HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana lawmakers are considering a bill that would designate antifa as a domestic terrorism group, despite no evidence of antifa activities in the state.
The intent of the measure is to “send a message that we as a state won’t tolerate a group like this coming into our state,” bill sponsor Rep. Braxton Mitchell, R-Columbia Falls, told members of the Montana House Judiciary Committee during a Tuesday hearing.
Short for “anti-fascists,” antifa is not a single organization but rather an umbrella term for far-left leaning militant groups that confront or resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations.
Opponents of the bill said during the hearing that it would be inappropriate to designate antifa as a domestic terrorism group while ignoring other groups accused of domestic violence. Those include groups that participated in the attack on the U.S. Capitol last month.
Mitchell said the intention of the measure is to target antifa, but the bill also calls on the U.S. president, Congress and the Montana governor “to combat the spread of all forms of domestic terrorism, including white supremacist terrorism.”
John Driscoll, a former Democratic state lawmaker, called the measure “a wasteful distraction from the real problem.”
Rep. Ed Stafman, D-Bozeman, cited a 2020 report by the Department of Homeland Security that states that white supremacist extremists “will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.”
Former President Donald Trump last year singled out antifa as being responsible for the violence at protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Trump said then that he intended to designate the group as a terrorist organization. However, experts said there is no existing legal framework to designate a decentralized domestic movement as a terrorist organization.
Mitchell said Tuesday that Montana’s designation could allow law enforcement to “look into” those suspected of antifa activity. However, the lawmaker said he did not consult with state law enforcement officials when drafting the bill.
Following the hearing on the bill, 31 Republican lawmakers who had previously signed on as co-sponsors of the measure requested that their names be removed from the sponsor list. The original list of co-sponsors included 53 lawmakers.
Among those who requested to be removed from the sponsor list is Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Barry Usher, a Republican from Yellowstone County. He said his decision to withdraw his name from the list came after Mitchell declined to add other groups to the domestic terrorism designation. Usher said he did not have any specific groups he wanted to add to the bill, but was open to suggestions from other committee members.
“I was willing to hear from both sides of the aisle,” he said.
The committee did not take immediate action on the measure.
Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.