The mysterious Minneapolis ‘man in black’

The man in black

I wondered whether this black-clad man was a police provocateur or a radical leftist provocateur.  There is a third possibility that I overlooked—that he is a right-wing provocateur.  [Added 6/4/2020]

A mysterious black-clad man, clad in black, with a respirator or gas mask, was walking around breaking windows in Minneapolis during the protest and riot there.

Some speculate that he was a police infiltrator, which, based on the history of protest, is a natural thing to think.

But by his garb, I think he is probably a member of the “black bloc,” a group of revolutionaries who been around at least since the 1999 riots protesting the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle.

The “black bloc” is noted for their distinctive black gear.  They join in protests and try to escalate the violence, with the idea of forcing neutrals to take sides between revolution and reaction.

While the “black bloc” movement is international, there is an overlapping American movement called “Antifa” for anti-fascist.  They are street fighters, most of them white, who go after neo-Nazis, white nationalists and sometimes Trump supporters.

Like the neo-Nazis and white nationalists, the aim of the black bloc and Antifa is to eliminate the middle ground.  They seek to bring moderates into the violence and force them to choose between revolution and fascism.

Very often, in a protest, the first ones to initiate violence are police infiltrators and informants. Initial reports identified the man in black as a Minneapolis police officer.  But the Minneapolis police say the alleged culprit was on duty elsewhere at the time the video was shot.

USA Today reported that the man in black in the video was not the only one.

MINNEAPOLIS — Drifting out of the shadows in small groups, dressed in black, carrying shields and wearing knee pads, they head toward the front lines of the protest.  Helmets and gas masks protect and obscure their faces, and they carry bottles of milk to counteract tear gas and pepper spray.

Most of them appear to be white.  They carry no signs and don’t want to speak to reporters. Trailed by designated “medics” with red crosses taped to their clothes, these groups head straight for the front lines of the conflict.

Night after night in this ravaged city, these small groups do battle with police and the National Guard, kicking away tear gas canisters and throwing back foam-rubber projects fired at them.  

Around them, fires break out. Windows are smashed. Parked cars destroyed.

USA TODAY reporters have witnessed the groups on multiple nights, in multiple locations.  Sometimes they threaten those journalists who photograph them destroying property.

Source: USA Today

When protests, violent or otherwise, break out, it is common for people in authority to blame “outside agitators.”  It is natural to be skeptical of this.

Poor and working-class black people in the USA’s big cities have plenty of reason to be indignant at their treatment by police.  A video shows Derick Chauvin, a police officer, kneeling on the helpless George Floyd’s neck until he died. How can anyone not be outraged by that?  Especially if they themselves have experienced bullying and worse at the hands of police.

The following comment is from, of all people, Rush Limbaugh (quoted by Rod Dreher)

I don’t know why they had George Floyd on the ground. I don’t know, but I don’t care what it was, unless he fired a shot at them, and even then, there is no… What policy?  What policy is there anywhere that mandates that kind of treatment of a suspect or prisoner who is totally under control?  [snip]

So he passed a counterfeit bill in a store.  Fine. That doesn’t come close to justifying what happened to him, with people watching that cop for five minutes kill the guy!   There’s no other way to describe what happened.  I understand people are out there calling it murder.  It makes me so mad, I can’t see straight.  So, I ask, how does something like that happen?  There has to be some police manual or handbook.

It is often said that police abuse comes from only a tiny minority of policemen, and maybe that is true.  But would you fly on an airline when, say, only 2 percent of the pilots are habitually drunk or under the influence of drugs?  Only a tiny percentage of Catholic priests are pedophiles, but it is still not tolerated.

I can understand how black people in big cities might come to feel that peaceful protest is useless.  But more usually, all that a riot produces is a ruined neighborhood that stays ruined.  And it’s not as if the residents of the black neighborhoods elected the rioters to represent them.

The black bloc in uniform.  Photo via New York Times

The man in the video has the look of someone in the black bloc. As Naked Capitalism’s Lambert Strether pointed out, he also resembles a Hong Kong protestor.  I can’t rule out the possibility that he was a police infiltrator, but usually infiltrators try to blend in.  They don’t dress in a special way that calls attention to themselves.

Whoever the guy was, he was playing with fire.  The USA is in the grips of a pandemic, massive unemployment and catastrophic climate change, without effective national leadership.  It wouldn’t take much to bring about a crisis of social order.

I feel as if I’m reliving the year 1968.

Afterthought.  Just to be clear, I’m not blaming / crediting the black bloc or Antifa with the current rioting and looting.  Nor am I claiming they necessarily are outsiders in the cities where they pop up.  What I am saying is that revolutionary violence by a militant minority is dangerous to democracy—what we’ve got left of it.


