As civil unrest has swept much of the U.S., federal authorities have arrested dozens of people for alleged crimes during protests, the Wall Street Journal reports. Last week, the Justice Department announced charges against a 27-year old man for trying to steal prescription drugs from a Walgreens in Kentucky; a 33-year-old woman in Minneapolis accused of conspiring to burn down an Enterprise Rent-a-Car site, and an 18-year-old man who allegedly tried to incite a riot at a Tennessee mall. “If we get 300 people we can raid the mall and everything in there….” the Tennessee man posted on Snapchat, adding, “be there by 10:30, lace your shoes, wear masks and gloves. Bring hammers bricks whatever you want.”
Most cases appear to be instances of people capitalizing on the chaos rather than those engaging in violence orchestrated by ideological groups. “Most of what we’re seeing is just that opportunistic individual that’s taking advantage of the peaceful protests, almost as cover as a way to conduct their criminal behavior,” said Jill Sanborn of the FBI’s counterterrorism division. Federal, state and local officials investigating crimes arising out of mostly peaceful demonstrations have identified people breaking into banks, burglarizing businesses and setting police cars on fire. So far, federal prosecutors have brought more than 75 cases related to the protests. FBI director Christopher Wray said that of the hundreds of investigations his agency has opened, some involved adherents to “violent extremist agendas designed to sow discord or upheaval.” Sanborn noted the agency is investigating criminal behavior, not the ideologies of the alleged perpetrators. President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr have blamed occasional violence during the nationwide demonstrations on left-wing elements, primarily antifa—short for “antifascist.” No incidents resulting in charges so far has been publicly attributed to people affiliated with antifa.