A petition has called on the Trump administration to designate Antifa, or the anti-fascist movement, a terrorist organization.
The petition has accrued enough signatures to require an official response from the White House. Antifa entered the nationals spotlight after several of its members clashed with white nationalists during a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
On Aug. 17, a White House petition called on the U.S. Department of State to label Antifa members as terrorists. By Aug. 21, the petition racked up 146,000 signatures, passing the 100,000 minimum threshold to prompt an official response from the Trump administration, Fox News reports.
"It is time for the pentagon to be consistent in its actions," the petition stated. "Just as they rightfully declared ISIS a terror group, they must declare AntiFa a terror group -- on the grounds of principle, integrity, morality, and safety."
Antifa is a far-left group that derives its name and methods from previous anti-fascist groups that stretch back into the early 20th century. The Antifa movement has a presence across several countries, has no centralized leadership and is comprised largely of young people.
"Anti-racists or anti-fascists are not a new phenomenon," Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism of California State University, told CNN. "What I think is new is that they're more active both in making themselves prominent at violent rallies and also trying to bridge into the disenfranchised peaceful progressive movement."
Antifa affiliates advocate against racism and fascism, but their methods have been fiercely controversial. The group has endorsed using violent retaliation against people they deem to be fascist threats or white supremacists. Antifa members have asserted that their methods are necessary to curb a growing neo-Nazi movement.
"People are starting to understand that neo-Nazis don't care if you're quiet, you're peaceful," 20-year-old Emily Rose Nauert, an Antifa member, told The New York Times. "You need violence in order to protect nonviolence. That’s what’s very obviously necessary right now. It’s full-on war, basically.”
On Aug. 17, Professor Noam Chomsky of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an influential advocate for progressive politics, blasted Antifa as counterproductive.
"As for Antifa, it's a minuscule fringe of the Left, just as its predecessors were," Noam Chomsky told the Washington Examiner. "It's a major gift to the Right, including the militant Right, who are exuberant."
Chomsky asserted that Antifa's willingness to use violence is "generally self-destructive."
Levin asserted that Antifa had grown increasingly more aggressive in reaction to President Donald Trump's campaign and election, citing instances of violence against protesters during Trump rallies in 2016.
"There was a normalization of political violence which first started with regard to the Trump rallies," said Levin. "Indeed, we saw alt-right people manhandling African-American protesters. Then what happened is these fiery embers crossed the fire line, so now on the far-left they say the best way to resist is violence because they're out-gunned in this new era of President Trump."
On Aug. 12, Antifa protesters physically clashed with Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and members of the alt-right during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. The hostilities turned lethal when alt-right member James Alex Fields Jr. plowed his vehicle through a crowd of anti-racist protesters who were not affiliated with Antifa. Fields' attack killed Heather Heyer, 32, and injured 19 others, according to The Washington Post.
On Aug, 15, Trump ignited controversy when he asserted during a White House press conference that counter protesters were just as responsible as the white nationalists for the violence in Charlottesville. The president appeared to be referring to Antifa members, although he did not name their group.
"What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right," Trump said, according to CNBC. "Do they have any semblance of guilt?"
The president added, "You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent."
The State Department does not designate Antifa nor white nationalist groups as terrorist organizations, according to NPR.