When protests began sweeping Minneapolis in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by US police the politicians in Minnesota needed an explanation. They decided to blame “drug cartels” and “white supremacists.” The protesters were the opposite of that, they were mostly African-Americans and anti-racism protesters. To discredit them they needed to be labelled outsiders and part of a conspiracy.
What started as largely peaceful protests for George Floyd have turned to outright looting and domestic terrorism in our region. We need you to stay home tonight.— Mayor Jacob Frey (@MayorFrey) May 30, 2020
The approach of Minneapolis to confront the protests by labelling them “domestic terror” and blaming “white supremacists” and “organized crime” set in motion a narrative across the US that sought to distract from the protests by blaming fringe, mostly white, groups. While Minnesota kept up the “white supremacist” label to describe how increasingly violent protests were being organized between May 29 and June 1, the Trump administration took a different tack, blaming “Antifa.”
Many US politicians on both sides of the aisle have amplified the claim that the protests are somehow organized by a hidden hand. On the right blame has been put on George Soros and then on “Antifa.” On the right those like US Senator Marco Rubio have asserted that violent extremists on the radical left and right are exploiting the protests. He also called them “domestic terrorists” on May 31. The White House even tweeted an entirely false story about rocks being stockpiled for protests, photos that actually legitimate depicted stones used to prop up barricades.
When no real evidence emerged of these “Antifa” and “white supremacist” groups, a new storyline has emerged. The “Boogaloo Bois” are to blame. The group with such a ridiculously sounding name that had it existed prior to the protests everyone would have mocked it, has suddenly popped up as the latest “extremists” who want to “start a civil war.” There is no actual evidence that out of hundreds of protests in the US in dozens of cities, that this group is doing anything. The evidence always for “Antifa” or “Boogaloo” being behind protests are random social groups that may number a few hundred or thousands of followers. In a time when one can buy followers for social media groups on the dark web, or where getting “likes” for a group is not tantamount to actual membership, it is convenient to blame a social media group with a few hundred followers as part of some organized conspiracy to fuel violent protests.
The tendency in the US to now blame shadowy, largely non-existent or at best loosely organized groups, for an unprecedented national protest movement for Black Lives Matter is part of a larger need by politicians and commentators to find white fringe groups behind what is largely a protest of black people, people of color and many white sympathizers. It is easy to discredit this massive protest movement by claiming they are “white supremacist” even if not one white supremacist has been found among them. It is also easy to blame “Antifa,” a largely bourgeoise movement of anarchist youth, than to discuss the police violence being meted out to average people in the US. For instance an elderly man was seen being knocked down by police in Buffalo, New York. Police in New York City have roughed up protesters and taken their bicycles. In Minneapolis dozens of journalists have been attacked by police.
Amplifying “Antifa” and “Boogaloo” has had the unsurprising affect of making people go online and Google these groups and likely led some people to try to join them or at least support them. The important question now is whether the decision by politicians and commentators to shift focus to small white radical fringe groups to discredit the protests has had the affect of a self-fulfilling prophecy or feed-back loop, where the more they are spotlighted, the more they grow.
By June 3 more than 11,000 people had been arrested for involvement in violent protests. Those numbers are likely over 15,000 today. According to reports, several members of “Antifa” have been detained in Richmond and Fresno. Three “Boogaloo” members have been arrested in Las Vegas. It is unclear how many other members of organized white fringe groups have been detained out of the known 11,000 arrests. But if the high profile cases of these ten or so arrests is indicative it may be that .1%, or a tenth of one percent of those arrested are known members of far-right and far-left groups. Yet the number of news articles and political talking points devoted to these groups continue to portray them as somehow linked to the mass protests across the country. This may be due to a tendency of the commentators and politicians, to need an easy and identifiable conspiracy to be behind large protests rather than wrestling with the complex causes that have led a generation of Americans to rise up across US cities.
If US law enforcement ever create a task force to investigate the protests or if Congress holds hearings it may be able to determine more clearly the extent to which “white supremacists” or “Antifa” or “Boogaloo” had a role in it. By the time that happens these groups may have grown as people joined them thinking it was an avenue to play a role in the violence that takes place on the sidelines of the protests. Any investigation will have to therefore determine how many members of these groups were actually involved with protests between May 29 and June 4, rather than “liking” a Facebook group afterword.