Saturday, May 30, 2020

“New and Very Dangerous”: The Extreme Right-Wing Infiltration of the George Floyd Protests

My friend Phil recently shared on Facebook an informative, albeit disturbing, analysis of certain aspects of the ongoing property-destroying violence here in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The genesis of the unrest undergirding these acts of violence was the May 25 murder of George Floyd, an African American man, by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, who has since been fired and charged with third degree murder.

Writes Phil:

It’s time to stop using the word “protesters” when assigning blame to the arson and attacks on black businesses and post offices and homes being committed overnight. It is now being widely reported by demonstrators, reporters, as well as state authorities that white supremacists, white Second Amendment extremists, white anti-government extremists and other outside groups are infiltrating the demonstrations. They are white men wearing masks. They’re arriving in pickups with out of state plates, some with white power symbols. They are wearing tactical vests and boots. They are starting fires efficiently and ranging widely. When asked “why” they give ambiguous answers, like, “to take a stand,” without indicating what stand they’re taking, for what, or for whom. They use code phrases developed online, such as “86ing” a place when they mean to burn it down. They target black businesses, homes in predominantly black residential neighborhoods, and other targets with symbolic meaning to their extremist causes, like post offices. Activity on their online channels indicates these are premeditated, organized, coordinated attacks.

They’ve been arriving for days. We’ve all seen the first attack on property back on Tuesday was a white masked man in black with a black umbrella who systematically smashed Autozone windows. When confronted by black protesters, he gave vague answers before leaving the scene. [7/28/20 Update: Police confirm that “Umbrella Man” was a white supremacist intent on inciting a riot.]

All of this fits [when one recognizes that the] only collection of groups [that have] been openly advocating, arming, training, and agitating for violent conflict both with government and non-white Americans [is] rightwing extremists. Those who are fighting police brutality and anti-black violence and oppression have different behaviors and targets [than these rightwing extremists]. They fall into three rough groups: 1) the law-abiding nonviolent, 2) the nonviolent willing to break minor laws and commit incidental minor property damage in order to take control over their own streets and disrupt 'business as usual,', and 3) those willing to commit significant targeted property damage against institutions that are responsible for their political and economic oppression: police stations, redlining banks, etc. All three 'groups' (because much of this is spontaneous self-organization of people based on their personal approach, gravitating to other like-minded people, rather than conventional formal organizations) show pronounced conscientious toward – and take affirmative steps to protect – small businesses, local businesses, black- and POC- and woman-owned businesses, folks’ homes, etc. In this mix are criminal opportunists of various kinds, races, genders, 'philosophies.' They don’t set fires. They grab and go.

So we must NOT ascribe all the overnight violence and damage to the “protesters.” The conflict has reached a totally new and very dangerous stage. It is complex, fluid.

The operating assumption – for our safety, for the pursuit of justice for those living in fear and suffering the destruction of their livelihoods – is that attacks on black and small businesses, on residential neighborhoods, on government buildings not part of the criminal justice system, on sources of food, medicine, and water for black and poor residents and civilians, and even on law enforcement themselves in order to provoke reaction, are being carried out, not by protesters, but by the white groups who have been openly advocating, organizing and training for civil war.


Others have also been sharing via social media their thoughts and observations on the issues and events discussed above by Phil.

Following are some examples.

Last night, right-wing extremists escalated their campaign to create chaos in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

They used arson as a primary tactic. It was an escalation from their work to encourage looting on Wednesday night.

They are using the widespread (and justifiable) demonstrations of grief about George Floyd as a vehicle to advance their political objectives.

They have launched an organized effort to manipulate public perception, deconstruct public infrastructure, and create mistrust and fear.

They will likely return tonight.

What’s going on?

Certain right-wing extremists have a revolutionary orientation. They want to advance their objectives by sparking civil conflict. Their theory is that, if properly polarized (often by race), others will rise up to join them. They see themselves as leading a vanguard effort.

