Antifa—not the police—seems to be in charge at many protests in America, according to National Police Association spokeswoman Betsy Smith.

Political radicals control the streets because politicians have told police to stand down, Smith said.

“What we’ve seen since 2014—and then being ramped up after 2020—is this unfortunate atmosphere where Antifa and Antifa-like groups seem to run the show at protests, depending on where you’re at. And law enforcement finds it incredibly frustrating,” she said.

This choice by local governments around the country has far-reaching consequences for freedom of speech, freedom to protest, and potential for violence, she said.

Smith said that after the police shooting of Michael Brown in 2014 and the death of George Floyd in 2020, riots swept the nation.

Often, local politicians feared that any police use of lethal force, however justified, would provoke a violent response by political radicals, she said, adding that the media also tends to cover justified police shootings negatively.

“We are unfortunately in an atmosphere now where the majority of the media is going to side with Antifa. Our federal political leadership is likely to side with Antifa,” Smith said.

“Remember, we have been told by the federal government that Antifa doesn’t exist or that they’re just a disorganized group.”

In Democrat-held cities, political leadership often considers Antifa a less concerning threat than police, Smith said. Therefore, these politicians demand a light hand against political radicals at protests, she said.

“All of that political leadership that has dominion over local law enforcement, they don’t believe Antifa is crazy,” she said. “[Police have] been told for the last two-and-a-half years that we’re bad and we’re the problem, that we’re the ones killing people.”

According to Smith, left-wing radical groups given free rein by local governments are spearheading the wave of nationwide violent protest.

This situation has allowed radical, armed protesters to make rules on the streets in a way that once only law enforcement could, Smith said.

At protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin; Knoxville, Tennessee; Katy, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; Washington; and many other places, veteran reporters for The Epoch Times have seen radical activists make protests threatening.

‘Whose Streets? Our Streets!’

The phrase “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” has become a common protest chant across the nation, Smith said.

According to Smith, this chant and emphasis on street control can be traced to anarchist movements in the Pacific Northwest. These political groups joined with criminal gangs and Black Lives Matter during the wave of 2020 protests, she noted.

“People don’t understand the origins of Black Lives Matter. They don’t really understand what they stand for,” Smith said. “They’re a Marxist organization that got infused with an enormous, unthinkable amount of money after the death of George Floyd.”

This money gave the anarchist movement rocket fuel, she said. Although some of it was lost to grift, much of it allowed far-left radicals to fund travel for protest and bail arrested activists out of jail, she said.

These street control protest tactics have threatened Americans nationwide. Locals face attacks, businesses face looting, and Supreme Court Justices faced weeks-long intimidation campaigns outside their own homes.

“At the very least, I hope he’s annoyed. I hope he’s very inconvenienced,” said a protester outside Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house in May 2022.

In many instances, radical protests have defied or skirted the law.

On Jan. 6, 2021, rioters and other actors breached the U.S. Capitol building in Washington during the “Stop the Steal” rally.

Some of these protesters have been charged with bringing firearms to the protest. Others had melee weapons like wooden sticks.

In Michigan, armed right-wing protesters shouted with a bullhorn outside the home of Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

“Through threats of violence, intimidation, and bullying, the armed people outside my home and their political allies seek to undermine and silence the will and voices of every voter in this state, no matter who they voted for,” said Benson.

In Kenosha, after Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial, police told a crowd including armed protesters to confine their march to a single road lane.

The crowd disobeyed, and the police backed down.

“Come on, man! You can’t tell us how to protest,” one Kenosha protester told police.

In Knoxville, Tennessee, Antifa members surrounded a reporter and physically blocked him out of a crowd. Police urged The Epoch Times not to video the incident.

“We just don’t want any problems,” said Sgt. Nate Skellenger of the Knoxville Police Department.

In Virginia, it’s illegal to picket outside a private residence or protest to influence a judge. But police permitted protesters to march outside the homes of Supreme Court justices for weeks.

