Anyone who spends any time on social media quickly comes to grips with three things: First, facts get in the way of agendas; second, that most people are actually incapable of a meaningful discussion (notice we did not say debate) about what’s going on in the nation and world; and third, more than a few people actually do not understand (nor care to understand) the platforms, the facts or even the proper “words” being used.
In fact, some words have become so politically charged, their actual meaning has gotten completely lost in the maelstrom of hate and discontent.
FBI Director Chris Wray, a Trump appointee, told lawmakers this week that “antifa” is an ideology, not an organization. The testimony puts him at odds with the president, who has said he would designate it a terror group.
Unsurprisingly, social media lost its mind, and within hours everyone and his brother’s uncle was being painted as a terrorist. That level of misunderstanding is disconcerting at a lot of levels. But Wray was doing his part to unthread a complicated political knot.
Wray did not dispute that antifa activists were a serious concern, saying that antifa was a “real thing” and that the FBI had undertaken “any number of properly predicated investigations into what we would describe as violent extremism,” including into individuals who identify with antifa.”
But, he said, “It’s not a group or an organization. It’s a movement or an ideology.”
Unfortunately, certain damage has been done. People who wanted an excuse to make up their mind have done so, and it cannot be undone.
Wray’s characterization contradicts the depiction from Trump, who in June singled out antifa — short for “anti-fascists” and an umbrella term for far-left-leaning militant groups — as responsible for the violence that followed George Floyd’s death. Trump tweeted that the U.S. would be designating antifa as a terrorist organization, even though such designations are reserved for foreign groups and antifa lacks the hierarchical structure of formal organizations.
Congressional lawmakers wanted answers as to exactly what the administration is thinking when it comes to targeting American citizens,
The hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee focused almost entirely on domestic matters, including violence by white supremacists as well as anti-government extremists.
It underscored the shift of attention by law enforcement at a time of intense divisions and polarization inside the country. But one area where foreign threats were addressed was in the presidential election and Russia’s attempts to interfere in the campaign.
Wray did his best to make clear the scope of the threats while resisting lawmakers’ attempts to steer him into more politically charged statements. According to The Associated Press, when asked whether extremists on the left or the right posed the biggest threat, he pivoted instead to an answer about how solo actors, or so-called “lone wolves,” with easy access to weapons were a primary concern.
“We don’t really think of threats in terms of left, right, at the FBI. We’re focused on the violence, not the ideology,” he said later.
The FBI director did acknowledge racially motivated white supremacists have accounted for the most lethal attacks in the U.S. in recent years, though this year the most lethal violence has come from anti-government activists.
Within moments of Wray’s testimony, Fox News posted the following: “FBI Director Wray: ‘Antifa is a real thing,’ FBI has cases against people identifying with movement.’
The network stated, “(Wray) made clear that Antifa is not a made-up, right-wing conspiracy theory and that the FBI has cases involving those connected to it. … Wray explained that while Antifa is not an organization in the traditional sense, it is a movement and there have been suspects who claimed to be a part of it.”
For certain, there are individuals who are trying to cause disruptions to our system under the banner of political groups and ideologies. Similarly (and Wray addressed this as well), there are groups and factions actively working to disrupt the political system and the upcoming election.
Increasingly, these challenging times have evolved into tenuous times and are approaching uncertain times. All of those words make sense, their meaning is clear.
It would be helpful if we took care with our words, and used them to talk about our concerns about what is happening to our nation — not choosing to ignore them.