There’s a strain of this kind of thinking that runs through touchstone reactionary documents, like The Turner Diaries, and touchstone terrorist efforts, like the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

The latest update is an internet-irony-infused version (of course) that identifies as the Boogaloo movement. You can read more about them here and here.

You can read about their work to manipulate demonstrations about George Floyd here.

Suffice to say, there is growing evidence that some kind of organized effort is afoot in Minneapolis/St. Paul. It appears to have at least three operational forms.

First, they blend into protests, encourage lawlessness, relocate, and repeat. Again and again, those transgressing certain social taboos, like smashing windows, have been white men, masked and sometimes conspicuously geared up. It’s a tactic designed to manipulate public perception. By encouraging lawlessness, they can shift the public narrative about the demonstration and produce polarizing (and memorable visuals) like looting.

Second, they attack public infrastructure, both physical and social. Friday night saw the burning of a post office, a first. Previous nights included attacks on banks, pharmacies, grocery stores, etc. It can be easy to miss this if you just see it all as looting. The story isn’t ‘people want stuff.’ The story is: someone is trying to deconstruct the systems that support communities in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. This attack on infrastructure plays out in a second way, and vividly so on Friday night. They were using geographically widespread acts of arson to force the Minneapolis Fire Department to play Whack-A-Mole. Friday night’s arsons, particularly those on the Northside, were taking place miles away from demonstrations on the Southside, sometimes focused on beloved institutions. This tactic is designed to create chaos, weaken the community bonds, and discredit political leaders.

Third, there are active disinformation efforts happening online. If you dig through your recent followers or the replies in journalist’s tweets you can pretty easily find bogus accounts (i.e. those with 1000s of tweets but fewer than 100 followers, accounts created in May 2020 with no personally identifiable information). These accounts are posting polarizing content, sometimes right-leaning, sometimes left-leaning, often fear-inducing. This tactic is designed to create mistrust and fear.

Look, this stuff is alarming. I guess I am sounding an alarm here; but let me put this in some context. There may not be many of these folks. . . . They are not an insurmountable number. Why are they not insurmountable? Because they only win if we overreact. They win by making us afraid and by getting us to do their dirty work.

Excerpted from “This Is What We're Dealing With
May 30, 2020

I have to say this. I am convinced Minneapolis has been infiltrated.

For people outside of Minneapolis looking in and wondering what in the world is happening at night and why people are burning down their own communities... wondering why anyone would do that. . . . It's because it's not, for the most part, the people of Minneapolis. It's not the peaceful protesters.

Why would people burn down their own libraries? Affordable housing? Shelters? Nonprofits? Locally owned businesses, many of them owned by people of color? Because the majority of people who are doing this, do not live there.

I have been hearing my friends and protesters in Minneapolis and organizers and leaders of color saying this is not them. Now we are getting reports, seeing videos, more and more evidence that white supremacists and even the freaking [Mexican] cartel are sending people here.

I don’t know what else to say at this moment except the people of Minneapolis are good and loving.

Hurt and in pain and demanding justice and change? Absolutely. But amazing, caring and compassionate people who are proud of their neighborhoods and what they have built. Go in the day light and you see thousands of people coming out of their homes, helping to clean up, and getting supplies to their neighbors.

– Jenna Carter
Minneapolis City Councilmember

I hope my friends outside the city know that the arson and targeted infrastructure destruction was a coordinated attack from outsiders - violent anarchists, anti-government cults, white supremacists, using the protests for their own terrorist activities. We saw the targeting on Thursday, throughout the city, of pharmacies and food stores. And, oddly, auto parts stores. From my own porch I’ve seen two days of souped up cars and trucks speeding noisily around, out of state plates when I can discern them.

There is at this point no place to purchase food or pharmaceuticals for many miles in all directions, at a time when there is no public transit. Most streetfront businesses in my immediate neighborhood are burned to the ground or otherwise destroyed, it being a targeted minority neighborhood.

So please stop lumping the outside agitators with “the protesters.”

– Steven J Levine
Minneapolis resident

I've been writing about what I am seeing in Saint Paul and Minneapolis. I'm responding largely to a frustration I have as someone who spent years marching in the streets, encouraging a “diversity of tactics,” and otherwise trying to figure out how to create a more just society.

