White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s attorney husband George Conway was one of several legal experts to call out President Donald Trump Saturday after the President said he was considering officially naming Antifa an “organization of terror,” a designation that does not exist for domestic groups.
Trump sent the Tweet as dueling protests between groups of right-wing extremists and anti-fascist demonstrators were set to get underway in Portland, Oregon.
“Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an ‘ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.’ Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!” Trump Tweeted Saturday morning.
However, despite Trump’s threat, legal experts were quick to note that while the State Department does maintain a list of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, there is simply no mechanism by which the federal government can declare a domestic group an “organization of terror.”
Benjamin Wittes, a Senior Fellow at the Bookings Institute and editor in chief of the blog Lawfare, immediately pounced on the President’s apparent misunderstanding of federal terror laws.
“Looks like we may need to do another @LawFareBlog explainer about the word ‘foreign’ in the phrase ‘designated FOREIGN terrorist organization,’ Wittes Tweeted.
Conway, a persistent critic of President Trump, responded to Wittes by saying the Tweet was more proof that Trump was a “moron.”
“As I was saying. Trump’s a moron. We shouldn’t be shy about saying it, since he gives us proof on a daily, even hourly, basis,” Conway wrote.
Other legal and terrorism experts also picked up on the President’s confusion regarding terror organization statutes.
Attorney Max Kennerly pointed out that the phrase doesn’t appear in any federal statutes or judicial opinions.
“‘Organization of terror’ does not appear in the United States Code, the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Register, or any federal court opinion. What are you talking about?” he wrote alongside screenshots of searches for the phrase which turned up no results.
Former State Department spokesperson Jesse Lehrich Tweeted a similar sentiment, writing that he would “would love for Trump to explain what the hell this means since there is no such thing as a domestic ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.”
Law professor Steve Vladeck re-Tweeted Trump’s statement along with the rejoinder, “that’s . . . not a thing.”
“I teach Counterterrorism Law and have no idea what an ‘Organization of Terror’ is. If [President Trump] means designating them as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) under 8 U.S.C. § 1189, well, not so much,” Vladeck added.
And finally, Professor Jason Blazakis, a terrorism expert who served as the Director of the Counterterrorism Finance and Designations Office until 2018, weighed in on Trump’s statement, noting that even if the terror designation were applicable to domestic groups, Antifa still wouldn’t meet the requisite criteria to be deemed a group.
“Put aside fact that they don’t have camps overseas, carry out operations overseas, do not have leaders based overseas, the ‘group’ doesn’t meet criteria one for [Foreign Terrorist Organization] status – e.g. it isn’t a cohesive group. no regional/national leader; is amorphous, 10+ yrs I made the [Foreign Terrorist Organization] list,” he wrote.
[Image via NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images.]