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Peaceful protests turn into nighttime pandemonium after provocateurs turn demonstrations violent

in Crisis & Natural Disasters/Race and Ethnicity by

On May 30, 2020, the United States experienced historical records of protest. From these demonstrations, reports of interlopers, or agitators emerged. Who are they? And what are they attempting to do?

In Rochester, New York, an hours-long rally in front of the police station drew a largely innocuous crowd. Throughout the gathering they chanted, “Hands up don’t shoot,” a popular cry protesting the generations of police brutality disproportionately against Black people.  Organizers of the event gave attendees specific instructions on how to demonstrate, but there was one person who broke the code.

Well into the demonstration, a white man started lighting fireworks that gave off a loud bang. Shortly after, the police responded with tear-gassing the mass of people. As the crowd ran to seek cover, the same agitator did something totally from the norm of the pacifist protest. 

He ran over to a nearby parked car then began breaking out a window. In response, a Black protestor ran to him trying to stop, “You’re a cop bro,” the African American yelled. “You’re doing some real weird shit right now bro.” According to onlookers, the white male was identified as causing disruptions throughout the day. 

Rochester, NY – May 30, 2020: Man who was part of protest busts out windows of cars then gets chased by demonstrators who told him not to. Photo credit: Chaz Bruce

Similar scenarios were captured in Minneapolis. Mostly white males broke out windows of storefronts, and black protestors argued with them. At one point, a Black protest leader warned white protestors

“We gonna keep our social distance and we not going to allow somebody in the crowd to throw some bullshit and then we feel the bulk of that. We not allowing that no more.

“Like I said to all my white brothers and sisters, we appreciate y’all being out here and supporting us, but this is not y’all space . . . what our reality is when this shit is all said and done, when we wake up we’re still going to be Black in America.”

“We not going to allow y’all to go up there and start causing all types of chaos and confusion.”

Spotted agitators and police aggression against rally-goers in Rochester and Minneapolis is a common story of onlookers and participants. Across the country, these behaviors captured on video and photographed are mostly white males performing similar scripts.

Hotlanta

On Saturday, Atlanta’s mayor Kesha Lance Bottoms held a press conference disparaging demonstrators when protesting in downtown Atlanta advanced to turmoil. At some point, the gathering crowd began to ransack nearby by businesses.  Mayor Bottos said, “This is chaos. A protest has purpose. When Dr. King was assassinated, we didn’t do this to our city.”

Bottoms plea implied that it was directed to Black dissenters, but those at the rally in downtown Atlanta told a different story. All day, the protest was peaceful until gangs of white males began to destroy police property and commercial buildings. Pamela Willis who is an Atlanta-based activist explained what happened when the building housing CNN was targeted:

Whites jumped on the police cars 1st, burned a flag, kicked in windows of the CNN building. They definitely had an agenda and they got the outcome they wanted

Willis continues:

It’s crazy how We had it All together All day and to literally watch some white boys come make everything go left and my dumb ass people followed them just fucked my head Allllll the way up. The enemy lead you to be dumb fux

Suspicious protest activity

Atlanta, Rochester and Minneapolis are not alone. Contrary, they seem to be part of a growing list of cities reporting groups of white males, and some females, trashing sites of protest then leaving a carnage of chaos.

Oakland

White males and females break store windows. At one point, a masked agitator was driving a bulldozer in the street, and headed to crash into a shop. Also, black owned businesses were targeted in melee.

Portland

Black protestor pleas for white protestors to stop destroying commercial property. Earlier in the day, at a Black Lives Matter protest, white male wearing a “Fuck Trump” shirt punches a man carrying an American flag. The scuffle turns into a many-person fight. Included, multiple physical altercations. All white.

Baltimore City

Black protestors stand in front of white protestors who are attempting to push down police barriers. One of the Black protestors says, “They’ll kill us, not you.” In which a white protestor said, “They’ll kill you anyway, that’s why we’re here.”

Las Vegas

During a march, a white male was tagging a building at the mall. He left abruptly, but a photo was taken of him before he left.

Protest in Las Vegas. Photo Credit: Chara_Instgram

Washington DC 

Protestors reported that destruction of property began with a group of white guys.

