FBI asks for tips and ‘digital media’ to ID people inciting violence during George Floyd protests

As protests over the death of George Floyd grip the nation, with some demonstrations devolving into violent clashes with police, the FBI has called on the public to turn in individuals who are “actively instigating violence during First Amendment protected peaceful demonstrations.”

The protests began after the May 25 death of Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer who is now charged with murder, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.

Some of the peaceful protests in response to police brutality have led to groups of looters showing up to the demonstrations to target various businesses. 

But as protests rage across the country, many have criticized local law enforcement for their tactics against demonstrators as videos continue to surface on social media depicting officers dousing crowds with pepper spray, striking protesters with batons and firing rubber projectiles.

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U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, who was hit by pepper spray Saturday as scuffles broke out near the end of a demonstration in Columbus, Ohio, said police escalated matters by using heavy-handed tactics against “passionate” young demonstrators who were mostly orderly.

“Too much force is not the answer to this,” said Beatty, who pressed for peaceful tactics on both sides in a video posted on Twitter by Columbus City Council president Shannon Hardin, who also was pepper-sprayed. Both are African American.

Despite the escalated confrontation from police and the National Guard, the White House has alleged that the violence was “being led by Antifa and other radical groups.” Antifa, short for anti-fascists, is an umbrella term for far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Sunday saying that the U.S. will designate “Antifa” as a “terrorist organization.” 

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U.S. officials sought to determine Sunday whether extremist groups had infiltrated protests across the country and deliberately tipped largely peaceful demonstrations toward violence — and if foreign adversaries were behind a burgeoning disinformation campaign on social media.

Others have seen evidence of right-wing extremists, too. J.J. MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, has been monitoring chatter about the protests among anti-government extremists on social media platforms. She has access to hundreds of private Facebook groups for followers of the loosely organized “Boogaloo” movement, which uses an ’80s movie sequel as a code word for a second civil war.

In a statement released Sunday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr condemned the “violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups.”

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“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’s statement read.

The FBI has released a website in which people can help them “identify actors who are actively instigating violence in the wake of George Floyd’s death,” by submitting “digital media” and tips that might help the organization identify these instigators.

“If you witness or have witnessed unlawful violent actions, we urge you to submit any information, photos, or videos that could be relevant to the case at fbi.gov/violence (https://fbi.gov/violence)," wrote the FBI.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.