An FBI probe debunks MAGA claim that 2019 mass shooting was linked to Antifa

The deadly 2019 attack in Dayton, Ohio was not linked to Antifa — despite right-wing media's assertions that it was

Published December 6, 2021 4:00AM (EST)

Anti-fascists carry a flag in front of protesters (Emily Molli/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Anti-fascists carry a flag in front of protesters (Emily Molli/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

MAGA media and allies of former President Donald Trump, including his former adviser Kellyanne Conway, haven't been shy about promoting the conspiracy theory that a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio on August 4, 2019 was linked to the militant Antifa movement. But a comprehensive two-year investigation by the FBI's Cincinnati office and the Dayton Police Department has concluded that Connor Betts, the gunman, was not inspired by Antifa as MAGA voices have been claiming.

Reporter Robert Mackey, in an article published by The Intercept this week, explains, "That conclusion, reached by investigators from the FBI and the Dayton Police Department, undermined persistent efforts by right-wing figures like Kellyanne Conway and Andy Ngo to tie the killing spree to the left-wing politics the gunman had expressed on Twitter. The debunking comes as far-right commentators and politicians are promoting similarly ill-founded speculation that the killing of six people at a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, last week by a Black driver might have been politically motivated, based on a handful of mostly mundane social media posts referencing Black Lives Matter."

The report said that Betts, who was killed by police, suffered from mental illness and experienced "a decade-long struggle with multiple mental health stressors." According to the report, Betts "fantasized about mass shootings, serial killings, and murder-suicide for at least a decade."

In other words, the mentally ill Betts killed for the sake of killing. And the report said he was not "aligned to any specific ideological group."

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Nonetheless, the claim that Betts was motivated specifically by Antifa has been promoted a great deal in MAGA World. And Ngo, Mackey observes, has shown a "willingness to label almost any left-wing activist or group Betts retweeted 'Antifa,' with little regard for the facts."

Ironically, the most coherent criticisms of Antifa have come not from MAGA Republicans, but from their critics on the left as well as from some right-wing Never Trump conservatives and libertarians — and those critics avoid the short-on-facts hysteria that Trumpsters like Conway and Ngo have resorted to.

To say that Antifa is controversial on the left would be an understatement. Author Noam Chomsky and journalist Chris Hedges have been outspoken left-wing critics of Antifa, arguing that their tactics hurt the progressive cause. Dr. Cornell West, on the other hand, has said that were it not for Antifa, counter demonstrators at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, he would have been killed by White supremacists and White nationalists. West credits Antifa with saving his life.

According to West, "We would have been crushed like cockroaches were it not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists. You had police holding back and just allowing fellow citizens to go at each other."

RELATED: Lindell-apalooza melts down: MyPillow guy claims antifa sabotaged his "cyber symposium"

In 2017, Hedges and California-based activist Michael McBride debated the merits of Antifa's tactics. That debate is well worth listening to, as it illustrates that two people who are both left-of-center politically have very different views on Antifa.

So, there are certainly a wide range of opinions about Antifa on the left. Antifa do advocate punching Nazis; one of their chants is, "Anytime, anyplace/Punch a Nazi in the face" — which is the type of violent rhetoric that Chomsky and Hedges view as harmful to progressivism. But for all their militant rhetoric, Antifa do not resort to full-fledged terrorist tactics as the MAGA crowd has claimed. Unlike actual terrorists such the Ku Klux Klan or ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria), Antifa don't advocate mass shootings of innocent people.

Mackey notes, "Following the release of the FBI report, Ngo did not respond to questions from The Intercept about whether he now regrets attributing a political motive to the gunman's rampage that investigators with a deeper grasp of the evidence say did not exist. For her part, Conway has been active on Twitter in recent days but has not mentioned that the FBI concluded that the Dayton shooter's politics, which she asked the media to focus on, had nothing to do with his crimes."

By Alex Henderson

MORE FROM Alex Henderson

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Alternet Antifa Dayton Donald Trump Gun Control Kellyanne Conway Mass Shooting Ohio Shooting