More than 50 people have been indicted so far on federal charges across the country in cities such as Minneapolis, Dallas, St. Paul, Philadelphia, Austin and Baton Rouge.
A tweet posted by the official account of the U.S. Attorneys’ Office warned: “The #FirstAmendment does not permit people to use a protest as cover to commit arson, destroy property or incite violence. Any protestors who cross this line should know that we will use every tool at our disposal to find you and prosecute you.”
Some of the crimes that are being pursued include arson, bringing guns to a riot, crossing state lines for purposes of rioting, torching police cars, looting gun stores and pharmacies, shining lasers in the eyes of police helicopter pilots, and making threats online against police officers.
For example, a federal criminal complaint was filed against 28-year-old Melquan Barnett of Erie, PA, for malicious destruction of property using fire or explosives after the man set a fire at a coffee shop in the area following a gathering of protestors. He is facing as long as 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
Meanwhile, feds tracked down 19-year-old Devante Coffie using social media forensics. The man broke into a pawn shop and stole 32 handguns along with two long guns. They later caught him trying to sell the firearms using social media.
A 23-year-old man was arrested for stealing items from the 3rd Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department after being found with a police duty belt with handcuffs, baton, knife, body armor and earphone piece, along with a 9mm pistol magazine, riot helmet, overdose kit and police radio. He had written his name on duct tape and placed it on the back of the body armor. He allegedly confessed to throwing a barrel into a fire at the precinct.
Nineteen-year-old Shamar Betts is being accused of inciting a riot that saw more than 50 businesses being vandalized. A Facebook post he made called up people to meet at a certain place and time with family, friends, bricks and other items, and the group broke windows at businesses in a local mall and looted the merchandise inside.
Attorney General William Barr has promised to prosecute “extremist agitators” who are involved in the protests, especially those who are connected with Antifa. He said that extremists of different types have been capitalizing on the protests, some of which are only interested in anarchy and others that want to cause a civil war. He also announced that the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces will be helping to coordinate local, state and federal responses to crimes carried out during protests.
Meanwhile, President Trump has vowed to declare Antifa a terrorist organization. In a conference call, he told governors: “You’ve got to arrest these people and you’ve got to judge them, and you can't do the deal where they get one week in jail. These are terrorists, these are terrorists, they're looking to do bad things to our country. They’re antifa and they’re radical left.”
While some say the Department of Justice is overstepping, others have said the help is welcome at a time when many local law enforcement resources are completely overstretched. No matter where you fall on that issue, however, there’s no denying the fact that aggressive federal enforcement sends an important message to antifa and others who are considering committing these acts.
Sources for this article include: