In a fractious yet still informative debate which ranged across multiple topics, restoring law and order to American cities the role of Antifa and other insurrectionists got disappointingly short shrift.
Antifa was mentioned by name by debate moderator Chris Wallace only as a segue into a stunt where he attempted to force the President to denounce white supremacists, something Trump has already done, despite media narratives to the contrary.
The President told Wallace he would readily denounce any group by name. While Wallace did not name a group, Biden appears to have said “Proud Boys” –a right-wing group that while not explicitly white supremacist does routinely clashes with Antifa at demonstrations organized around the country. Trump then called on the Proud Boys to “stand back”—in language mimicking that of Wallace’s question.
Trump then asked why they were not talking about the larger issue of Antifa/BLM riots currently plaguing multiple cities.
“But I’ll tell you what somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem this is a left wing [problem],” Trump insisted.
This statement caused Biden to interject that Antifa was “an idea” not an organization, citing the erroneous testimony of FBI Director Christopher Wray who called Antifa an ideology rather than an organization. Trump pushed back, saying “Well, then you know what, he’s wrong.”
On social media, Andy Ngo, a Portland-based journalist who has long covered Antifa, objected, rattling off a list of antifa organizations:
“Rose City Antifa is a group. Antifa Seven Hills is a group. Antifa Sacramento is a group. Atlanta Antifascists is a group. Youth Liberation Front is a group. There are many many antifa groups. And they are violent.”
As the Center testified before the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Antifa chapters are organized locally, and antifa manuals describe chapters as supporting larger regional networks.
Trump pushed back admirably, calling Antifa a dangerous radical group, before warning Biden, “Be careful, they’ll overthrow you.”
This seemingly throwaway line would be easily missed over the shouting but deserves to be highlighted because it makes clear that Trump understands the fundamental nature of Antifa -as an organization which seeks power- better than either of his debate interlocutors, Wallace or Biden. Trump noted the fraught nature of the Democratic party’s relationship with the radical left several times during the debate.
In comparison, Biden was evasive on what steps, if any, he would take to end urban violence. When asked by Wallace if he would urge Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to rein in the nightly rioting, Biden demurred, saying he was only a private citizen, despite earlier having declared himself the leader of the Democrat party. He also repeated antifa-style talking points, blaming violence in Portland on the President’s use of federal law enforcement to defend the federal courthouse. Unlike Trump however, Biden was not asked by Wallace to denounce any groups and did not volunteer to do so.
The debate exchange made clear that Biden remains unwilling or unable to denounce the revolutionary violence emanating from the Left while Trump has a superior understanding of the threat possessed by the insurrectionists.