On all sides, fears of ‘outside agitators’ in Floyd protests

Originals 2020/6/1

On all sides, fears of ‘outside agitators’ in Floyd protests

Protesters clash with police officers during a protest held in New York City against the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 30, 2020. (Mostafa Bassim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

From the earliest days of the Civil Rights era, officials have been quick to assert that demonstrations were the work of “outside agitators,” as a way of distracting from the protesters’ real grievances and mobilizing local opinion against the suspicious troublemakers. Last week, as protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer erupted around the nation, the phrase re-emerged, amplified by social media, and echoed across all parts of the political spectrum, by officials from the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis  to Attorney General William Barr and President Trump. 

And in some cases, it seemed, they might be right, although the facts remained hard to pin down. Had the countless fires, broken windows and vandalized police vehicles seen in cities across the country, from Minneapolis to Atlanta, New York and Washington, D.C. been caused by mostly white, left-wing antifascists? Or was it the work of white supremacists or far-right anti-government “Boogaloo Bois” trying to provoke a race war? 

At least in the Twin Cities, the epicenter of the protests, there was support for the idea that many, or even most, of the violence was committed by outsiders. At a press conference Saturday,

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