House Democrats seek information from CIA and FBI on antifa rumors

Two members of the House Intelligence Committee are asking for information on who is behind false social media campaigns.
Image: Anti-fascist protesters hold flags on the Christian Science Plaza, Saturday, July 11, 2020, in Boston.
Anti-fascist protesters hold flags on the Christian Science Plaza, Saturday, July 11, 2020, in Boston.Michael Dwyer / AP

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By Leigh Ann Caldwell

WASHINGTON — Two members of the House Intelligence Committee are asking the CIA and the FBI for any information their agencies have about the spread of false information campaigns meant to magnify and invoke fear about activities of left-wing protest groups like antifa.

In a letter sent Tuesday, Democratic Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois and Peter Welch of Vermont ask the heads of the two agencies specifically about foreign actors, members of the military or local police spreading false information about antifa gatherings and events.

"I’m concerned about any influence campaigns on the web but also on social media to the extent that there’s false information or there’s information you don’t know the identity of the people promulgating it. And in this case you might have both,” Krishnamoorthi said in an interview with NBC News. “The identity could very well be foreign actors, they could be domestic or they could be both.”

The letter comes amid reports that far-right groups, like white nationalist group Identity Evropa, NBC reported, have spread rumors such as those about looting and riots being planned in suburban and rural towns to stoke fear among Americans.

The president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was among those perpetuating some of those, posting one of the false claims on his Instagram account. Rumors about planned protests and activities have also spread on Facebook and Nextdoor about antifa agitators in California, Idaho, South Dakota and Pennsylvania.

In their letter to CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Christopher Wray, the lawmakers ask if the agencies are investigating or have any information about people or organizations that spread the disinformation campaigns, including the group “Left Behind USA,” that claimed there would be a flag burning in Gettysburg, Pa., on July 4. Such a demonstration did not occur but the suggestion of it attracted dozens of heavily armed counter-protestors who surrounded a man wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt who said he was there visiting a grave in the cemetery.

Facebook and Twitter have deleted the pages of Left Behind USA from their platforms but the public and Congress still doesn’t know who was behind them.

"The Intelligence Committee has been concerned about growing influence campaigns just the same way the Russians conducted influence campaigns in 2016,” Krishnamoorthi told NBC News. “This time we’re worried about the Chinese government, the Russians the Iranians and the domestic actors who might jump into the fray.”

“Over the past few months, local misinformation about apparently nonexistent antifa gatherings and ‘invasions’ has proliferated in communities throughout the United States, sowing social and political division,” the letter reads. The lawmakers say they are “inquiring about any definitive evidence gathered, or ongoing investigations, by federal authorities regarding the identities or nationalities of individuals originating and promoting these falsely advertised antifa gatherings.”