St. Paul, MN

Numerous reports of white vandals. Video of white males and females destroying a Minnesota police station. At one point, Black citizens had to extinguish and fire because white males ransacked and set a local barbershop on fire. Now locals are carrying fire extinguishers.

Washington DC – March 29, 2020: George Floyd Black Lives Matter Protest, 14th & U Streets. Photo credit: George Livingston

Columbia, SC

While hundreds were peacefully protesting, a group of white males in Hawaiian shirts reportedly started to throw bottles. Afterwards, a younger white male showed up with a MAGA hat and was beaten by the same white males who projected objects. As well, white males were looting and ridiculing organizers for their lack of hostile action.

Pittsburg

Unattended police car was vandalized then set afire by a white group during protests.

Philadelphia

White groups reported to set carts and statues on fire during protests.

Newark

Thousands attended the rally, but had to stop white agitators from destroying local businesses. One protestor said that they discovered protestors caught trains and even flew into New Jersey to protest.

Newark, New Jersey – May 30, 2020. Thousands protest. Photo credit Jennifer Wager

Chicago

Groups of mostly white males, some females break glass windows in the Magnificent mile area of the city.

Charlotte

A masked white woman and several white men interceded in a diverse, peaceful protest by taunting, harassing then eventually assaulting officers nearby.

Seattle

Six or seven cop cars set afire in a mostly white protest.

Boston

Two Black women approached two white women vandalizing a Starbucks with graffiti using the Black Lives Mattter slogan. When asked to stop they said someone told them to do it, and that they had the right to free speech.

Los Angeles

A protest in the Fairfax district went from peaceful to chaotic when a white woman took out a hammer then smashed the windows of a cop car. Several white males followed. Before this, there were screams in the crowd for people to run, to incite commotion, but organizers settled the crowd until the police vehicle was destroyed.

Nashville

White males trash a downtown building with only one black participant. In the video, there’s a Black protestor begging them to stop.

Eugene, OR

White males and two white females bust out the windows of a shop while Black protestor begs them through her tears to stop. They don’t. 

The provocateurs

Who are these interlopers? White men and women who appear, destroy shit, disrupt protests then vanish. Across the board, locals say that many of these people are out-of-towners, or, at the very least, they are not nearby community members. 

Right wing contingency says that these are liberal democrats using Antifa to drum up confusion. Moreover, they say that this group is funded by Jewish multi-billionaire philanthropist, George Soros.

On the other hand, the lens of establishment Democrats is that Russia continues to sow seeds of disruption for the upcoming elections. Their ploy, manipulate white supremacists to cause damage and instigate violent reactions for a race war to dismantle November’s presidential elections.

Asha Rangappa, former FBI Special Agent and lawyer who is now a faculty member, points to nefarious foreign influencers. In a Twitter post she said “outside groups, including white nationalists, may be manipulating the Floyd protests towards their own ends.”

In particular, Rangappa says in a paper written with Alex Finley and John Sypher, that Russian intelligence has worked to infiltrate US-based far right groups for years. For years, leaders of the far right have a history of relationship building with Russia.  In this relationship, the far right’s coffers are bolstered by Russian money. So much so, the head of The Base, Rinaldo Nizzaro, currently lives in St. Petersburg, Russia.

While Rangappa, Finley and Sypher may be true, their paper does not consider the multiple accusations that violent agitators are alleged to be part of law enforcement.

One glaring incident in Minneapolis involved a white male dressed in all black wearing a police-issued gas mask. While carrying a black umbrella to block nearby CCTV cameras from capturing him, he busted out windows to an Auto Zone shop located across the street from Minneapolis’ 3rd Precinct. The people around attempted to stop him as he quickly walked off, accusing him of being a cop.

Hours later, that police station went up in smoke. Minneapolis PD spokesperson said demonstrators forced their way into the police station and set it afire. There were no reports of how the police responded to protestors who barged into an occupied precinct and ignited fires. 

While Minneapolis is cooling off from days of tense moments between the police and protesting citizens, the country still remains largely at odds in understanding how demonstrations are turning bloody and hostile.

Imani West contributed to this article

Kaia Shivers covers diaspora, news and features.

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