Opinion: The Attempted Assassination of Brett Kavanaugh and Far-Left Extremism

Opinion: The Attempted Assassination of Brett Kavanaugh and Far-Left Extremism
File:Welcome to CHAZ (50004505632).png” by Derek Simeone is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

This article, following this author’s analysis on far-right extremist violence, examines and analyzes the recent uptick in political extremist violence in the United States. The recent thwarted assassination attempt on US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh shines a spotlight on far-left extremism, a security issue long-neglected by US authorities. While it is much less deadly than either jihadism or far-right extremism, far-left violence is very real: multiple “lone-wolf” extremists inspired by anti-government sentiment have committed acts of violence in the past five years, while far-left extremist organizations have repeatedly exploited peaceful protests to wreak revolutionary havoc. Sharpening political tensions in the US – largely stemming from the overturn of Roe v. Wade and the coming midterm elections – mean further acts of far-left violence are increasingly likely. 

A Thwarted Assassination

On 8 June, police arrested Nicholas John Roske outside the Maryland home of US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and discovered Roske possessed a tactical vest, zip ties, burglary tools, a knife, pepper spray, and a loaded 9mm handgun. By his own admission, Roske traveled across the country to kill Kavanaugh, driven by anger over the forthcoming overturn of Roe v. Wade decision and by Kavanaugh’s support for gun rights. 

Far-Left Extremism: Partisan Distraction or Legitimate Security Concern?

For the first two decades of the 21st Century, far-left extremism was an afterthought for most American security institutions. The 9/11 attacks caused a wholesale priority shift towards the threat of terrorism, while the deadly rise of the far-right prompted another redirect in US policy to confront what the Department of Homeland Security deemed “the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.” 

In the burgeoning race to combat extremists, the far-left barely ranked a footnote. Serious concern about leftist extremism – defined as those who broadly adhere to anarchism, communism, or general anti-liberal leftism – was seen as an anachronistic throwback to the violent Cold War days of the Weather Underground, the May 19th Communist Organization, and the Black Liberation Army. Those who did express concerns about the far-left, such as the Trump Administration’s proposed designation of Antifa as a terrorist group, it would appear, largely did so as a political stunt, potentially undermining the actual threat posed by the those individuals making up the militant left.

Extremism analysts correctly note that far-left violence is a much smaller threat than either terrorism or the far-right. However, law enforcement and security personnel must not neglect the violent far-left just because it is statistically smaller than other extremist ideologies. The volatile political climate in the US that has simmered for decades threatens to boil over, with extremists of all stripes drawing battle lines. The attempted assassination of Justice Kavanaugh is a reminder that the far-left also threatens American society.

Far-Left Violence 

In July 2016, Micah Johnson murdered five police officers and wounded seven more during a premediated shooting in Dallas, Texas; his Facebook page demonstrated sympathy for three black separatist groups–all listed as “hate groups” by the SPLC–that encourage killing white people, Jews, and police officers. In June 2017, James Hodgkinson – driven by hatred of Republicans – opened fire on the Republican practice for the Congressional Baseball Game at a field in Arlington, Virginia, wounding US House of Representatives Majority Whip Steve Scalise, as well as a legislative staffer, a lobbyist, and two Capitol Police officers. 

In January 2019, Charles Landeros tried to gun down two police officers during a custody dispute at a middle school in Eugene, Oregon. He was previously investigated by the FBI for planning to use his military experience to train others to “kill the ruling class,” and on the morning of his death Landeros was reported to police for a Facebook comment declaring “death to all pigs.” In July 2019, self-proclaimed “anti-fascist” Willem von Spronsen was killed by law enforcement while attempting to firebomb an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Tacoma, Washington.

Just as important as the individual acts of violence are the far-leftists – the so-called “black bloc,” an anarchist tactic in which extremists dress fully in black to conceal their identities – who repeatedly used legitimate peaceful protests as a cover for their extremist agendas. The George Floyd protests brought this into stark relief; while early reports that Antifa groups directed the violence proved unfounded, law enforcement estimated that many rioters were driven by anarchist ideology and sought to leverage the protests to make revolutionary societal change. The most potent example was Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), a short-lived experiment in anarchy during which far-left protesters declared six square blocks of Seattle outside the jurisdiction of any government. The would-be secessionist territory’s only rule was “no cops allowed”; by CHAZ’s end twenty-four days after its birth, a rash of shootings gave the territory a murder rate fifty times that of Chicago

Source: The “People’s Republic” of Capitol Hill (8 June – 1 July, 2020)

Only the Beginning?

In the lead-up to and immediately after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, left-wing extremists had already committed violence. The organization Jane’s Revenge – likely a loosely-organized collective of pro-abortion anarchists – firebombed non-abortion-providing pregnancy centers in Madison, Wisconsin and Amherst, New York, and has vandalized many more with the statement “if abortions aren’t safe, neither are you.” A similar firebombing was perpetrated by unknown assailants at a pro-life pregnancy center in Gresham, Oregon.

Source: https://www.independentsentinel.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/janes-revenge-antifa-in-asheville.jpg

The continued political battles over abortion likely will incite further violence, possibly with lethal consequences. In a message amplified by a DC antifa group, Jane’s Revenge called for riots and a “night of rage” in DC following the SCOTUS abortion decision. 

In a communique from 14 June, the group further ratcheted up the violent rhetoric, declaring “the leash is off” and future actions “may not come in the form of something so easily cleaned up as fire and graffiti.” Similarly, an NYC-based anarcho-communist group shared a flyer on Twitter calling for extremists to lock “forced birthers” – pro-life individuals – in a church and burn it down. A leaked memo from the US Department of Homeland Security warned that it expected the ruling to result in an uptick of violence from extremists on both sides.

Although the “night of rage” ultimately did not come to fruition and pro-abortion actions were largely peaceful, some violence did occur. At an abortion rights march in Seattle, Washington following the Roe overturn, black bloc anarchists pepper-sprayed and assaulted a pro-life activist who was holding a sign and observing the march. In Portland, Oregon anarchists vandalized multiple businesses and vehicles by breaking windows and writing graffiti, while in Los Angeles, California protesters at an abortion rights rally attacked police officers with projectiles, fireworks, and a blowtorch. A pro-choice protest in Phoenix, Arizona with roughly 7,000-8,000 participants “evolved into anarchical and criminal actions,” according to the state’s Department of Public Safety, when rioters attempted to breach the doors of the State Senate and force entry into the chamber where the Arizona legislature was convened. 

In the immediate aftermath of the decision, Christian churches in at least seven states were vandalized. Over a month after the Dobbs decision, vandalism against Catholic churches, memorials, and statues have continued nationwide, as have attacks against pro-life organizations. In a particularly heinous example, unknown assailants set fires at two Catholic churches and vandalized a third over the weekend of 9 July, drawing condemnation and deep concern in the “strongest possible terms” from President Joe Biden. 

The coming midterm elections further prime the country for extremist violence. With the outlook for Democratic politicians looking especially grim, it is likely the US will see left-wing protests against the outcome. While the majority will be peaceful, a dangerous minority of self-proclaimed anti-fascists are likely to take to the streets as well. Convinced by a narrative that only violence can stop what they see as rising fascism, the far left will probably reprise the course of action upon which they embarked following Trump’s 2017 inauguration: resistance “by any means necessary,” including violence.  

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