What I have been seeing, especially in Saint Paul, is not that decades-long debate. I've seen loosely organized gangs leading attacks on businesses. I don't know what happened in Minneapolis last night, but I think there is a much higher degree of outside provocation and people blending into the crowd than we have seen in these actions before.

There is a lot happening here and much of it will not be unwrapped. I think people assume it is the rage of the oppressed that is tearing down the metro – and I think that it is correctly attributed to all of the marches but only some of the destruction.

I think much more is the work of outside agitators (sometimes working at cross purposes with different motivations). No one controls where massive civil unrest goes, anyone that thinks they can is a fool.

It is one thing for people to rage that their communities and government have utterly failed them. It is another thing for outsiders to come in, loot and burn a city to the ground, and go back to their homes to brag about it on the Internet.

– Christopher Mitchell
Saint Paul resident

This may be nothing less than right-wingers attacking one of the most progressive cities in the country. And [when I say progressive] I'm talking about the people who live in the city, not their police force who killed George. Forget about the police, this city has been built by working-class people, and the people that live here are very progressive. There are all kinds of bad politicians and police and other people who give us a bad name and ruin things for us, but this city is one of the most progressive in the country, and I would not doubt for a second that right-wingers have targeted it intentionally to destroy it. We have to stop that, but we have to do it peacefully. If enough people oppose some violent right-wing white guy from the suburbs or wherever we can stop them, and we can do it without violence

– Christopher Loch
Minneapolis resident

There are outsiders who are coming and causing much of the non-rubber bullet/tear gas harm, starting fires in volatile and vulnerable places, riling up already hurt and sad people to do the same. The energy is palpable when they are around. They are on a mission. They seem to be moving in small, guerrilla groups and there is some level of strategy behind this, a trying to break this place, this positive struggle we are in. Many of the random, out of the central corridor vandalism/violence seems to be happening right off highway exits. To me, there seem to be some people who are circling the cities, dipping in and out of communities to scare people who normally don’t feel like this is their issue.

Here’s the punchline: We are still here. We are all under slept and distressed. However, the community is taking care of each other. There are food drives, clean up crews, peaceful protest makers, and suppliers working to fulfill the needs. Healers and artists and activists are working to shift the energy, answer and hold the ageless sorrow, and help us refill our souls. We are getting people out of harms way, witnessing, opening our homes to the displaced, buying food out of pocket, doing safety checks all day and all night. Our bonds are tight, if imperfect, and we will spell each other and strategize and we will come through this. We belong to each other.

– Miré
Minneapolis resident

I have been reading – and now our elected officials are acknowledging – that there are a frightening assortment – growing (perhaps exponentially) by the day – of others “lurking” as “allies” among the grieving and raging masses, whose actions are NOT rooted in the dignity denied to or the life taken from George Floyd or the black community as a whole. Rather, they are rooted in the desire to seize this moment and twist it to purposes that are unholy. Among the protesters and looters (and both of these have a “right” to be there – and that is a hard truth for us to hear!), there are now also anarchists, white supremacists, anti-government actors, guns-rights fanatics, and accelerationists – none of whom give a damn about the black community, not its pain, its dignity, or its dreams. They are only interested in riding this holy wave of rage (for which we white people bear fundamental responsibility) into an unholy direction.

Anarchists see it an opportunity to disrupt society, but they have no common cause with the black community beyond that momentary coalescing of interests. White supremacists see it as an opportunity to insert themselves into a confrontation where they might be able to escalate things even worse into an all-out race war. They will feign being allies just long enough to set up conditions to for catastrophic reactions. Similarly, anti-government actors and guns rights fanatics (groups that overlap with but are not identical to white supremacists), are actually willing to stand with black people in opposing police/state-sponsored violence, because their goal is not race war but a war with the state itself. Yet they have zero interest in racial justice or any Beloved Community. They will betray black people the moment they’re no longer useful to their sense of war with the government. And accelerationists (who overlap with these other groups – sorry, but these are blurry, messy categories) are persons determined to wreak whatever havoc they can (and this is a moment pregnant with opportunity to do just that) in order to “accelerate” the fraying of society toward a future state that will NOT be friendly to black people.

