Scott Nichols, a balloon artist, was riding home on his scooter from the protests engulfing Minneapolis last weekend when he was struck by a rubber bullet fired from a cluster of police officers in riot gear.
“I just pulled over and put my hands up, because I didn’t want to get killed,” said Nichols, 40. “Anybody that knows me knows I wasn’t out there to cause problems.”
Nichols, who before the coronavirus pandemic made his living performing at children’s birthday parties under the stage name “Amazing Scott,” spent two days in jail before being released on criminal charges of riot and curfew violation.
President Donald Trump has characterized those clashing with law enforcement after George Floyd’s death as organized, radical-left thugs engaging in domestic terrorism, an assertion repeated by Attorney General William Barr. Some Democrats, including Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, initially sought to blame out-of-state far-right infiltrators for the unrest before walking back those statements.
There is scant evidence either is true.
The Associated Press analyzed court records, employment histories, social media posts and other sources of information for 217 people arrested last weekend in Minneapolis and the District of Columbia, two cities at the epicentre of the protests.
Rather than outside agitators, more than 85 per cent of those arrested by police were local residents. Of those charged with such offences as curfew violations, rioting and failure to obey law enforcement, only a handful appeared to have any affiliation with organized groups.
Those charged with more serious offences related to looting and property destruction — such as arson, burglary and theft — often had past criminal records but were overwhelmingly local residents taking advantage of the chaos.
Social media posts indicate few of those arrested are left-leaning activists, including a self-described anarchist. But others had indications of being on the political right, including some Trump supporters.
The president has sought to paint the protesters and looters with broad brush as “radical-left, bad people,” ominously invoking the name “antifa,” an umbrella term for leftist militants bound more by belief than organizational structure, as the source of the trouble. Trump said he planned to designate Antifa as a terrorist organization.
Barr, in charge of organizing the police and military response, echoed the president. “The violence instigated and carried out by antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly,” Barr said.
There have been violent acts, including property destruction and theft. Police officers and protesters have been seriously injured and have been killed. But federal law enforcement officials have offered little evidence that antifa-aligned protesters are behind a nationwide protest movement.