“You can’t picket a specific residence,” police Captain Alan Hanson told The Epoch Times. “However, as they march through the neighborhood, they’re not picketing necessarily a specific residence. That’s the tack that they take.”

This intimidation can cause communities to live in fear.

“I’m not commenting on anything,” one Kenosha business owner said. “If I say something wrong, my business is gonna get targeted.”

According to Smith, charging protesters who break the law works wonders in keeping protests civil. But left-wing prosecutors often don’t want to press charges against protesters, she said, adding that this in turn affects the behavior of officers on the street.

“Why would I arrest somebody who’s breaking the law during a protest when I know that the charges are just gonna get dropped? What’s the point?” Smith said.

Control The Streets, Control the Narrative

Antifa and other radical activists have often attempted to interfere with The Epoch Times’ coverage of their protests.

Radical protesters have blocked The Epoch Times’ attempts to photograph them. They’ve pushed reporters out of crowds. Often, control-focused protesters have interfered when reporters have tried to interview people.

These tactics make it less likely that the broader public will see what is behind the incidents they create. Often, only a whitewashed description of their cause reaches national news, while the intimidation, street control, and media suppression remain local.

For local communities, the impacts don’t end with that one night of violence.

Smith noted that in Seattle, Washington, the city had to pay $3 million in compensation to business owners impacted by the Antifa-run Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ). The protesters held territory within Seattle for nearly a month before authorities permitted police to re-exert control.

In Chicago, some major business districts hit by the 2020 riots still haven’t recovered, Smith said.

“Lori Lightfoot, the former mayor of Chicago, mismanaged the 2020 and 2021 riots and destroyed some of the most beautiful shopping in the world,” she noted.

Groups like Antifa also threaten political freedom, Smith said. When people fear reprisals by a radical group that controls the streets, they aren’t really free, she added.

“Unfortunately now, people in the United States have to balance their speaking their views and worrying about the safety of themselves or their families,” Smith said.

The Future of Radical Protest

As protests aiming to control territory spread, violence has already increased, Smith said.

With a nationwide network of armed members, Antifa has become an increasingly common sight at protests.

Their members wear black clothes and masks. They are responsible for physical violence and property destruction. Some wear bulletproof vests and military-style helmets.

When The Epoch Times attempted to contact Antifa for comment, its Miami chapter sent back a picture taken in Washington of an Epoch Times reporter.

“[Expletive] you. Anti-fascists nationwide know everything about you,” its email read.

Antifa isn’t the only left-wing movement interested in building armed networks. Various “John Brown Gun Club” groups also work to arm far-left actors.On the right, the Proud Boys may be the most famous aggressive protest group. This right-wing body also has a nationwide network, including armed members.At protests, some wear masks and bulletproof vests. They also coordinate their clothing.

They have been involved in street violence and property destruction, as covered by The Epoch Times.

When The Epoch Times contacted them for comment, they didn’t provide a response by press time.

Other nationwide right-wing militias include the Salt and Light Brigade, the Three Percenters, and Patriot Prayer.

These groups have all brought weapons to protests.

Members of the Salt and Light Brigade and Three Percenters played a role in the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol. Patriot Prayer has gotten into street fights with left-wing protesters.

Radical groups on the left and right have already engaged in street fights with each other, Smith said.

“You can look at some of the things that have happened in Portland and Seattle—where there were protests where the police just sort of didn’t show up—and so you had the alt-right, and you had the far left. And they indeed did lead to violence,” she said.

Both the Proud Boys and Antifa sometimes show up armed at the same protest locations. The protests they attend often have hundreds of innocent bystanders, sometimes including families.

With the right spark, these protests could become shootouts with children in the crossfire.

But according to Smith, it’s unlikely that local governments will let protests spiral out of hand indefinitely. Voters are already weary of bullying by radical political groups with guns, she said.

“I think we’re going to start to see the pendulum swing back,” Smith said.

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