Federal law enforcement officials say they have gathered intelligence of isolated instances of people who traveled to participate in protests in recent months and in some cases carry out rioting, but nothing that appears to match the claims by President Donald Trump of black-clad “thugs” on a plane traveling for the purposes of violence.
Attorney General William Barr, in a CNN interview Wednesday, offered some support to Trump’s claim saying he had seen evidence of outsiders traveling to carry out violence in cities that have suffered rioting.
“They are flying around the country. We know people who are flying around the country. We know where they’re going. We see some of the purchases they’re making before the riots of weapons to use in those riots. So we are following it,” Barr said. He later added that he didn’t know what Trump was referring to in his comments, which he made earlier this week in an interview on Fox News.
While federal authorities have often received raw intelligence raising concerns of rioters traveling to carry out violence, the vast majority of arrests are of local residents in cities where disturbances have occurred, law enforcement officials say. Many of the raw intelligence reports don’t pan out, officials say.
In Kenosha, Wisconsin, local police, with the help of federal authorities, tracked a bus and other vehicles with people who had traveled from Seattle to feed protesters in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
A not-for-profit group call Riot Kitchen said their volunteers were arrested while buying fuel used to help run a mobile kitchen. Police said the arrests happened after receiving tips about “suspicious vehicles with out of state plates meeting in a remote lot.”
Video: Reporter asks Trump to condemn Kenosha shooter. Watch his response (CNN)
Barr also insisted that left-wing extremists were the main reason for violence and police chiefs in every city informed him of that.
“I’ve talked to every police chief in every city where there’s been major violence, and they all have identified Antifa as the ramrod for the violence,” Barr said.
However, the chief of police for Portland, where confrontations have lasted weeks, has not spoken to the attorney general, according to the police department there.
The Atlanta Police Department, which saw violent demonstrations earlier this summer, said it could not speak so absolutely about Antifa’s role in the violence.
“The APD data analysis unit is unable to confirm the gravity of this statement regarding Antifa and the level of violence. We are aware of their presence at the protests, but we are not able to speak to the degree of their participation in the violence,” the police department said in a statement.
Atlanta’s interim police chief, who has been with the department since June 2020, has not spoken to Barr, the APD said.
Miami’s head of police has also not spoken to Barr, according to Sgt. Erin Alfonso, though they have had discussions with law enforcement under the attorney general.
“Our director has not spoken directly to Attorney General William Barr. However, members of his command staff have participated in intelligence conference calls with our federal partners, who work under AG Barr,” Alfonso said. “During these calls, Antifa has come up as a topic; however, the particulars of the calls are considered intelligence information and the details are not being disclosed.”