Seven Reasons Police Brutality Is Systematic, Not Anecdotal by Bonnie Kristian for The American Conservative.

Cops Kill Because We Give Them The Legal Framework to Do It by James Brovard for The American Conservative.

Nothing Is Certain But Death, Taxes and Police Infiltration of US Protests by Caitlin Johnstone.

A Short History of U.S. Law Enforcement Infiltrating Protests by Ryan Grim and Jon Schwartz for The Intercept.  [6/3/2020]

Agents Provocateurs: Police at Protests Caught Destroying Property by Alan MacLeod for Mint Press News. [6/2/2020]

Juan Conner -The guy who started the riot is a f**king AGENT – Video on Facebook.

on Twitter: “That’s not a protester”.  More video.

St. Paul police rebut theory officer instigated Minneapolis riot by John Shipley for the Twin Cities Pioneer Press

Black Protestors Tell Agitators: This Is Not What We Wanted by Cat Sandoval for Newsy.  [6/2/2020]

Evidence mounts of far-right extremists’ violent chicanery at police protests around the nation by David Neiwert for The Daily Kos. [6/4/2020]

‘Boogaloo Bois” arrested en route to Las Vegas protest with arsenal of Molotov cocktails by David Neiwert for The Daily Kos [6/6/2020]

Here’s How Racist Antifa Thugs Are Skewing Media Narrative Against Minneapolis Protesters by Jeff Charles for RedState.

These Black Bloc Anarchists Don’t Care What You Think of Them by Donovan Farley for VICE.  Background information.

Inside the Underground Anti-Racist Movement That Brings the Fight to White Supremacists by Wes Enzinna for Mother Jones.  Background information about Antifa.

Antifa in Theory and in Practice by Diana Johnstone for Counterpunch.  [Added 6/10/2020]

Andrew Solender on Twitter: “Some protesters in Brooklyn calling to loot the Target, but organizers are rushing in front to stop them, keep things non-violent.”  More video.

Ruin and heartbreak by James Lileks for The Bleat (his web log).  On the consequences of revolutionary violence.

[5/31/2020] After posting this, I made a number of minor revisions to the wording and shortened the long quote from USA Today.

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6 Responses to “The mysterious Minneapolis ‘man in black’”

  1. whungerford Says:

    Is there hard evidence for the claim that often “the first ones to initiate violence are police infiltrators and informants?” I know that infiltrators do sometimes try to provoke illegal actions, but I am not sure that police agents break windows and start fires.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. philebersole Says:

    Whungerford, you make a distinction between instigating violence and committing violent acts. Probably the first is more common than the second. I used the word “initiate.”

    An acquaintance of mine told me about a protest demonstration he’d been in during the late 1960s or early 1970s. He noticed the two men in front of him in the procession were dressed like hippies, but wore black dress shoes.

    Suddenly the two of them bent down, picked something up and started throwing them. My friend said he quickly left the procession, ducked into a diner and sat himself down in a booth out of the line of sight of the street.

    After he’d waited for about an hour, he ventured out. The street was clear, except for fallen placards. The two “hippies” were having coffee with the police. That’s a story I was told—admittedly, not hard evidence.

    I don’t have hard evidence of how often violent protest is initiated by agents provocateurs, either in word or deed. But I believe that it has happened very often down through history.

    Police are not the only agents provocateurs, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    I associate the governmental agent provocateur with the 60s. It is entirely possible the Kent State massacre was initiated by such a provocateur. The National Guard troops were dispatched with live ammo, loaded in the chamber with the safety off. The soldiers didn’t choose that. They were the same ages as the protestors and had no crowd control training or nonlethal options.

    Personally, I think the Guard was set up. Put into a situation where a terrible accident could easily occur and then given a little shove to make sure it happened.

    It could happen today but I’m not inclined to think the “authorities” would have guys in black outfits and gas masks wandering around to do it. Too easy for someone to get pissed off and tackle (or shoot) the perp and then everything would come out. That’s something political terrorists would do instead. The government would be more subtle.

    I’m watching the protests and looting in Santa Monica right now. Thousands of peaceful protesters in a small area surrounded by cops while hundreds of looters spread out over the city unimpeded. I predict a big spike in COVID-19. Lots of close contact, face to face arguing, not a lot of masks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

      It is curfew time. And now the PD is shooting teargas, pepperballs and rubber bullets. The protestors have has gone to rocks, M-80s, fireworks, and smoke bombs.

      Santa Monica PD is long overwhelmed. LACSD and LAPD are also there and National Guard on their way.

      The crowd is resisting dispersing, but no lead bullets so far. But M-80s could be considered lethal weapons.


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