On Thursday afternoon, Attorney General William Barr came out for the cameras, dragging FBI director Christopher Wray behind him along with officials from the DEA, ATF, and Bureau of Prisons. And while every one of these fine officials was careful to speak the name of George Floyd and offer condolences to his family on the day that a series of memorial services begin, there was one other name that got repeated over … and over … and … yeah, over.
In a performance that seemed to channel equal parts Peter Lorre in ‘M’ and the Nazi with the burned hand from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Barr adopted his best low-key-but-menacing approach as he showed conclusively that there was a single purpose for this event—to blame all protest violence on one group and one group only, and to make sure Wray was on the record agreeing with him. In his opening statement, Barr spoke out about “extremist agitators who are hijacking the protests” before saying that “we have evidence that antifa and other similar groups … have been involved.”
Barr would never provide that evidence. And despite eventually saying that “actors of a variety of different political persuasions” were involved, antifa was the only group he would ever name.
Through the rest of his statement, Barr again mentioned that there were a range of people involved in violence or vandalism, but there was only one name that got mentioned. Even though antifa is only “a group” in the sense that there are people who use that label in describing themselves, Barr continued to act as if it was an organization whose connections and activities were to be investigated.
When Barr gave way to Wray, it was clear that the director was eager to cast off the taint of an FBI report issued just last Monday that let both Trump and Barr know that the bureau had no evidence that any violence in the protests was related to antifa. Instead, just like Barr, Wray declared that those responsible for the violence were “anarchists like antifa … and other agitators.” And just like Barr, he didn’t name any of those others.
After the head of the ATF happily declared that her agency was working hard to protect gun dealers, the director of the Bureau of Prisons made it clear that, “The attorney general asked the BOP to assist in maintaining order and peace.” He then went on to claim that his people were well-trained to deal with the public, and are experts and maintaining civil order. Which might have gone better, had not a question about why his people didn’t have name tags or other identification not drawn a response that “We normally operate within the confines of our institutions and we don’t need to identify ourselves.” That’s … not the best evidence that this is the team to handle the public. Barr stepped in to add, “I can understand why some of these individuals simply wouldn’t want to talk to people about who they are.” So, sure. They don’t need not stinking badges.
Under questioning, Barr was directly confronted by the fact that while the evidence of antifa involvement appears to be invisible, at least three of those arrested so far are members of the racist, right-wing “Boogaloo Bois.” The reporter then asked Barr directly why he didn’t name other groups.
Barr protested that he did name others. “That’s why I said antifa and other groups like antifa,” said Barr. If that wasn’t bad enough, Barr then went on to say that the FBI had been cranking up its data collection and intelligence operations against people who are “antifa-related.” That was the cue for Wray to pop back to the podium and declare, “We have quite a number of investigations of violent anarchist extremists, including those of antifa or antifa-like motivations.”
So … there’s antifa, groups like antifa, antifa-related groups, and people with antifa-like motivations. And again, all this was in response to a question about the arrest of three men who identified themselves as Boogaloo Bois. Eventually Barr did stumble and repeat the word “Boogaloo” in response to a question, but it was the only slip in some of the most blatantly deceptive speech ever recorded.
When not trying to get antifa onto the record in as many ways possible for Fox News consumption, Barr gave a fresh accounting of the events on Monday night, when federal agents blasted peaceful protesters away from Lafayette Square using pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets, then rode down those who failed to clear away fast enough on horseback.
According to Barr, the decision to fence off the whole of the park and drive everyone out of the area had been made that morning; it was just that they were slow getting the fences up. But the reason had nothing to do with Trump’s wanting to get in a photo op. Nope. The protesters were interfering with the business of government and there were “projectiles” being thrown. So Barr … reluctantly … reluctantly … ordered the blasting of peaceful protesters because someone “maybe at the back,” he claimed, threw something not just unnamed, but unseen by anyone else.
Putting the general into attorney general, Barr seemed out to top Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s earlier statements about “the battlespace.” In describing how he decided to drive protesters away from the White House, Barr said, “I made the decision that we would move our perimeter northward by a block … I met with law enforcement agencies and we set our tactical plan.” With that perimeter set (i.e. people shot, trampled, and gassed) Trump strolled across the street, everything was cool, and Barr demonstrated an unmatched level of gall by saying, “Fortunately … we were able to finish that day without further violence from the demonstrators.”
Finally, says Barr, Trump was able to take a casual, unplanned stroll because he, “should be able to walk outside the White House and walk to the ‘church of presidents.’” It was not, according to Barr—who is blocking priests from returning to that church—a political act.
But as bad as Barr’s re-write of history from just three nights ago may be, the worst aspect of his press event was also the main theme. Because Barr’s statement on the death of George Floyd came in the form of a solid non-apology apology. Rather than saying there was anything actually wrong with law enforcement, Barr said, “While many police officers do their job admirably and well, it is undeniable that many African Americans lack confidence in our American criminal justice system.”
Get that? It’s not that there’s a problem with police. Barr is saying that the problem is with Black people.
To be doubly sure about this, Barr was asked about this comment during Q & A. In response to a reporter, Barr said that his views have not changed, and he does not believe there’s a systematic problem with law enforcement. The vast majority of police “use appropriate and reasonable response.”
And then Barr bragged about how well he handled the Rodney King situation.