAL and founder and CEO of CommSafe AI. "My personal concern still lies with the far-right and white supremacists. While the far-left is arming, the far-right has been armed for a very long time already; and they've been training."

Roderick Jones, the founder of risk consultancy firm Concentric Advisors, said "supporters of either candidate will likely exercise their first amendment rights to assemble following the vote," pinpointing that the "weekend following the election would appear to be a particular hotspot." 

Helicopter passes over the White House, seen behind a fence and protest posters, the day before the U.S. presidential election in Washington, D.C., U.S., November 2, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott TPX I

Meanwhile, Ryan Mauro, a national security expert with the Clarion Project, asserted that "not since the sudden rise of ISIS" has he seen so much concern from law enforcement. 

"It is very apparent from my team's monitoring of online threats that Antifa-type groups intend to engage in violence in the aftermath of the election, especially if Trump wins. Rallies celebrating Trump's victory would be the most obvious target for violent disruption," he said. "But the threat comes from multiple angles. There are many extremists who hate Antifa and the left and don't necessarily want to initiate violence but are eager to jump into a fight once it begins." 

Dana Picore, a former LAPD trainer and officer, also highlighted that the anticipation over the turmoil has contributed to a recent spike in gun sales as fearful families and individuals prepare to protect themselves, while police departments are also drafting ready position move-in strategies to "contain violent eruptions."

And according to Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the 4,000-strong nonprofit Guardian Angels, which is preparing to patrol streets across the country amid the likelihood of post-election furor, the mayhem is slated to be perpetrated by three types: people on the far left and people on the far right who do not trust or believe in government, and those who see it as an "opportunity to loot out."

A person uses a fire extinguisher to put out a burning barricade in Philadelphia on October 27, 2020, during a protest over the police shooting of 27-year-old Black man Walter Wallace. – Hundreds of people demonstrated in Philadelphia late on October 27, with looting and violence breaking out in a second night of unrest after the latest police shooting of a Black man in the US.  (Photo by Gabriella AUDI / AFP) (Photo by GABRIELLA AUDI/AFP via Getty Images)

"There are groups that have planned this for some time. Antifa is a paramilitary group that has done this over the summer. They first graffiti, bust windows, and then start to loot but keep moving quickly ahead," he explained. "Militia groups and far-right groups will look to settle scores with BLM and Antifa when the demonstrations start. They will be in vehicles and will try to enter areas with bats, pipes, pepper spray, and in some instances, guns."

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And then, Sliwa concluded, are the "always-prepared, organized thugs who communicate on WhatsApp with another and use the term 'it's time to go to work.'"

"They come with backpacks and tools to bust locks and ply off plywood, bust windows and go in and out of stores in waves. The next day they will post the items on CraigsList, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, or fence the items in the streets," he added. "This is just another payday."

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