The Trump administration blamed on Saturday far-left groups using antifa tactics for fomenting the violent protests upending Minneapolis and other major cities, even as Minnesota Democrats say they’re looking at white supremacists and far-right extremists.
Attorney General William Barr said that the “voices of peaceful protests are being hijacked by violent radical elements,” and warned that it was a federal crime to cross state lines to incite or participate in rioting.
“Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate and violent agenda,” said Mr. Barr. “In many places, it appears violence is planned, organized and being driven by anarchic and far-left extremist groups using antifa-like tactics, many of whom traveled from outside the state to promote the violence.”
In Minnesota, however, there was plenty of focus on white supremacists. Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said her “heart and guts are being ripped out at this moment because I also want to go to the streets” to protest the Monday death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
But “there are white supremacists there. There are anarchists,” she said at a Saturday press conference. “There are people who are burning down institutions that are core to our identity.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison retweeted an article in Vice headlined, “Far-Right Extremists Are Hoping to Turn the George Floyd Protests into a New Civil War.”
The Democrat and former congressman also warned about “evil” rioters seeking to sully the image of social-justice demonstrators.
“Some evil elements are literally interfusing themselves with the protesters to destroy, to cause arson, so that the whole community will have a low opinion of the protest, because they’re not for justice for Mr. Floyd, they’re against it,” said Mr. Ellison at a Saturday press conference.
“And they know that if we protest righteously and peacefully and justly, public sentiment will rise up to support our demands,” Mr. Ellison said. “And so they want to stop that.”
He also retweeted a post by former Democratic state Rep. Erin Maye Quade: “This is not the first time white supremacists have been violent against peaceful demonstrators and Black neighborhoods before.”
Meanwhile, President Trump laid the blame at the feet of left-wing radicals, tweeting, “It’s ANTIFA and the Radical Left. Don’t lay the blame on others!”
John Harrington, Minnesota Department of Public Safety commissioner, said his department was working with local and federal agencies to figure out which groups were responsible for the devastation, saying his department was looking at white supremacists as well as drug cartels.
“We have seen things like white-supremacist organizers who have posted things on platforms about coming to Minnesota,” said Mr. Harrington. “We are checking to see with the folks we have made arrests on, that we have information, are they connected to those platforms?”
Mr. Harrington also said he had seen “flyers about protests where folks have talked about they’re going to get their loot on tonight.”
“We’re checking to see: Are they part of organized criminal organization? And if so, what is that organization and how are they organized?” said Mr. Harrington.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz estimated that 80% of those throwing rocks, setting fires and looting buildings were from out-of-state, and that their methods appeared “professional.”
“They are adapting, they are receiving information together, they are being fed by professionals in this in professional tactics, in urban warfare,” said Mr. Walz at a briefing. “Those types of things are happening with these people. Again, as I said, they are getting what they want. They are getting on TV. They are seeing the images.”
The governor and other state officials urged Minnesotans to abide by the 8 p.m. curfew, saying the larger crowds make it easier for the agitators to hide, and emphasizing that the destruction is hitting minority communities and businesses hardest.
On that score, Mr. Trump and the Democrats were in agreement.
“80% of the RIOTERS in Minneapolis last night were from OUT OF STATE,” tweeted Mr. Trump. “They are harming businesses (especially African American small businesses), homes, and the community of good, hardworking Minneapolis residents who want peace, equality, and to provide for their families.”
Speaking to reporters later at the White House, Mr. Trump said, “We have our military ready, willing and able if they [Minnesota officials] ever want to call our military. We can have troops on the ground very quickly.”
He said of the authorities, “They’ve got to be tough, they’ve got to be smart. Because these people, this antifa, there’s a lot of radical-left bad people, and they’ve got to be taught that you can’t do this.”
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.