White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien downplayed on Sunday reports that far-right and white supremacist groups were involved in stoking the violence at protests nationwide this weekend following the death of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis last Monday.
While O’Brien did not specifically rule out far-right involvement in the protests over the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers, he said he has not seen reports of their connection to the protests and instead blamed the violence and looting on radical leftist groups like Antifa.
“I haven’t seen reports of far-right groups,” O’Brien said in an interview Sunday morning on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “This is being driven by Antifa.”
O’Brien added that he supports the right to protest, but that the demonstrations can’t be coopted by far-left groups hoping to sow chaos and unrest against law enforcement.
“We want peaceful protesters who have real concerns about brutality and racism. They need to be able to go to the city hall. They need to be able to petition their government and let their voices be heard,” he said. “They can’t be hijacked by these left wing Antifa militants who are burning down primarily communities in the African-American sections and the Hispanic sections of our city where immigrants and hardworking folks are trying to get a leg up and they’re having their businesses burned by these radicals.”
As cities from New York to Los Angeles grapple with protests over the killing of Floyd – and the rioting and looting that have accompanied them in many areas – state and federal officials seem to be at odds over who to blame for the violence that has accompanied the demonstrations.
President Trump has continually blamed Antifa – short for anti-fascist – and the “radical left” for carrying out and encouraging the violence, which has included destruction of police cars, buildings set ablaze and widespread looting.
“We can have our military there very quickly,” he said. “They’ve got to be tough, they’ve got to be strong, they’ve got to be respected, because these people, these Antifa — it’s a lot of radical left, bad people — and they’ve got to be taught that you can’t do this.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and other officials have suggested that organized outsiders, including but not limited to anarchists, white supremacists and gangs from other states, were behind the destruction and chaos in Minneapolis.
“We are now confronting white supremacists, members of organized crime, out of state instigators, and possibly even foreign actors to destroy and destabilize our city and our region,” Frey tweeted Saturday.
On Sunday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison also said that people from outside his state have been the cause of the violence and claimed to have evidence to back up his assertion.
“We have evidence that outsiders have been present and, in some cases, have played a very negative role. But I’ve been talking with protesters and trying to get a sense of who some of these folks are and I’ve heard mixed things,” Ellison said on “Fox News Sunday.’ “Some of the negative stuff has come from people in Minnesota and some of it has come from people on the outside. What I’d say is we’ve got enough to handle on our own and that what we really need to do is refocus on justice for Mr. Floyd. And the negative behavior, looting, arson, does not help us achieve that goal.”
Ellison’s comments – and those of other Minnesota elected officials – about outside agitators contributing to the unrest, however, was countered on Saturday by a report showed that “about 86 percent” of arrests so far are mostly of in-state residents.
A report by KARE 11 showed “about 86 percent” of the 36 arrests listed their address in Minnesota, and that they live in Minneapolis or the metro area, according to data the outlet analyzed from the Hennepin County Jail’s roster. Five out-of-state cases came from Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri, according to KARE 11.
A source within the Department of Justice told Fox News that the information it is receiving on outside provocateurs is coming from the local officials. The source did not specify who the agitators were.
The protests have been sparked by video that showed a police officer kneeling on the unarmed Floyd’s neck for several minutes before he died, seen by protesters as the latest incident of police brutality against black men.
The police officer, 44-year-old Derek Chauvin, has been fired from the Minneapolis force and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He also was accused of ignoring another officer who expressed concerns about Floyd as he lay handcuffed on the ground, pleading that he could not breathe while Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes.
Chauvin faces more than 12 years in prison if convicted.
Fox News’ Brooke Singman, Ronn Blitzer and Adam Shaw contributed to this report.