The Hate Unleashed by Barr’s Lies Has Consequences

A family was threatened by racists who assumed they were antifa protesters.

During his press conference on Thursday, Attorney General William Barr offered one of those non-apology apologies for the death of George Floyd. He 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.” When asked about that statement later, Barr responded by saying he does not believe there’s a systematic problem with law enforcement. He then went on to brag about how he handled the Rodney King situation.

A lot of people might have forgotten that Barr was also the attorney general when riots broke out in Los Angeles back in 1992. He acted similarly in that situation, counseling then-President George H.W. Bush to allow him to marshal special operation teams from Border Patrol, the Bureau of Federal Prisons, and other groups to “dominate” the scene. Here is how he responded back then to questions from the president about what was going on in California.

The President wanted to know what the violence was about, and I told him that there were a lot of street gangs involved and this was primarily centered on street gang activity. I told him the names of the gangs that were involved, that the violence was largely street gang activity, big-time gang, not like street gangs in the 1950s—Crips-type gangs.

According to the attorney general, the riots in Los Angeles didn’t have anything to do with the fact that cops were acquitted for the beating of Rodney King that we all watched on video. They were simply street gangs (read: people of color) getting out of control. Now, the best he can do for an apology is to blame African Americans for not having enough trust in law enforcement.

Instead of blaming street gangs this time, the attorney general continues to blame antifa for the violence emanating from the protests over Floyd’s death. Parroting his prior remarks, the only extremist group he called out by name on Thursday was antifa, going on to refer to groups like antifa, antifa-related groups, and people with antifa-like motivations.

Along with Trump and his other enablers who continue to spread this lie, that makes the attorney general directly culpable for a story coming out of Washington state. A multi-racial family of four had outfitted a bus to go camping on the Olympic peninsula. When they stopped in the town of Forks to buy supplies, they were confronted “by seven or eight carloads of people in the grocery store parking lot” demanding to know if they were antifa protesters. At least four of those vehicles followed them to their camping site. When the family heard gun shots and power saws off in the distance, they packed up their tent to leave, but found that trees had been cut down to block their exit. Four local high schoolers not only cleared the trees for them, but contacted local law enforcement, perhaps saving their lives.

That is the kind of thing this president and attorney general have unleashed with their lies and fear-mongering. I was reminded of something Joe Biden said recently.

What we are witnessing right now is an unleashing of hate, not only by Donald Trump, but by people like William Barr. While the president is often more direct, the attorney general hides it in platitudes that sound good but spur the kind of reaction that occurred in Forks, Washington this week. We can only pray that no one gets killed before this nightmare is over.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.