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Officials: Outsiders Starting Violence 05/31 09:45

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- As protests over the death of George Floyd grow in cities 
across the U.S., government officials have been warning of the "outsiders" -- 
groups of organized rioters they say are flooding into major cities not to call 
for justice but to cause destruction.

   But the state and federal officials have offered differing assessments of 
who the outsiders are. They've blamed left-wing extremists, far-right white 
nationalists and even suggested the involvement of drug cartels. These leaders 
have offered little evidence to back up those claims, and the chaos of the 
protests makes verifying identities and motives exceedingly difficult.

   Police officers across the country were gearing up Saturday for another 
night of potentially violent clashes in major cities. Some states had even 
called in the National Guard to aid overwhelmed police.

   The finger pointing on both sides of the political spectrum is likely to 
deepen the political divide in the U.S., allowing politicians to advance the 
theory that aligns with their political view and distract from the underlying 
frustrations that triggered the protests.

   Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Saturday told reporters he'd heard unconfirmed 
reports that white supremacists were coming from elsewhere to stoke the 
violence and that even drug cartels "are trying to take advantage of the 
chaos." John Harrington, the state's commissioner of public safety, later said 
they had received intel reports on white supremacists.

   "But I cannot say that we have confirmed observations of local law 
enforcement to say that we've seen cells of white supremacists in the area," he 
said Saturday.

   But federal officials later pointed to "far left extremist groups." 
President Donald Trump alleged the violence was "being led by Antifa and other 
radical groups." Antifa, short for anti-fascists, is an umbrella term for 
far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists 
at demonstrations.

   Attorney General William Barr later seemed to echo Trump's assertion, saying 
the violent incidents in Minneapolis were driven by groups using "Antifa-like 
tactics." Barr vowed that federal prosecutors across the country would use 
federal riots statutes to charge protesters who cross state lines to 
participate in violent rioting.

   A Justice Department spokesperson said the attorney general's assertion was 
based on information provided from state and local law enforcement agencies, 
but did not detail what that information entailed.

   Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf was even more vague, declining 
to point to any particular ideology in his assessment. His agency has heard 
that "a number of different groups are involved in these whether it's Antifa or 
it's others, frankly," he said. The groups appeared to be organized and using 
tactics that wouldn't normally happen in peaceful protest, he said, though he 
didn't elaborate.

   While the motives behind the violence were unclear, there was firmer 
evidence that some of the protesters were coming to the demonstrations from 
outside the urban centers that have been the epicenter of the demonstrations.

   In New York City, federal officials were bringing charges against several 
suspects, including one of two sisters from upstate New York accused of 
throwing a Molotov cocktail through the back window of a police van in 
Brooklyn, a law enforcement official said. The initially peaceful 
demonstrations in New York City over Floyd's death spiraled into chaos as night 
fell Friday. Protesters confronted police officers, destroying police vehicles 
and setting fires.

   In Detroit, 37 of the 60 people who were arrested in overnight protests did 
not live in the city  and many came from nearby suburbs, police Chief James 
Craig said Saturday. Although Detroit is about 80% black, many of those 
arrested were white.

   "We support the right to free speech. We support peaceful protests," Craig 
told reporters. "If you want to disrupt, stay home and disrupt in your own 
community."

   Initially, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said he'd been told all of those 
arrested in his city Friday were from outside the state. But a spokesman said 
Saturday night the mayor had later learned more than half are from Minnesota.

   In Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, 47 of the 57 people arrested 
in protest incidents through Saturday morning had provided a Minnesota address 
to authorities, according to Jeremy Zoss, a spokesman for the Hennepin County 
Sheriff's Office.

   Carter expressed the opinion of many black activists in the Twin Cities who 
have expressed disbelief that local residents would destroy their own 
neighborhoods, burning down essential services and damaging small businesses. 
And while it was local protesters and groups that staged initial angry, but 
peaceful, demonstrations, it was agitators from elsewhere that strategically 
escalated the tension by causing damage and setting fires, they said. Their 
beliefs were reinforced by the large numbers of white people in the protests in 
Minneapolis.

   "I think about a third of the people are from out of town here to make the 
city burn," said Justin Terrell, executive director of the Council for 
Minnesotans of African Heritage. "It is just putting black people in a 
crossfire not just between fascists and anarchists -- but putting us in a 
crossfire with the national guard."

   It's exceedingly difficult in the chaos and dark of the events to prove 
these claims. The challenge is made harder in the Minnesota protest, where very 
few arrests were made in the first two nights of unrest. St. Paul arrest 
records showed 18 people were arrested on charges related to civil unrest from 
Thursday to early Saturday morning. Of those, only four were from outside the 
state; two were listed as unknown.

   Still, some civil rights leaders had a clear message for anyone coming to 
protest, even those who show up to call for justice for Floyd.

   "The moment has passed. Go home, stay away from here. We are a vulnerable 
population. At the end of that day if black folks can't rebuild then the only 
thing we've done is build more power for white folks," said Terrell. "You're 
talking about years, decades of work undone by these groups -- and by the 
officer."

   Trump vowed Saturday that the "radical left criminals, thugs and others" 
would "not be allowed to set communities ablaze."

   "I will not allow angry mobs to dominate," he said. "Won't happen."

 
 
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