As major cities struggle to recover from rioting and looting on Sunday night—for some the sixth consecutive night of unrest—charges that the protests have been fueled by “extremist” groups have exacerbated the national debate over policing and racial bias, news media reported.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz touched off national speculation about the agenda of rioters and looters when at a press conference last week he said the majority of arrests were of people who had come from other states. He said he had received reports of white supremacists being behind destruction.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter also said that “every single person” arrested Friday was from out of state.
But on Saturday evening, Carter, Walz and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey “walked back” their comments, saying the information received regarding the arrests was inaccurate, according to The Hill.
However, it was too late, as social media speculation had already reached the boiling point. Not only white supremacists from out of state but undercover police were said to be instigating the violencer
A widely circulated video purported to show a St. Paul police officer undercover dressed in black, smashing windows. The city’s police department has denied that the police officer was the one in the photo.
Snopes fact checked the video and concluded that there was “scant evidence” that it showed the St. Paul police officer.
Snopes also debunked a photo making the rounds of a supposed KKK gathering, as they ready to descend on a May 2020 protest.
U.S. officials sought to determine Sunday “whether extremist groups had infiltrated police brutality protests across the country and deliberately tipped largely peaceful demonstrations toward violence — and if foreign adversaries were behind a burgeoning disinformation campaign on social media,” reported the Associated Press.
“Federal law enforcement officials insisted far-left groups were stoking violence. Meanwhile, experts who track extremist groups also reported seeing evidence of the far-right at work.”
The increasingly violent tone of the protests added to the concerns. As tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets on Sunday, the peaceful demonstrations against police killings of African Americans were replaced by unrest that ravaged cities from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and raged near the White House.
“City and state officials deployed thousands of National Guard soldiers, enacted strict curfews and shut down mass transit systems to slow protesters’ movements, but that did little to stop parts of many cities from again erupting into mayhem,” according to the Associated Press.
In Louisville, a man was shot and killed by law enforcement early Monday morning. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear released the following statement Monday:
“Last night at around 12 a.m., it is our understanding that the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) and the Kentucky National Guard were dispatched to 26th and Broadway. While working to disperse a crowd, LMPD and the Kentucky National Guard were fired upon. LMPD and the Kentucky National Guard returned fire resulting in a death.”
Protesters in Philadelphia hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, officials said, while thieves in more than 20 California cities smashed their way into businesses and ran off with as much as they could carry — boxes of sneakers, armloads of clothes, and cellphones, TVs and other electronics.
In New York City, multiple peaceful protests were followed by after-dark mayhem. More than 250 people were arrested into the early morning hours Monday as protesters moved from Downtown Brooklyn and Midtown into SoHo, where numerous stores were looted.
High-end stores like Bloomingdales, Gucci, Nike Soho, Chanel, Tory Burch, Kate Spade were all vandalized. Best Buy in Union Square and several drug stores were also hit.
In many of the cities, including Minneapolis, public anguish over the destruction of family-owned businesses, many of them black-owned, has led to some protesters begging looters who show up not to torch businesses.
Overseas instigators are also being accused.
Investigators were tracking online interference and looking into whether foreign agents were behind the effort, said the Associated Press. Officials have seen a surge of social media accounts with fewer than 200 followers created in the last month, a textbook sign of a disinformation effort.
President Donald Trump, Attorney General William Bar and others have said the left-wing extremist group ANTIFA is to blame. Short for anti-fascists, ANTIFA is an umbrella term for far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations.
Barr on Sunday said the FBI would use its regional joint terrorism task forces to “identify criminal organizers,” and Trump threatened again to name ANTIFA a terrorist group.
According to The New York Times, a senior police official said anarchists had planned to start mayhem in New York even before the protests started, using encrypted communication to raise bail money and to recruit medics.
During the demonstrations, they allegedly maintained supply routes to distribute gasoline, rocks and bottles, and also dispatched scouts to find areas devoid of police officers, said John Miller, the deputy commissioner in charge of the Police Department’s counter-terrorism and intelligence efforts.
However, few of those pointing the finger at extremists presented much detailed evidence to support the accusations, and some officials conceded the lack of solid information, said The New York Times.
“The truth is, nobody really knows,” Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s attorney general and a former Democratic congressman from Minneapolis, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“There’s been a lot of videotape taken by demonstrators of people who are very suspicious, who really did start breaking windows,” Ellison said. “There have been other photographs of cars with no license plates. Very suspicious behavior.”
From the other side of the spectrum come the ANTIFA accusations.
Snopes wrote on Sunday, “Democrats, Antifa, and George Soros are the usual bogeymen claimed to be behind liberal political protests.”
Those accusing ANTIFA agitators even said a riot “handbook” was in use.
However, Snopes revealed that the page from purported “riot orders” manual issued by Democrats and accidentally “dropped” by a protester was a complete hoax.
“In fact, this ‘manual’ was just a recirculated version of a hoax that had appeared several years earlier, in that earlier case linked to the April 2015 riots in Baltimore over the police-custody death of Freddie Gray,” Snopes said.
This summary was prepared by TCR deputy editor Nancy Bilyeau.