WASHINGTON / NEW YORK – The United States Department of Justice has taken swift action to bring federal charges against 53 individuals accused of violence during nationwide protests that engulfed the United States and called for an end to police brutality.
Attorney General William Barr vowed to crack down on members of the anti-fascist movement known as Antifa and other “extremists” he blamed for helping to spur violence.
But a Reuters investigation of federal court files regarding the charges, social media posts by some of the suspects, and interviews with defense attorneys and prosecutors found primarily disorganized violence by people who have little clear ties to antifa or other leftist groups.
Reuters only assessed federal cases, both because of the Department of Justice’s allegations about the involvement of antifa and similar groups, and because federal charges generally impose harsher sentences. Some of the accusation documents reviewed by Reuters do not mention violent acts at all.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Reuters’ findings and referred to an interview Barr gave to Fox News on Monday. He said there that while his department was conducting a number of investigations into antifa, it was still in the “early stages of identifying people.”
Looting and violence broke out in some of the hundreds of largely peaceful demonstrations in the past week, caused by the death of May 25 by George Floyd, an African American, after a white Minneapolis police officer stabbed him in the neck for nearly nine minutes. had attached.
The police officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with first degree murder and three other officers with complicity.
While Barr and President Donald Trump have repeatedly singled out antifa, an amorphous movement of predominantly left-wing anti-authoritarian (the name is derived from ‘anti-fascist’), as a major instigator of the turmoil, the term does not appear in any of the federal tax documents reviewed by Reuters. More evidence may emerge as cases progress.
Only one group was mentioned by name in a federal complaint: the so-called boogaloo movement, whose supporters believe the prosecutors believe in an impending civil war.
Hate group experts say boogaloo’s followers are largely an assortment of right-wing extremists. Prosecutors alleged that three men affiliated with “the movement” intended to detonate explosives in Las Vegas in hopes of breaking the riot for protest.
The three suspects have to appear in federal court on Monday and have not yet made a plea. Their lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.
In three other criminal complaints, individuals told the police about their ideological streak without claiming loyalty to a particular group.
In Massachusetts, 18-year-old Vincent Eovacious was charged with possession of a Molotov cocktail and – according to the complaint against him – told his arresting officer that he was “with the anarchist group”. The U.S. law firm in the state said there was no additional information as to what that meant.
His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Another man, Brian Bartels, arrested in Pennsylvania for spraying paint and destroying a police vehicle, described himself as “the far left” and said he lashed out “fuck it”, according to the accusatory documents. His lawyer, Joseph Otte, declined to comment.
A man in Lubbock, Texas, 25-year-old Emmanuel Quinones, waved an assault rifle at a protest, shouting, “This is a revolution” and “President Trump must die” when he was arrested, prosecutors said. He admitted to posting on social media to intimidate Trump supporters. Quinones’ lawyer declined to comment.
On social media, 17 people received violence – such as threatening to cause riots or harming the police – or organized themselves with encrypted communication, the complaints said. Reuters-rated social media profiles showed a range of views, including anarchism, anti-racism, and anti-government posts.
26-year-old Ca’Quintez Gibson was arrested for allegedly using Facebook live messages and emoji-filled messages to encourage people to loot in Peoria, Illinois. But John Milhiser, the American lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, whose office is prosecuting, told Reuters that Gibson had “no connection” with any political group or motive. Gibson’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment.
Barbara McQuade, who was a lawyer for the Eastern District of Michigan during the administration of President Barack Obama in the United States, said prosecutors were generally reluctant to make allegations based on a person’s ideology, because of constitutional guarantees of free speech.
Michael German, a former FBI agent and current Brennan Justice Center official, said the government could provide more evidence during the trial, but the “lack of clear evidence that anti-fascists are involved in these protests leaves see me that they do not lead at least the violence of protest. ‘
Still, Trump’s November reelection campaign raises pleas for campaign donations that evoke the President’s ‘100%’ stand against antifa.
Most of the accused – about forty – have been charged with violent acts surrounding the protests, from throwing Molotov cocktails to burning fires or looting shops, according to photos and affidavits in the criminal complaints.
In the rest of the cases, no serious violence was alleged, Reuters found. Some of those arrested were only charged with possession of illegal drugs or firearms.
A man arrested in Florida, John Wesley Mobley Jr., was accused of impersonating a police officer when he was found with a BB pistol that looked like a Glock pistol and a fake US Marshal badge, according to the federal charging documents.
Mobley had a history of crime and had pretended to be the police in the past, the complaint said. His lawyer, Karla Mariel Reyes, declined to comment.
A man arrested in Madison, Wisconsin, Kyle Olson, was carrying a loaded gun, which he said he took to the protests for protection, the court said. Joseph Bugni, the public defender representing Olson, said his client had “no political motivation.”
Another Wisconsin-accused man, Anthony Krohn, was found by police who lay intoxicated on the grass near the Wisconsin state capital with a serious gunshot wound to his leg, which he said he had accidentally inflicted on himself. Krohn’s lawyer, Peter Moyers, said his client had “no history of political activism.”
Lawyers for some of the defendants said they were surprised that the FBI became involved in cases that would normally be heard by prosecutors.
The FBI has put questions to the Department of Justice.
New York police intelligence chief John Miller told reporters during a briefing that there were certainly signs of organized violence by “anarchist groups” who “were willing to cause material damage” in “high-end stores of business entities” And developed a “complex network of bicycle scouts” to report on police movements.
But none of the eight people charged by the Justice Department in New York would have links to specific anarchist groups, according to court documents.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Reuters’ findings.