We’ve seen mounting evidence that right-wing extremists have been working hard to undermine nationwide anti-police-brutality protests, mainly finding ways to amplify the violence at them in ways that they can blame on “the violent left.” This past weekend, it appears they have added another stratagem: directly attacking the protesters themselves with anonymous explosives.
Several pipe bombs were thrown at protesters in Portland’s Laurelhurst Park on Saturday, both detonating harmlessly; a bomb that failed to ignite was found nearby. Afterward, protesters attempted to follow the men who appeared to have tossed the homemade explosives and took video of a man—later tentatively identified as a former Navy SEAL who provides training materials to police—who threatened them before driving away.
As Suzette Smith at Willamette Week reported, the incident occurred at about 2:30 AM Saturday, and began when legal observers, reporters, and protesters saw a flash over a copse of trees at Laurelhurst Park, followed by a loud boom—louder than the usual one created by fireworks or police flash-bang grenades. The protesters who were near the flash investigated and saw men in dark clothing in the trees; one of them appeared to toss another device that then exploded, again harmlessly, with no one nearby.
A video shared on Instagram (and then on Twitter) showed protesters chasing the dark-clad men out of the park following the blast. Another video, also shared on Twitter, showed one of the independent journalists at the park pursuing one of those men, carrying what appear to be night-vision goggles, apparently to his car, where he behaved threateningly.
The man recording the incident—Portland videographer Scott Keeler, who said he had observed the man in the park earlier, walking away from the explosions—was using a flashlight, and first asked the man to stop as he walked up to him at a car the man appeared to be using. “Why are you throwing pipe bombs at people?” Keeler asked.
“Look man, I’m not the guy you wanna fuck with,” the man responded. Keeler again queried him about the bombs, to which the man replied: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. But I’m not that guy you wanna fuck with. I’m fucking telling you.”
The man appeared to be reaching behind his back for a weapon, Keeler told Smith, so he backed off.
Multiple posts from antifascists identified the man as a onetime Navy SEAL who now operates a business that supplies training materials to police, as well as “threat assessments for schools, businesses, and other venues.” The man did not respond to email queries and appears to have taken down his Facebook page.
Portland Police said they were investigating the incident, and asked for public help in solving the crime. They said the information concerning the suspect’s identity “has not been verified.”
Protesters who examined the devices left behind told Willamette Week the bombs were of a fairly simple design: “This is a Ziploc bag full of gunpowder, taped as tight as it can go, fit into [a PVC pipe], and the idea is that it would explode. But only one went off. This one was a dud,” one protester, who didn’t want her name released, said.
“Five minutes later, one or two other gentlemen came from the dark parts of the area and threw one or two more and they exploded,” she added.
Not only are white supremacists involved in the violence and property damage at the protests, but it’s clear that they are working multiple strategies to leverage the chaos into what they hope will be a democracy-destroying race and civil war. The tactics so far include:
- Dressing up in clothing typically worn by antifascist demonstrators, mainly the all-black clothing and masks worn by so-called “black bloc” activists. This has been observed both in Portland and in Seattle, where well-known far-right “Proud Boy” street brawlers have been spotted and reported on social media. In both Minneapolis and in Richmond, Virginia, these faux protesters were observed inflicting property damage that was initially blamed on Black Lives Matter.
- Turning up at protest demonstrations fully armed with body armor, often wearing the Hawaiian shirts that signify participation in the “Boogaloo” civil-war movement, and claiming to be sympathetic to the anti-police protesters (many “Boogaloo” enthusiasts are indeed violently disposed toward law-enforcement officers). This has occurred in a variety of places, including in North Minneapolis, in Salisbury, North Carolina, in Bentonville, Arkansas, as well as in Seattle and Los Angeles. The most notorious case occurred in Denver, Colorado, where a “Boogaloo Boi” was arrested by police at a protest with a large arsenal in the trunk of his car.
- Pretending to be antifascists or anarchists on the internet, primarily with the purpose of duping the public into believing that antifascists were on the verge of attacking communities. One fake flier, spread around Olympia, Washington, offered people $200 to act as “paid protesters,” all of it ostensibly paid for by George Soros and the Open Society Foundation. The most glaring hoax was when a Twitter account calling itself “ANTIFA US” began posting wildly incendiary exhortations: “Tonight’s the night, Comrades. Tonight we say ‘F— The City’ and we move into the residential areas… the white hoods…. and we take what’s ours …” The account was taken down after Twitter ascertained it was associated with activists involved in the white-nationalist Identity Evropa organization. Despite being a fairly obvious hoax, it nonetheless duped Donald Trump Jr. into repeating the post on Instagram with a message supporting his father’s attempts to blame antifascists for the violence.
- Similar hoaxes have also inspired hordes of men to parade around the streets of various small towns around the country where absurd rumors of the impending arrival of hordes of “antifa buses” paid for by George Soros circulated on Facebook, spread by local police and other civic leaders, whipping local residents into a hysterical state in which they have threatened peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters and unsuspecting visitors from out of town.
Police forces appear to be susceptible to these deceptive tactics. Two weeks ago, Portland Police tweeted out a photo of what it claimed were Molotov cocktails and gun magazines (with peculiarly fresh red paint on them), saying they found them after someone at that evening’s anti-police protest in Portland pointed out a black bag. The police bureau that had earlier succumbed to the “concrete milkshake” hoax did not appear to consider that these dubious devices may have been planted with the intention of framing the anti-police protesters.