As thousands march in peaceful protests against police brutality, activists have denounced rioters and looters who they said are hijacking their message.
Now, federal authorities and other officials are looking into whether far-right and far-left extremist groups are taking advantage of the moment.
“When you destroy people’s businesses, what you’re doing is you’re destroying people’s ability to take care of their family,” said Jahmal Cole, CEO of My Block, My Hood, My City.
Protests have erupted nationwide following the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other black Americans in recent years. Peaceful demonstrations have ended in destruction, with officials blaming groups, such as white supremacists and anarchists, for causing chaos and stoking unrest in cities.
President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr placed blame on far-left extremist groups.
“It appears the violence is planned, organized and driven by anarchic and left extremist groups - far left extremist groups - using antifa-like tactics, many of whom traveled from outside the state to promote the violence,” Barr said last week.
Trump tweeted he would be designating antifa a terrorist organization, though according to NBC News, there is no domestic terrorism statute and legal authority for the U.S. to designate any domestic organization as a terrorist group.
Antifa, which means anti-fascist, is a group of left-wing, self-described anarchists.
This week, federal prosecutors charged three men for allegedly conspiring to disrupt protests using fire and explosives in Las Vegas. Authorities said the men self-identify with the far-right Boogaloo movement. According to the affidavit, Boogaloo is a term used by extremists to signal “a coming civil war and/or fall of civilization.”
University of Chicago history professor Kathleen Belew, author of “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America,” said the tension on the streets is “ripe for intervention” by far-right extremist groups.
“My instinct is that these groups are very active and are involved in stoking violence. The evidence for that statement, we have to sort of wait and see,” Belew said. “It’s not a matter of week or hours, but years, before we have a definitive thorough archival record.”
Belew said regardless of the groups or individuals behind the violence, the criminals are planning and organizing.
“When I hear reports of the U-Haul trucks, the pellets of bricks left at opportune places, passing out bombs and incendiary devices to people who are already angry during the peaceful protests, those actions across multiple cities indicate some central planning,” Belew said.
Whether planned or not, authorities are taking swift action.
At least five Illinoisans are facing federal charges, ranging from weapons violations, arson and carrying on a riot, for participating in the unrest.
According to Chicago Police, 29 percent of arrests from Saturday were of individuals who reside outside city limits.
Activists like Cole are sending a message to local Chicagoans who are looting neighborhoods.
“We understand your frustration…there’s a way we can resist constructively,” Cole said. “You have to respect you enough, respect yourself enough, your city enough to say ‘no.’ That’s not how we’re going to go about it. We’re going to protest peacefully, and we’re going to bring about change peacefully.”