Despite lack of evidence, conspiracy theories advanced by politicians and commentators on the Left and Right seek to argue that protests were organized by professionals to destabilize the US.
By Sunday morning, some 25 American cities were under some kind of curfew with troops from the National Guard deploying in Minneapolis and the US capital after days of protests and violent riots. Amid the chaos and uncertainty, voices from both sides of the political aisle have claimed the violence was fueled by conspiracies and orchestrated by “professionals.”
Right-wing commentator Candace Owens and others have been blaming George Soros and “left-wing anarchists” or the left-wing, activist, anti-fascist antifa movement for being behind the violence. US President Donald Trump wrote that “it’s ANTIFA and the radical Left.”
Meanwhile on the Left, a different narrative formed, blaming Russians and white supremacists for the violence. St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter claimed on Saturday that all those arrested on Friday were from out of state.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz repeated this claim, asserting that 80% were not from the state. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, whose city’s police force had set off the protests when one of them kneeled on an African-American man who subsequently died, claimed the protests were “domestic terrorism.” The governor and mayor appeared to coordinate their narrative to blame white supremacist organizations and “ideological extremists” for the violence.
The mayor of Minneapolis had blamed cartels last week for the violence and moved on to single out white supremacists. He said agitators had infiltrated the protests. “We are now confronting white supremacists, members of organized crime, out of state instigators and even foreign actors, to destroy and destabilize our city and our region.” It turned out that actual data from arrests showed many of those detained were from Minnesota.
MANY COMMENTATORS asserted that Russia was behind the protests. University of Michigan Law school professor and legal analyst Barb McQuade tweeted a link to a New York Times article about Russia meddling in US elections and noted that “intel reports say Russia is trying to stoke chaos in US before election. Mission accomplished.”
The assertion that everyone from drug cartels to white supremacists, George Soros and the Russians were behind the violent protests in the US reveal a phenomenon to blame events on complex conspiracies and assert that protests are “organized” – without any evidence that any “Russians,” white supremacists or organized crime figures have been identified and arrested for their involvement. Joy Reid, a television host, noted that one video showed a white man with a gas mask and umbrella smashing windows and that this might relate to Keith Ellison’s claims that the violence was organized. Journalist Lara Logan also tweeted that there were “professional agitators.”
Video of the protests, showing police arresting journalists, shooting paintballs at people on their porch and driving into protests, did not appear to show that the protesters were organized. In Seattle, where protesters burned police cars, one man looted an AR-15 from one of the cars, only to have it snatched back by someone who looked like a member of law enforcement or a military contractor.
The man doing the looting didn’t seem to be a professional with training on using the weapon. In the capital Washington, the looting of several tech stores began after the crowds were dispersed by tear gas and rubber bullets.
NONE OF the conspiracies being put forward for the protests have explained how the supposed organizers knew to wait until after a policeman killed an African-American man in Minneapolis to trigger their plan.
It was also not explained how “antifa” activists would have been able to easily travel to all these US cities during the pandemic where many cities have lockdowns or “stay-at-home” orders. None of the violent protesters who were detained were interviewed to explain their actions and whether “Russian” intelligence or “George Soros” had motivated them.
Other claims about the origin of the protests also sought to portray them as primarily being hijacked by white people. One commentator asserted they were “spoiled, effeminate white boys destroying black neighborhoods.” One anti-Israel account claimed Minneapolis police had learned their tactics from Israel.
Some have pushed back against the conspiracies. Anti-Defamation League head Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted on May 29 that assertions George Soros is behind the violence is an antisemitic trope.
Michael Harriot at The Root argues that the assertion that protesters are “out of town” is a dog whistle that is linked to other racist claims, such as historic assertions that “northern abolitionists inciting slaves” or “MS-13 gangs” are responsible for violence. Harriot was right: By Saturday evening, some social media users were already claiming that “MS-13 gangs” were behind the protests in California. Like most of the theories put forward, there was no evidence for this.
The conspiracies put forward in the US to lay blame for the protests on a complex organized network is part of a pattern of shifting that has become increasingly common in America. Rather than seeing entrenched racism and police brutality as fueling protests, including police violence against journalists, there is a preference to see a hidden hand that can be more easily labeled as an enemy.
These are tactics that were once more common to the Soviet bloc countries and Middle Eastern regimes when trying to explain protests. For instance, the Assad regime asserted that legitimate protests in 2011 were an imperialist conspiracy. Today, the situation appears reversed: In the US across the political spectrum, there is a preference to see protests as part of a cartel, white supremacists, antifa, Russians and MS-13 gangs, as opposed to local grievances bubbling over after a very visible sign of police brutality.
Originally posted at jpost.com