Barr blames ‘far-left extremist groups’ for ‘antifa-like tactics’ during George Floyd protests

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Attorney General William Barr said on Saturday it appears that “many places” across the United States are seeing violent protests spurred by “anarchic” and “far-left extremist groups.”

During a brief public appearance at the Justice Department, he said these agitators are using “antifa-like tactics” and that many of them are traveling from out of state to participate in the protests. Barr, who did not take any questions, noted that such individuals could be committing federal crimes and asserted that authorities will be enforcing the law.

Protests have popped up in major cities across the country after 46-year-old George Floyd died in the custody of Minneapolis police on Monday. Floyd, a black man, died after white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin restrained him by placing his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The biggest protests have occurred in Minnesota, where demonstrations have often morphed into rioting, looting, arson, the burning of businesses, and clashes with police.

Calling for law and order in the streets, Barr insisted that it is the responsibility of state and local leadership to be the front line against the violence. Protests and riots in Minneapolis stretched into a fourth night on Friday in spite of an 8 p.m. curfew order and the deployment of National Guard members into the area.

During a Saturday morning press conference, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz estimated that 80% of people who had been arrested were from outside the state. He said protesters were trying to escalate the situation so that police would be goaded into reacting with deadly force, inviting chaos to ensue.

Some of Minnesota’s leaders speculated that white supremacist agent provocateurs might have played a role.

“The people who are doing this are not Minneapolis residents” Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey said. “They are coming in largely from outside the city, from outside the region, to prey on everything we’ve built over the last few generations.”

“We are now confronting white supremacists, members of organized crime, out of state instigators, and possibly even foreign actors to destroy and destabilize our city and our region,” he later tweeted.

State officials also estimated that about 80% of the people arrested in the Twin Cities on Friday came from outside Minnesota.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said there is one “group of folks that are sad and mourning” Floyd’s death. “There seems to be another group that are using Mr. Floyd’s death as a cover to create havoc,” he added.

Shortly after Barr wrapped up his brief statement, President Trump followed up with a tweet urging the “liberal” leadership in Minnesota to toughen up.

“Crossing State lines to incite violence is a FEDERAL CRIME! Liberal Governors and Mayors must get MUCH tougher or the Federal Government will step in and do what has to be done, and that includes using the unlimited power of our Military and many arrests. Thank you!” he said.

The Associated Press reported early Saturday morning that the Pentagon is ready to send troops to Minneapolis if the state makes the request.

Chauvin and three other officers involved in Floyd’s detainment were fired on Tuesday. Chauvin was taken into custody on Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Since then, large and often violent protests have broken out in Minneapolis, St. Paul, New York City, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and dozens of other cities.

Barr emphasized that “already initial charges have been filed by the state” against Chauvin as he promised that “justice will be served.” The FBI and Justice Department are carrying out an separate investigation into whether the Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd’s death violated any federal civil rights laws.

“Unfortunately, with the rioting that is occurring in many of our cities around the country, the voices of peaceful protest are being hijacked by violent radical elements,” Barr said. “Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate and violent agenda. In many places, it appears the violence is planned, organized, and driven by anarchic and far-left extremist groups using antifa-like tactics, many of whom travel from outside the state to promote the violence.”

Antifa, which claims to be anti-fascist, is an often-violent activist group whose masked supporters protest law enforcement and work to promote left-wing policies. Antifa was declared a terrorist organization by the New Jersey Homeland Security office in 2017.

“The outrage of our national community about what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis is real and legitimate,” Barr said. “Accountability for his death must be addressed, and is being addressed, through the regular process of our criminal justice system.”

Minnesota’s public safety commissioner, John Harrington, said the state is analyzing information about people arrested during the violent riots in Minneapolis in reaction to Floyd’s death, speculating they may be related to white supremacists.

Harrington said shots were fired at officers and National Guardsmen, improvised explosive devices and Molotov cocktails had been used, that crowds had attacked firefighters and EMS personnel, and rioters had broken into post offices and destroyed public and private property. He said there were now “tens of thousands of rioters” and, at times, protesters would gather in groups as large as 5,000 people, surround a building, trash it, then flee back into residential areas when confronted by police.

“We are adapting to their tactics,” he said.

“Who are they associated with, what platforms are they advocating for, and we have seen things like white supremacist organizers who have posted things on platforms about coming to Minnesota,” Harrington said. “We are checking to see do the folks that we have made arrests and on and that we have information — are they connected to those platforms.”

Harrington later asked aloud: “Is this organized crime? Is this an organized cell of terror?”

Barr said that the Justice Department, FBI, U.S. Marshals, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration, and all 93 U.S. attorneys offices were working to assist in the efforts to end the rioting.

Noting “it is a federal crime to cross state lines or to use interstate facilities to incite or participate in violent rioting,” Barr pledged the Justice Department will “take all action necessary to enforce federal law.”

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison speculated on Twitter that a video of a man in black garb wearing a mask and carrying an umbrella while smashing out windows “doesn’t look like any civil rights protestor I have ever seen” and “looks like a provocateur.”

Numerous tweets went viral on Twitter, claiming the man was an undercover officer with the St. Paul Police Department, but the department shot the claims down.

“RUMOR CONTROL,” they tweeted. “We are aware of the social media post that erroneously identifies one of our officers as the person caught on video breaking windows in Minneapolis. We’ve seen it. We’ve looked into it. And it’s false.”