As protests over the death of George Floyd turned violent this weekend in Chicago and other U.S. cities, government officials have begun to blame organized groups they say are intentionally triggering the violence to create division in America.
In Chicago, officials had yet to cite specific groups for helping turn what had started as peaceful protests into full-blown riots on Saturday night. But on Sunday Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the violence “absolutely” was pre-planned.
She pointed to “the number of U-Haul trucks that magically showed up in front of stores” and caravans of cars helping to whisk looted merchandise away.
Asked specifically whether extremist groups were behind the violence, Lightfoot said the city is “working in partnership with the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the ATF, particularly their bomb and arson units” to determine that.
“It’s too soon in the course of this investigation for us to be able to say definitively,” the mayor said Sunday. “What I can say, there’s no question that some of the destruction that happened last night, particularly the arson, was absolutely organized and coordinated.”
Chicago Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) blamed outsiders for sparking the riots and looting that ensued.
“Despite hundreds of arrests, hundreds more violent criminals remain at large in Chicago, and unverified reports suggest more may be traveling here from other locations, with intent to continue the mayhem,” Hopkins said in a statement. “Of greatest concern is the arsonists who remain at large, as their acts are the most immediate threat to life, as well as property.
“While their plans and intentions for today [Sunday] — and especially tonight after sunset — are difficult to predict with specificity, we must assume they will attempt to engage in more destruction and violence ...”
In recent days, state and federal officials have offered differing assessments of groups potentially fomenting violence across the country. They’ve blamed left-wing extremists, far-right white nationalists and even suggested the involvement of drug cartels. But the chaos of the protests makes verifying identities and motives exceedingly difficult.
On Sunday, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers singled out umbrella groups including “Antifa” and “Boogaloo” as playing a role in the violence nationwide, NBC News reported.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, “a variety of extremist and fringe movements and subcultures have adopted the word ‘Boogaloo’ as shorthand for a future civil war,” and “white supremacists are particularly apt to use” the term because “they seek the violent collapse of modern society in order to bring about a new, white-dominated world.”
Antifa, short for anti-fascists, is a “loose collection of local/regional groups and individuals,” including anti-police anarchists, whose “presence at a protest is intended to intimidate and dissuade racists” and white supremacists, according to the ADL. Antifa tactics “can create a vicious, self-defeating cycle of attacks, counterattacks and blame,” the ADL says.
President Donald Trump singled out Antifa on Sunday, tweeting that he was designating it a terrorist organization.
“This is being driven by Antifa,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien said on CNN’s “State of the Union. This is a destructive force of radical — I don’t even know if we want to call them leftists. Whatever they are, they’re — they’re militants who are coming in and burning our cities, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it.”
O’Brien also hinted that foreign powers might be playing a role in this weekend’s events.
“As far as our foreign adversaries, look, we always have foreign adversaries who are on Twitter and Facebook and other places trying to sow discord among Americans,” he said. “And the difference between us and our foreign adversaries — and I want to send a message to the Chinese or whoever else are taking satisfaction of this — when we have an event like ... what happened to George Floyd, which was just horrifying ... we’re going to investigate it.”
Contributing: Associated Press, David Roeder, Lynn Sweet, Jon Seidel