The head of the US Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr, has accused the “far left” of causing violence across the country. Yet, investigations conducted by the DOJ have more often than not determined that white supremacists have been responsible for the violence and destruction.
Following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota last May, protests flared up across the United States. The police killing of Breonna Taylor in her Louisville, Kentucky home, as well as the “modern-day lynching” of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia by a white father and son were also inciting incidents.
The protests were organized by Black Lives Matter (BLM) groups, but they were joined by adherents of the anti-fascist, or Antifa, movement. When riots, looting and violence broke out at various protests, many on the political right blamed BLM and Antifa. President Donald Trump even vowed to have Antifa designated as a terrorist organization.
The head of the US Department of Justice (DOJ), Attorney General William Barr, has also accused the “far left” of causing violence across the country. Yet, investigations conducted by the DOJ have more often than not determined that white supremacists have been responsible for the violence and destruction.
A riot in Minneapolis
On October 23, the US Attorney for the District of Minnesota charged the 26-year-old Ivan Harrison Hunter with participating in a riot. The arrest was the result of an FBI Investigation into the Boogaloo Bois (or Boogaloo Boys), a far-right activist group that claims to be preparing for a second American Civil War (the name is a reference to the 1980s film sequel, “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo”).
The investigation determined that in May, Hunter traveled from Texas to Minneapolis “with the intent to participate in a riot.” He was identified in a video of a BLM protest “discharge[ing] 13 rounds from an AK-47 style semiautomatic rifle into the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct building.” He also bragged in private communication of setting the building on fire.
Hunter was found to have connections to Steven Carrillo and Robert Alvin Justus Jr., two other Boogaloo Bois who were charged with the May 29 killing of a security officer in Oakland, California. That drive-by shooting, which also injured another security officer, took place during a public BLM protest.
Though some members of the Boogaloo Bois deny being a hate group, numerous members of the group have been found to have white supremacist affiliations. On social media, members of the group frequently share memes praising the shooting of police officers. Facebook has attempted to remove many of these extremists groups, though some have found ways to evade detection.
Blaming BLM and Antifa
Immediately following the riot that resulted in the MPD’s building being burned, Attorney General (AG) Barr publicly expressed his belief that the violence and destruction was caused by “far-left extremist groups.” Echoing similar sentiments from the president, Barr claimed, “In many places it appears the violence is planned, organized, and driven by far left extremist groups and anarchic groups using Antifa-like tactics.”
On June 4, Glenn Kirschner, a legal analyst for NBC and a former prosecutor, took to Twitter to upbraid the AG for specifically naming Antifa as the culprits in the riot without mentioning that local Minnesota officials were investigating white supremacist groups for the acts.
At the time, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison stated the source of the violence could not yet be determined, but noted there was significant “suspicious behavior.”
Now that the DOJ has concluded that right-wing extremists were responsible for the violence and destruction, Barr has been criticized for his role in perpetuating a false narrative. Barr has not publicly commented on the charges against Hunter or the other Boogaloo Bois.
However, in June, Barr did authorize a task force to investigate anti-government groups, including both the Boogaloo Bois and Antifa.
“The ultimate goal of the task force will not be to enable prosecution of extremists who engage in violence,” Barr stated, “but to understand these groups well enough that we can stop such violence before it occurs and ultimately eliminate it as a threat to public safety and the rule of law.”
In conservative media reporting, the BLM movement is frequently labeled “violent extremists” and “terrorists.” Additionally, even though FBI Director Christopher Wray stated in September that Antifa is “more of an ideology than an organization,” the movement remains a scapegoat for many conservatives – including Trump – and conspiracy theorists.
In September, a study determined 93% of the protests across the nation have been peaceful and resulted in no serious harm to either people or property. Nonetheless, there has been an ongoing narrative that BLM and Antifa protesters were causing destruction, including false claims that Antifa was intentionally starting wildfires.
There have been violent confrontations between Antifa activists and far-right groups, including at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. At that rally, a white supremacist killed a woman, Heather Heyer, and injured many more when he drove his car into the crowd.
In August, Aaron Danielson, a member of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, was killed in a confrontation with left-wing activists in Portland, Oregon. The suspect in the killing, Michael Forest Reinoehl, was killed by law enforcement during an attempted apprehension.
During a campaign rally on October 15, Trump praised the officers who were involved in Reinoehl’s death, saying, “We sent in the US Marshals, took 15 minutes and it was over… They knew who he was, they didn’t want to arrest him and 15 minutes that ended.”
White supremacist attacks
On May 28, during the Minneapolis protests, right-wing journalist Andy Ngô posted a video on Twitter of destruction in the city, noting that “Wendy’s and Autozone have been completely destroyed.” He then included the #BlackLivesMatter and #Antifa hashtags.
However, months later, law enforcement determined that a man who was caught on video inciting the property destruction was a white supremacist with ties to the Hells Angels and the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood. The man, who has not been publicly identified, is known as the “Umbrella Man” because in the video he is holding an umbrella and wearing a mask to cover his face.
In June, two more members of the Boogaloo Bois were arrested in Columbia, South Carolina for their roles in street violence at another protest related to police violence. One of the men, Kevin Ackley, was a medic with the county’s emergency medical services. He was fired from his job after his arrest.
Also in June, three other Boogaloo Bois were indicted on federal charges for conspiring to cause destruction and fires during BLM protests. They were also charged with terrorism. These arrests came on the heels of reports that white supremacists were creating fake Antifa social media accounts and calling for violence at the protests.
The threat of white supremacist violence
In October, the Department of Homeland Security released a report that concluded white supremacist extremists were “the most persistent and lethal threat” in the US. The report, authored by Trump’s acting Homeland Security Secretary, Chad Wolf, states “white supremacist violent extremists … have been exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent, targeted attacks in recent years.”
This conclusion from DHS aligns with a 2019 study from New America, a public policy think tank. The study found that, since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the most persistent terrorist threat to Americans was homegrown extremists, most frequently inspired by far-right and white supremacist ideologies.
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