Attorney General William Barr on Saturday condemned the violent rioting that is occurring in cities nationwide amid protests calling for justice over George Floyd’s death.
Barr said during a press conference that the violence within these protests appears to have been “planned, organized, and driven” by groups of outside radicals and agitators who are exploiting the situation in order to achieve “their own separate and violent agenda.”
He said many of these individuals who have traveled out of state, are using Antifa-like tactics to promote the violence.
“Unfortunately, with the rioting that is occurring in many of our cities around the country, the voices of peaceful protest are being hijacked by violent radical elements,” the attorney general said.
Protesters flouted social distancing restrictions and took to the streets across the country to express outrage over the treatment of Floyd, who died earlier this week in the custody of Minneapolis police.
A widely circulated video showed Floyd lying down and handcuffed as a police officer was seen kneeling on the man’s neck for nearly nine minutes. The footage showed Floyd telling officers that he “can’t breathe” before his body went motionless. According to a Minneapolis Fire Department report (pdf), Floyd was unresponsive and “pulseless” when he was being transported into an ambulance by paramedics from the site of his arrest to the hospital.
The police officer who was seen kneeling on the man’s neck, Derek Chauvin, was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on Friday. Chauvin and three other police officers involved in the arrest have since been fired.
The incident had triggered days of protests that also consisted of looting of businesses and violence in Minneapolis, including torching a police station. Some protests in other cities on Friday also saw similar destruction including clashing with police, breaching of government complexes, and throwing of objects at police officers in some parts of the country.
Barr acknowledged the outrage felt by the national community, saying that accountability for Floyd’s death must be addressed, but emphasized that it should be addressed through the regular criminal justice system.
“That system is working and moving at exceptional speed. Already initial charges have been filed. That process continues to move forward. Justice will be served,” Barr said.
He stressed that the communities and streets “must have law and order” and it is the responsibility of local and state leaders to halt the violence, adding that the Justice Department will support all local efforts.
But the attorney general warned that “it is a federal crime to cross state lines or to use interstate facilities to incite or participate in violent rioting.”
“We will enforce these laws,” he said.
Earlier Saturday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said that a majority of the rioters who are involved in the destruction are from out of state.
Frey said in a statement that it appears that the city is dealing with individuals such as out of state instigators and members of organized crime, and possible foreign actors.
Carter said during a press conference that “every single person” law enforcement had arrested on Friday night in St. Paul, Minnesota, appeared to be from out of state.
“What we are seeing right now is a group of people who are not from here,” he said.
“As I talked to my friends, who have been in this movement for a very long time, who wake up in this movement every day and I ask them, what they’re seeing, what they’re feeling, what they’re hearing to a person. I hear them say, ‘We don’t know these folks. We don’t know these folks who are agitated. We don’t know these folks who are inciting violence. We don’t know these folks were first in the to break a window.’
“And those folks who are agitating and inciting are taking advantage of the pain of the hurt of the frustration of the anger of the very real and legitimate sadness that so many of our community members feel to advocate for the destruction of our communities,” he added.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced on Saturday morning that he authorized to “fully mobilize” the state’s National Guard to respond to the violent riots. He said that another 1,000 National Guard soldiers will be in Minneapolis in addition to the 700 that are already deployed to the city.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump on Saturday warned individuals who are “crossing state lines to incite violence” could be committing a federal crime.
“80% of the RIOTERS in Minneapolis last night were from OUT OF STATE. They are harming businesses (especially African American small businesses), homes, and the community of good, hardworking Minneapolis residents who want peace, equality, and to provide for their families,” Trump posted on Twitter.
“Liberal Governors and Mayors must get MUCH tougher or the Federal Government will step in and do what has to be done, and that includes using the unlimited power of our Military and many arrests,” the president wrote in a statement on Twitter.
Barr’s comments echo his earlier comments from Friday where he said that the DOJ and FBI are investigating the Floyd case to determine whether any federal civil rights laws were violated. He said the federal investigation is separate but parallel with the probe being led by state prosecutors who are in the process of determining whether any criminal charges are appropriate under state law, and that the probe is “proceeding quickly.”
Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.