A Trump security chief acknowledges role of white supremacist extremists in U.S. urban violence

FILE PHOTO - People march to Columbia University to protest against former leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, and against white supremacists in New York, U.S., October 10, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s acting homeland security chief on Wednesday acknowledged that white supremacist extremists played a role in this year’s urban violence in the United States, a revision of the administration’s public descriptions of the political motivations of violent protesters.

In what was billed as a “2020 State of the Homeland” speech, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf initially attributed violence in Portland, Oregon in particular to “violent opportunists” and went on to describe how protesters had attacked federal officers with sledge-hammers, pipes, fireworks, homemade bombs and other weapons.

Wolf also attributed violence to both “white supremacist extremists” and “anarchist extremists,” mentioning white supremacists first, in a speech livestreamed on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website.

In contrast, a July 16 DHS press release attributed dozens of incidents of violence in Portland near government buildings to “violent anarchists.” However, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Portland, which has prosecuted dozens of people for riot-related offences, has largely avoided attributing political motives to them.

Portland is one of several cities across the country that became flashpoints in a summer of mostly peaceful protests against racism and police brutality following the May 25 death of a Black man, George Floyd, while in police custody.

One version of a draft DHS 2020 “State of the Homeland Threat Assessment” obtained by Lawfare blog editor Ben Wittes described white supremacists as the most deadly internal security threat, mentioning it above the threat from foreign militant groups.

In late July, however, U.S. Attorney General William Barr told Congress: “I think there are anarchists and far-left groups involved in the violence in Portland. I think antifa is involved in Portland.” Trump has also asserted that antifa was behind violence.

Antifa here, which stands for anti-fascist, is a largely unstructured, far-left movement whose followers broadly aim to confront those they view as authoritarian or racist.

Reporting By Mark Hosenball; editing by Grant McCool