Unrest, violence and property destruction in cities across the U.S. on Saturday showed few signs of having been stoked by organized extremists despite a growing narrative from several political figures that outside groups are to blame for some of the worst scenes of recent protests.
Some fringe groups, most notably anti-government “Boogaloo” members with guns, were seen in numerous cities, stoking fear that more severe violence could be ahead. Law enforcement officials have also said they are looking into anarchist groups that have previously shown up at civil rights protests.
And anecdotal reports of white supremacists and other extremist groups fomenting violence have been amplified by similar claims from authorities, including Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who tweeted on Saturday that the city is “now confronting white supremacists, members of organized crime, out of state instigators, and possibly even foreign actors to destroy and destabilize our city and our region.”
That claim was later boosted by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who claimed outside protesters, white supremacists and drug cartels were part of the protest groups in Minneapolis.
Full coverage of George Floyd’s death and protests around the country
But little evidence for those claims have been put forward, and a previous statement by the mayor of St. Paul that most of the people arrested on Friday in Minneapolis were from out of town was later walked back. NBC News reached out to police departments in several major cities that were the scene of protests, but thus far none have said whether outside groups had been found to be operating during the protests.
While some Democratic governors sought to blame far-right groups, Republicans in the federal government pinned unrest on far-left groups. U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr said violence at the riots was the work of “far-left extremist groups using antifa-like tactics.” President Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday that “It’s ANTIFA and the Radical Left. Don’t lay the blame on others!”
Trump on Sunday tweeted that he planned to designate antifa as a terrorist organization.
They offered no evidence that organized extremists groups directly instigated events that led to arrests in Minneapolis or elsewhere.
U.S. police officials have also said that they are examining both local and out-of-state actors focused on creating damage and inciting violent confrontations with police and possibly other protestors in the name of anarchist and antifa causes.
Members of the antifa movement — a network of autonomous groups largely composed of radicals who rely on direct action, not police or the court system, to shut down the far-right and fascism — were probably a small minority of the protests, according to Mark Bray, a historian at Rutgers University and author of the book, “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.”