Listen, there is real evidence that representatives of all of these groups are embedding themselves opportunistically within the masses gathered in response to George Floyd’s murder! They are coming from across the country to seize this moment of holy rage and spin it out of control. I suspect that is why the MN Department of Public Safety (who acknowledged their awareness of such groups within the protests) initially stationed the National Guard at the Fed and the capitol and power stations – because these things may well be the targets of some of these other groups when they’re ready to act. And it’s why they acknowledged (at the 1:30 a.m. briefing) that they have heard of persons coming to these protests with the goal of killing a national guardsman.

This is some genuinely unholy rage just waiting for the chance to creep out. And the Hennepin County Attorney’s game of slow deliberate investigation (even when carried out at “breakneck speed” as we wants us to believe) completely underestimates the peril of this moment. His inaction fuels the holy rage – and widens the window for unholy rage to build explosively.

And it seems clear after Friday night that both the mayor and the governor grievously underestimated the holy rage. Willing to offer words of authentic empathy, they nonetheless imagined themselves caught in the limits of what is realistically possible in the short term regarding politics or policy (to dismantle the racism endemic to the Minneapolis Police Department and elsewhere). And – as a result of that – they unintentionally exposed our community to a far greater risk of destruction. Can we get back from this edge? I don’t know. But the alternative is civic catastrophe.

And the protesters – at time (legitimately!) triumphant at the power they have touched in this moment – seem also oblivious to the threat posed to all of us (themselves included!) by persons/groups hiding within their numbers . . . who might be working to “guide” legitimate rage into actions that are intended for ends quite different than the protesters have in their heart and mind.

This IS a moment pregnant – painful, bloody, and labored – with possibility. And we dare not erase the holiness of the rage within the black community. It has sparked a HOLY riot tilting (HOPEFULLY!) toward social revolution and transformation, which would be good for all of us.

Most of the arrested rioters are not from here. They are looting and starting fires all over the Twin Cities. There are plans to release information on the ties of these rioters later today.

I live in a part of the city where there haven't been any protests. However, the epicenter of our community - our businesses, grocery stores, and community centers – have been destroyed. And it wasn't done as part of the protest. It wasn't done by our community. This was done to us.

Currently, our community is cleaning up after the rioters and looters who are trying to destroy our community. Our community is standing in front of stores, keeping looters at bay. Our community is filming and reporting those who are starting fires. Our community is organizing to bring essential supplies (food, masks, toiletries) into these areas. Our community is checking-in on people who don't have the means and luxury of driving to get what they need from areas that aren't being destroyed. Our community is working together. Our community is protesting the actions behind the horrific murder of George Floyd. Our community is banding together to support his grieving family.

– Anonymous

There is a phenomenon of white people, often racists, hijacking protests devoted to uplifting and seeking justice for Black lives. We must highlight and root out this betrayal of protest.

However, there are often incidents where property has been destroyed that did not involve white individuals from out of town. I witnessed this in Baltimore during the Uprising here. This was done out of rage, frustration, and suppressed terror that has been ignored for centuries.

Looting by white people attempting to hijack protests must definitely be addressed. But we can't allow this to distract us from WHY others have chosen to destroy property. Doing so only shifts the legitimacy of a protest, at least in the eyes of the media, and changes the narrative of assembling for justice to condemning protesters for engaging in violence, or giving white supremacists airtime. The media never gets deep enough to address WHY many have no qualms with destroying property.

We need to embrace the nuance here. Yes, white looters hijacking protesters and engaging in property destruction to detract from the message of collective action should be called out. But we also need to elevate, listen to, and acknowledge the perspectives of those who are not white who feel compelled to express their rage by destroying property and conglomerates of capital that are more highly valued than human life.

