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‘Escalation in Rhetoric and Propaganda' by Extremist Groups Exploiting Protests: NYPD

During a NYPD’s Intelligence Bureau and Counterterrorism Bureau briefing Saturday afternoon, officials discussed various factions that have sought to use peaceful protests and turn them violent

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What to Know

  • There has been a dramatic escalation in rhetoric and propaganda by extremist entities who seek to take advantage of the protests following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, according to the NYPD.
  • During a NYPD’s Intelligence Bureau and Counterterrorism Bureau briefing Saturday afternoon, officials discussed various factions that have sought to use peaceful protests and turn them violent.
  • According to the NYPD all the groups seem unified in a goal of opportunistic propaganda to “accelerate conflict, incite violence.”

There has been a dramatic escalation in rhetoric and propaganda by extremist entities who seek to take advantage of the protests following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, according to the NYPD.

During a NYPD’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Bureau briefing Saturday afternoon, Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller, alongside two other officials, discussed various factions that have sought to use peaceful protests and turn them violent.

Police officials said “there’s been a pretty dramatic escalation in terms of rhetoric and propaganda from these extremist entities” in postings online and on social media seeking to capitalize on the unrest seen across the country following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

The NYPD said it’s seen messaging from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Pennisula (AQAP), ISIS, political extremists from right-wing groups to left-wing groups, anarchists, as well as racial and hate groups, including white extremists and neo-Nazis.

According to the NYPD all the groups seem unified in a goal of opportunistic propaganda to “accelerate conflict, incite violence.”

For example, according to the NYPD, on May 28 there was a neo-Nazi white supremacist post of a photo of a skull with a police hat (the logo on the hat says ACAB, which stands for "All Cops Are Bastards") and text which says “the only good cop is a dead cop.” Miller said this posting was tied to an attempt to exploit a Black Lives Matter protest.

“What they’re seeking is more disorder, more violence, more mayhem,” Miller said.

Additionally, the NYPD showed slides of police cars burning as online memes and posts that they say came from a pro-Al Qaeda account and similar imagery from pro-ISIS accounts.

Crowds continue to grow as people continue to call for justice and action in the wake of George Floyd's death.

Police said the groups that seek to carry out violence against police and possibly protesters by throwing rocks, Molotov cocktails, bottles, and other acts are conducted by anarchist groups and other splinter groups which coordinate their tactics.

 Miller did not specifically cite ANTIFA as being behind the violence.

“We look at ANTIFA as more of a movement and an ideology than an organization”, he said.

Police officials at the press conference also said “the theme is individuals who seek to exploit an otherwise peaceful demonstration with violent tactics.”

The groups have specific roles for people looking to protest more violently including: fire squads, light mages (people who use lasers to point at police), and “copwatch," which is when people look out for police movements and use social media for “real time strategic updates”, Miller said.

Officials detailed a number of stops and arrests made including stopping a car with Ohio plates that was filled with radios, gasoline cans, gravity knives, a machete, a sword and other items.

Miller said they were seen in Brooklyn at “a massive orderly, legal, peaceful protest, but you have them circling the area in a car, screaming ‘f--- the police’ and so on.” He said this was an instance where protesters initially identified the car as suspicious, reported it to police and gave police enough information to track down the car and make a stop -- which Miller said is an emerging trend of protesters making police aware of people who may try to commit violence.

The twelfth day of protests continued in cities around the U.S on Saturday to decry the killing of George Floyd. Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, sparking international demonstrations condemning police brutality.

Additionally, officials said, there are gangs that have sought to conduct violence off of the protests and police have arrested gang members with loaded guns near protests.

“It’s our responsibility and obligation to make sure that we track down which of these propagandists has security implications for the large number of protests in New York City,” police officials said.

At the time of the press conference, the NYPD said they’ve arrested 1,024 people in protest related arrests and 1,164 summonses. That number does not include curfew violations. Overall, 467 arrests have been tied specifically to felonies.

“It does not appear that groups traveled into New York together”, Miller says. He noted that initially arrests of people outside New York made up a high percentage but over time they became a much smaller percentage. Last Saturday, 1 out of 7 arrests were from outside NYC, currently, just over 100 of the 1,000 come from outside the city but just 18 came outside of the tri-state area.

Of those arrested, 3.6 percent had prior arrests or contacts with law enforcement tied to shootings, homicides, or weapons charges, 6 percent had ties to gangs, and 2.3 percent were repeat offenders (people who were arrested several times over the course of the protest period starting May 28). However, Miller strongly cautioned against drawing inferences from these numbers until more analysis can be done.

Looting was reported in SoHo, and more fires set, for another night. Mayor Bill de Blasio described the looting as "unacceptable" and said a very small group of protesters were responsible. He's confident the NYPD will track them down.

When asked about looting-related arrests and if they were specifically tied to the protests around Floyd’s death, Miller said that “so far, it appears to be a byproduct.”

“You have anarchist groups that are actively planning to do destruction and violence against police,” he said, adding that those groups typically do not loot, but, rather, seek to break glass, damage buildings, break bank glass, but they don’t try to break into the vault, but rather they want to make a mark.

“You have the looters who have tried to blend with the protesters for cover and then break off with the sole purpose of looting merchandise,” he said.

Miller went on to apologize for the lack of awareness of “SoHo Night” which saw rampant looting in the SoHo neighborhood Sunday night.

“That’s an intelligence failure in that if a couple of hundred people knew to be at a certain place at a certain time for criminal activity and we didn’t detect that, that’s on me,” he said, adding: “We’ve gone back. Where was the Facebook page? Where was the chatter?...we still haven’t seen it."

“There’s an intelligence gap," Miller went on to say.

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