The FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are warning that antifa groups could carry out more frequent attacks.
Prior to the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, at a protest organized by right-wing extremist groups in August, the DHS had already classified antifa's activities as "domestic terrorist violence," according to Politico.
DHS documents from April 2016 obtained by Politico show that "anarchist extremists" were blamed for launching attacks on a number of targets at rallies.
Antifa groups began to gain more prominence as President Donald Trump's election campaign gathered steam.
"It was in that period [as the Trump campaign emerged] that we really became aware of them," a law enforcement official said, according to Politico. "These antifa guys were showing up with weapons, shields and bike helmets and just beating the sh*t out of people. They're using Molotov cocktails, they're starting fires, they're throwing bombs and smashing windows."
A number of rallies are scheduled over the coming months, particularly in Oregon, Texas and Missouri, in which it is feared right-wing extremists and antifa groups could clash.
"Everybody is wondering, 'What are we gonna do? How are we gonna deal with this?'" the official added. "Every time they have one of these protests where both sides are bringing guns, there are sphincters tightening in my world. Emotions get high, and fingers get twitchy on the trigger."
Clashes have occurred at legally authorized demonstrations in California.
"Both the racists and a segment of violent antifa counter-protesters are amped for battle in an escalating arms race, where police departments are outmaneuvered, resulting in increasingly violent dangerous confrontations," said Brian Levin, who has studied domestic extremism for over 30 years. "It's an orchestrated dance. The rallies spill over into social media and then even more people show up at the next rally primed for violent confrontation."
The DHS document noted in addition that antifa groups plan for violence. At a Sacramento rally, they "engaged in several activities indicating proficiency in pre-operational planning, to include organizing carpools to travel from different locations, raising bail money in preparation for arrests, counter-surveilling law enforcement using three-man scout teams, using handheld radios for communication, and coordinating the event via social media," the DHS noted.
Warning of a development which has subsequently taken place, the DHS wrote in April 2016 that antifa could increase its violence if "fascist, nationalist, racist or anti-immigrant parties obtain greater prominence or local political power in the United States, leading to anti-racist violent backlash from anarchist extremists."
In California, where violence involving antifa protesters broke out in Berkeley recently, politicians and police officers have begun debating whether to classify antifa as a street gang. If adopted, police officers could gain additional powers to limit the movements of the group's members and pursue tougher charges against them.
"It is gang behavior with some ideology," Levin told the Los Angeles Times. "But it is also a social entity as well as a political one."
Sources: Politico, Los Angeles Times / Featured Image: Matthew T. Nichols for the United States Department of Justice via Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Gage Skidmore/Flickr, Duffman/Wikimedia Commons