U.S. Attorney General William Barr condemned the “violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups” amid widespread protests over the death of George Floyd during an encounter with police in Minnesota, warning that those responsible will be treated as domestic terrorists.
In a statement released Sunday, Barr alleged that outside parties and agitators have exploited demonstrations to pursue “their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda.”
“The violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly,” Barr’s statement read.
The actions of outliers have marred peaceful protests across the country, Barr said.“Federal law enforcement actions will be directed at apprehending and charging the violent radical agitators who have hijacked peaceful protest and are engaged in violations of federal law,” the statement read.
Barr pointed to the destruction of property and the endangerment of lives as key factors that undercut the work being done by communities and law enforcement.“It is time to stop watching the violence and to confront and stop it. The continued violence and destruction of property endangers the lives and livelihoods of others, and interferes with the rights of peaceful protesters, as well as all other citizens,” Barr continued.
The deployment of the National Guard in cities such as Minneapolis, Atlanta and Los Angeles has shown effective and positive results, according to Barr.
“It is the responsibility of state and local leaders to ensure that adequate law enforcement resources, including the National Guard where necessary, are deployed on the streets to reestablish law and order. We saw this finally happen in Minneapolis last night, and it worked,” Barr stated.
Barr’s statements towards Antifa mirrored President Donald Trump’s sentiments in a tweet he posted Sunday, stating that the U.S. would be designating Antifa as a “terrorist organization.”
Trump has also alleged that the violence during protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd 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.
As demonstrations spread from Minneapolis to the White House, New York City and overseas, federal law enforcement officials insisted far-left groups were stoking violence. Meanwhile, experts who track extremist groups also reported seeing evidence of the far-right at work.
Investigators were also tracking online interference and looking into whether foreign agents were behind the effort. Officials have seen a surge of social media accounts with fewer than 200 followers created in the last month, a textbook sign of a disinformation effort.
The accounts have posted graphic images of the protests, material on police brutality and material on the coronavirus pandemic that appeared designed to inflame tensions across the political divide, according to three administration officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss investigations.
The investigations are an attempt to identify the network of forces behind some of the most widespread outbreak of civil unrest in the U.S. in decades. Protests erupted in dozens of cities in recent days, triggered by the death of George Floyd, who died after he was pinned at the neck by a white Minneapolis police officer.
Pandemic-weary Americans were already angry — about COVID-19 deaths, lockdown orders and tens of millions of people out of work. The pandemic has hit African Americans harder than whites in the U.S., and the killings of black people by police have continued over the years even as the topic faded from the national stage.
But there are signs of people with other disparate motives, including anarchist graffiti, arrests of some out-of-state protesters, and images circulating in extremist groups that suggest the involvement of outside groups.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Sunday that state authorities were hit with a cyber attack as law enforcement prepared to diffuse protests in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the epicenter of the unrest. He described it as a “very sophisticated denial of service attack on all computers.”
An antifa activist group disseminated a message in a Telegram channel on Saturday that encouraged people to consider Minnesota National Guard troops “easy targets,” two Defense Department officials said. The message encouraged activists to steal “kit,” meaning the weapons and body armor used by the soldiers. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
As a result, soldiers with the Minnesota National Guard were armed during their mission at protests across the state Sunday, the officials said. The soldiers are sometimes armed but had not been since they moved into parts of the state that had been besieged by riots in the last few days. The troops do not have the authority to make arrests, and are there to act mostly as extra security for police.
Others have seen evidence of right-wing extremists. J.J. MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, has been monitoring chatter about the protests among anti-government extremists on social media platforms. She has access to dozens of private Facebook groups for followers of the loosely organized “Boogaloo” movement, which uses an ’80s movie sequel as a code word for a second civil war.
She also has been poring over images from the weekend protests and spotted some “boogaloo bois” in the crowds, carrying high-powered rifles and wearing tactical gear.
“They want to co-opt them in order to start their war. They see themselves as being on the side of protesters and that the protesters themselves are useful in causing anarchy,” MacNab said.
She also sees signs that the Three Percenters militia movement appears to be taking an interest.Megan Squire, an Elon University computer science professor who tracks online extremism, saw images of at least four members of the far-right Proud Boys group on the periphery of a protest Saturday night in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Trump was expected in the coming days to draw distinctions between the legitimate anger of peaceful protesters and the unacceptable actions of violent agitators, said a White House official who was not authorized to discuss the plans ahead of time and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Floyd, who was black, died while being arrested by Minneapolis police for suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill on May 25. Cellphone video showed that a white officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes while Floyd, who was handcuffed, pleaded for air and eventually stopped moving.
Chauvin now faces murder and manslaughter charges. The three other officers who took part in the arrest were fired but haven't been charged.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.