While city and state officials around the country over the weekend repeatedly cited "outside agitators" as being responsible for property destruction during protests over police brutality sparked by the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd, activists pointed out that the group escalating the conflict is the police.
"Police are rioting across the nation," tweeted Portland, Oregon political organizer Gregory McKelvey. "They are outside agitators."
Who is this serving?
Who is this protecting? pic.twitter.com/IK8DkwLLUT
— jordan (@JordanUhl) May 31, 2020
As Common Dreams reported, unrest over the weekend was largely driven police violence and attacks on peaceful demonstrators. While there have been some unconfirmed reports of right-wing extremists looting businesses and burning buildings in some cities, the vast majority of confirmed reports of violence have cited police officers as the catalyst for conflict.
Video footage and reports from around the nation show police officers ramming SUVs and cars into protesters, shooting them with rubber bullets, launching tear gas and deploying pepper spray without provocation, and arresting and firing at bystanders.
While demonstrators have repeatedly asked police officers to de-escalate during the nonviolent protests, the police—in nearly every city in the country—have responded with violence and attacks on the public.
That hasn't stopped officials and authorities from stating the protest movement is being driven by outside forces, though those claims have largely fallen apart once placed under scrutiny.
All the mayors starting to accuse “outside agitators” at about the same time makes me wonder if FBI is coordinating response nationally and giving them talking points (this happened with Occupy Wall Street and earlier BLM protests so it wouldn’t be surprising).
— Emma Caterine (@EmmaCaterineDSA) June 1, 2020
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose daughter was arrested by the NYPD over the weekend for protesting police violence, claimed on Saturday night that he was talking to mayors around the country who were "seeing people come in from the outside, often not from communities of color...only to cause damage."
If all the protestors are outside agitators, where are they from? Canada? Did everyone just shift one city over? Think about your lies before you spew them.
— Kenzo Shibata (@KenzoShibata) June 1, 2020
On Sunday night, as demonstrations raged around his city, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh took to Twitter to say that the unrest was caused by "people who came into our city and chose to engage in acts of destruction and violence."
Boston civil rights advocate Kade Crockford pushed back against the mayor's statement, which he did not back up with any proof.
"Does the mayor know something we don't?" asked Crockford. "How could he possibly know who was who at that protest, or where people were from? This is a highly irresponsible thing to say given that he could not actually know this."
Miami city officials made similar comments.
Hm, having a hard time believing that someone would travel from Minnesota to Miami to protest police violence right now https://t.co/PgyPMnLYbt
— Andrew Perez (@andrewperezdc) May 31, 2020
After St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter claimed Saturday morning that 80% of those arrested in his city were out of state, reporters investigated, finding no evidence to support the statement. The mayor walked back the comments later that evening, saying he had been misled by police.
Look at how the powerful lie to you. Even your favorite liberal.
The truth is, your protest threatens all of the powerful: the police, the politicians, and the oligarchs.
Whoever lied to you about “outside agitators” unfollow them and never trust them again. pic.twitter.com/xG7p1W8Wgq
— Benjamin Dixon (@BenjaminPDixon) May 30, 2020
"Few of those pointing the finger at extremists presented much detailed evidence to support the accusations, and some officials conceded the lack of solid information," New York Times reporter Neil MacFarquhar wrote Sunday.
According to MacFarquhar, hard evidence that right-wing protesters are using the unrest to foment a race war, as has been alleged, is thin:
Signs of any organized effort or even participation in the violence were relatively rare. "I have not seen any clear evidence that white supremacists or militiamen are masking up and going out to burn and loot," said Howard Graves, a research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center who tracks white supremacist and other anti-government extremist groups.
USA Today Sunday night published an investigation into the claims of outside agitation from authorities, finding that while "the narrative offers a simple, tidy explanation for violence that allows politicians to simultaneously support the ethos of the movement and the police officers trying to keep the peace," it is not true.
Authorities have claimed that much of the protest violence has come from outside agitators. Detroit police updated their tallies late Sunday, saying three of the 144 arrested were from out of town. https://t.co/r1EVYZrLo9 pic.twitter.com/QnILpsqOx8
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) June 1, 2020
As USA Today reported:
All but three of the 144 people arrested Friday and Saturday in Detroit were from Michigan. On Saturday, 28 people were arrested in Nashville. Most were from the city and all but three were from Tennessee. Five of the six people arrested at Friday night's downtown protests in Louisville, Kentucky, live in Louisville. The other did not immediately give police her address.
There have been sustained, angry protests in at least 140 cities around the country, suggesting the mayors' understanding of the unrest in their cities may be flawed.
As journalist Judd Legum noted, the trope is a "gross oversimplification with an ugly racial history."
"It has been used repeatedly to marginalize grievances and to ignore systemic racism," said Legum.