Pence uses death of federal officer to smear protesters

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During his address at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night, Vice President Mike Pence falsely implied that a Department of Homeland Security officer gunned down in May was a victim of violent left-wing protesters.

Pence, speaking at Fort McHenry, Md., in a speech emphasizing “law and order,” said DHS officer Dave Patrick Underwood was “shot and killed during the riots in Oakland, Calif.”

But Underwood, contrary to the impression Pence tried to convey, was not the victim of demonstrators protesting police killings of Black men and women.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Steven Carrillo, a member of the right-wing “boogaloo” movement, was charged in June in Underwood's killing. Carrillo “came to Oakland to kill cops,” according to John Bennett, special agent in charge of the San Francisco division of the FBI. Authorities added that Carrillo and his alleged accomplice, Robert Justus, hoped the large social justice demonstrations would provide them cover for the shooting.

Dave Patrick Underwood (Placer County Deputy Sheriffs' Association)
Dave Patrick Underwood. (Placer County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association)

Underwood, a member of the DHS’s Federal Protective Service, was one of two officers shot on May 29 in a drive-by attack outside a federal building.

But in a speech on the third night of a convention whose dominant theme was that a Joe Biden presidency would endanger Americans, especially in suburbs, Pence misrepresented the circumstances of Underwood’s death by saying it took place “during the riots.” In the context of Pence’s speech, the clear implication was that Underwood was killed by one of the Black Lives Matter demonstrators protesting George Floyd’s death, or perhaps one of the left-wing anarchists who President Trump has repeatedly mentioned over the last few months.

Pence’s misleading remark illustrates how the Trump administration has ignored far-right violence — a real thing that has resulted in numerous deaths and arrests — and has instead focused on left-wing protesters. Demonstrations have turned violent in some cities, resulting in incidents of arson, looting and assaults on law enforcement, but there have been few or no deaths linked to left-wing protesters, and the Justice Department has not prosecuted them as part of any organized movement.

The boogaloo movement is a loosely affiliated collection of far-right militias, radical gun rights activists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis seeking to provoke an uprising against the U.S. government. In Nevada, three men were arrested in May for allegedly planning to use the Floyd protests as cover to incite violence.

During his RNC address, Pence did not mention the two people killed by a gunman in Kenosha, Wis., the previous night. The teenage suspect, who is already being hailed by some in right-wing media, was ardently pro-police and was associating himself with militia members prior to the shooting.

In June, the Center for Strategic and International Studies published a report stating that “far-right terrorism has significantly outpaced terrorism from other types of perpetrators, including from far-left networks and individuals inspired by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.” The database assembled by the CSIS found zero murders tied to the left-wing antifa movement in the United States over the last 25 years.

Mourners view the body of Federal Protective Services Officer Dave Patrick Underwood after a memorial service on Friday, June 19, 2020, in Pinole, Calif. (Ben Margot/AP Photo)
Mourners view the body of federal officer Dave Patrick Underwood at a memorial service in Pinole, Calif., on June 19. (Ben Margot/AP)

In the protests that sprang up in the wake of Floyd’s death, the White House attempted to pin the violence on antifa. Short for anti-facist, antifa refers to a movement of combative leftists, including many self-described anarchists, who advocate street violence against white supremacists, neo-Nazis and others they deem to be “fascists.” They attempt to “deplatform” anyone they consider homophobic, racist or xenophobic, a process that sometimes involves shutting down controversial speakers or gatherings through the use of force.

“There is clearly some high degree of organization involved at some of these events and coordinated tactics that we are seeing,” Attorney General William Barr said earlier this year. “Some of it relates to antifa. Some of it relates to groups that act very much like antifa.”

“The memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters and anarchists,” said Trump on May 30. “The violence and vandalism is being led by antifa and other radical left-wing groups who are terrorizing the innocent, destroying jobs, hurting businesses and burning down buildings.”

“It’s ANTIFA and the Radical Left,” Trump added in a tweet that day. “Don’t lay the blame on others!”

However, in the initial wave of arrests related to the Floyd protests, there was no evidence of antifa ties. The White House also blamed the network of far-left groups for violence at protests in Portland, Ore., though the Justice Department did not find any link to antifa. Pence in his address on Wednesday did not cite any genuine instances of a law enforcement officer killed by a left-wing extremist.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Charlotte Convention Center on August 24, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (David T. Foster III-Pool/Getty Images)
Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Republican National Convention on Monday. (David T. Foster III-Pool/Getty Images)

While Trump and his administration were blaming antifa for violence, they were overlooking violence perpetrated by supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Trump endorsed a Republican candidate for the U.S. House in Georgia who’s been an outspoken believer in the conspiracy theory, and said of the believers that he “heard these are people that love our country.”

QAnon is a loose movement founded in 2017 on a rumor that Trump is working to defeat an international conspiracy to kidnap, abuse, torture and kill children. Trump, in the QAnon worldview, is working behind the scenes to expose and disrupt this conspiracy but has been thwarted by “deep state” bureaucrats and global elites.

In August 2019, Yahoo News reported that an FBI document had identified QAnon as one of the “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” that were potential terrorist threats. QAnon believers have been tied to kidnappings, murder and terrorism.

The administration’s unwillingness to confront the real threat of right-wing extremism dates back to the first year of the Trump presidency. In August 2017, Trump referred to the white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., one of whom murdered a counterprotester, as “very fine people.”


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