– Phillip Clark
via Facebook
May 30, 2020

NEXT: Mayor Melvin Carter:
“The Anger Is Real, and I Share It With You”

Related Off-site Links:
Outsiders and Extremists Are Among Those Fomenting Violence in Twin Cities – Jon Collins and Elizabeth Shockman (MPR News, May 30, 2020).
Far-Right Infiltrators and Agitators in George Floyd Protests: Indicators of White Supremacists – Mia Bloom (Just Security, May 30, 2020).
Minnesota Officials Link Arrested Looters to White Supremacist Groups – Jon Parton (Courthouse News Service, May 30, 2020).
Far-right “Boogaloo” Militants Have Embedded Themselves in the George Floyd Protests in Minneapolis: “They Want Their Civil War” – Tess Owen (VICE, May 29, 2020).
Minnesota Attorney General Suggests Auto Zone Riot Starter Was “Provocateur” – Roman White (The Source, May 29, 2020).
Mayor Frey: The People Doing the Burning Are Not Minneapolis Residents – Declan Desmond (Bring Me the News, May 30, 2020).
Black Protesters Who Want to Demonstrate Peacefully Are Calling Out White People Who Instigate Violence – Clarissa-Jan Lim (BuzzFeed, May 30, 2020).
Police Erupt in Violence Nationwide – Matthew Dessem (Slate, May 31, 2020).
White Extremists Terrorize and Loot: 10 Videos of Destruction Black People Will Be Blamed ForBET (May 31, 2020).

UPDATES: “We Came to Riot”: Illinois Man Livestreamed Lighting Fires and Handing Out Explosives to Throw at Police Officers in Minneapolis, Charges Say – Andy Mannix (Star Tribune, June 1, 2020).
White Nationalist Group Posing as Antifa Called for Violence on Twitter – Ben Collins, Brandy Zadrozny and Emmanuelle Saliba (NBC News, June 1, 2020).
Report: Homeland Security Warned of ‘Anarchist and Militia Extremists’ Plan to Storm Minnesota Capitol and Burn It – Dave Orrick (Pioneer Press, June 1, 2020).
Donald Trump’s “Antifa” Hysteria Is Absurd. But It’s Also Very Dangerous – Chip Gibbons (Jacobin, June 2, 2020).
FBI “Has No Intelligence” Indicating Antifa Was Linked to Weekend Violence in the George Floyd Protests, Despite Trump and Republicans' Claims – Sonam Sheth (Business Insider, June 2, 2020).
White House Forced to Retract Claim Viral Videos Prove Antifa Is Plotting Violence – Robert Mackey (The Intercept, June 3, 2020).
Three Self-Proclaimed Members of the Far-Right “Boogaloo” Movement Were Arrested on Domestic Terrorism Charges for Trying to Spark Violence During Protests – Rosie Perper and Sonam Sheth (Business Insider, June 3, 2020).
Minneapolis Police Say “Umbrella Man” Was a White Supremacist Trying to Incite George Floyd Rioting – Libor Jany (Star Tribune, July 28, 2020).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
“I Can't Breathe”: The Murder of George Floyd
Something to Think About – May 28, 2020
Honoring George Floyd
Trevor Noah on the “Dominoes of Racial Injustice”
Rallying in Solidarity with Eric Garner and Other Victims of Police Brutality
In Minneapolis, Rallying in Solidarity with Black Lives in Baltimore
“Say Her Name” Solidarity Action
“We Are All One” – #Justice4Jamar and the 4th Precinct Occupation
Quote of the Day – March 31, 2016
“This Doesn't Happen to White People”
Remembering Philando Castile and Demanding Abolition of the System That Targets and Kills People of Color
Sweet Darkness
Photo of the Day, 5/3/2015: “Black Is Sacred”
“And Still We Rise!” – Mayday 2015
“And Still We Rise!” – Mayday 2015 (Part II)
Something to Think About – March 25, 2016

Image 1: Michael J. Bayly.
Image 2: Rachel McLean.
Image 3: Photographer unknown.
Image 4: Photographer unknown.
Images 5-10: Michael J. Bayly.

No comments: