In an interagency communication sent to local police departments earlier this month, an official with a Washington-state fusion center told cops to look out for members of Antifa traveling to their cities to potentially riot. These claims are unsubstantiated and have largely been debunked across the country.
The news signals how what amounts to a conspiracy theory has permeated through local communities, right through federal law enforcement, and up to the President. Antifa is not an official, centralized group, and instead a general movement of activists who have anti-fasicst worldviews, although President Trump has expressed willingness to designate it as a terrorist organization.
"We are getting requests to follow-up on potential ANTIFA groups coming to local jurisdictions for an unknown purpose, potentially to agitate crowds and create an environment for rioting," a June 2 Get The Word Out (GTWO) alert written by Lieutenant Curt Boyle, director of the Washington State Fusion Center, reads. Fusion Centers are state-operated organizations that aggregate and share law enforcement and surveillance information between state, local, and federal agencies. Motherboard obtained the document through a public records act request.
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"This information has come from all parts of the state and our neighboring states. We definitely want this information, but it is coming from all different avenues," the alert continues. "There is a disinformation campaign going on right now. We are trying to identify the origins; domestic, foreign, or nation/state actors. It is important the information is verified."
The alert doesn't specify whether this information is verified or not, and though conspiracy theorists—and even some police departments and mayors—have suggested that "outside agitators" were responsible for looting and violence, there is little evidence that is the case. There is no evidence of a large scale, covert online influence operation around the George Floyd protests like those previously run by Russia's Internet Research Agency troll farm, according to an analysis from research firm Graphika.
For the past several weeks local communities have been awash with claims that Antifa is bussing members into local areas to cause havoc. NBC News found that these claims went viral on digital neighborhood platforms such as Nextdoor and in group texts, with some of the posts featuring a tweet from a fake Antifa account that was actually created by white nationalist group Identity Evropa. President Trump and senior members of the administration have amplified the conspiracy theory further, with Trump suggesting that Martin Gugion, 75, who was seriously injured after Buffalo, New York police pushed him to the ground, was an "ANTIFA provocateur." There is no evidence to support this claim at all. Attorney General William Barr has also claimed Antifa is linked to the unrest without providing evidence.
But multiple, independent journalistic analyses have found no evidence of such Antifa interference. NPR reviewed court documents of 51 individuals facing federal charges in connection with the unrest; the outlet found that at the time of writing none are alleged to have links to Antifa. The Daily Beast also found that none of the 22 criminal complaints related to the first wave of protest charges mention Antifa in any way. The Associated Press analyzed court records and other information related to 217 people arrested recently in Minneapolis and the District of Columbia, and found that rather than outside agitators, more than 85 percent of those arrested were local residents.
An internal FBI alert said the Bureau's Washington Field Office had no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement in violence during May 31 demonstrations in the DC area, The Nation reported.
Other agencies are acting on the information swirling about Antifa. On Tuesday The Intercept reported how a Twitter user jokingly tweeted that they were the leader of a local Antifa chapter. An FBI official then contacted the person and asked if they wanted to become an informant.
"We are getting requests to follow-up on potential ANTIFA groups coming to local jurisdictions for an unknown purpose, potentially to agitate crowds and create an environment for rioting."
During protests in New York, the FBI took arrested protesters aside and questioned them on their views on anti-fascism, Univision reported.
The guidance from the fusion center said that some of its information came from the National Association of Chain Drugs Stores, which apparently said that "looters [are] specifically targeting pharmacies and drug stores secured within … What we have seen in Washington is rioters and looters hitting the pharmacy or drug store if it's within the path of their movement of destruction. We haven't seen specially targeted attacks on pharmacies or drug stores."
Mike Harden, the police chief of the Lake Forest Park Police Department, a suburb of Seattle, forwarded the entire message to his police department. "Please keep an eye on Rite Aid," he said.