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The long hangover: Investigate the city-killers

AutoZone auto parts store
An AutoZone auto parts store on fire during the second night of protests.

On Friday, May 29, I had lunch with my friend Peter, an architect who has officed for decades in the restored Boyd warehouse on 4th Avenue one block south of Lake Street, filled with small businesses and nonprofits. We talked about the violent nights around us, and what matters and doesn’t in the long scheme of things. And we puzzled over who were the arsonists and vandals randomly destroying businesses and nonprofits in this most diverse of neighborhoods in the city? The Midtown Global Market, with 90 percent percent tenants of color, Gandhi Mahal restaurant, Migizi Communications, the Lake Street post office? A library?

That night the Boyd Building was torched. Here’s what happened. A car with four white men pulled up to the building late that night, smashed in the glass front door, raced through the building vandalizing every office, lit on fire two cars in the basement parking garage, which exploded, and ran out. The sprinkler system saved the building but not many tenants’ businesses. We know how this happened because a tenant happened to be across the street and witnessed the attack.

James Lenfestey
Minnesota Book Awards
James P. Lenfestey
So who are these white arsonists and vandals who took advantage of our city’s righteous anger and grief to destroy us? And what is their agenda? There is no evidence they are leftist antifa activists, in spite of President Trump’s and Atty. General Barr’s and Fox News’ repeated assertions to the contrary.

The most intriguing of these white mercenaries is The Man with the Black Umbrella, captured by cellphone at the initial 3rd precinct demonstration coolly hammering windows of the AutoZone store, the match that lit the flame of what was at that moment an angry but peaceful protest. Clearly, he was not there to steal motor oil. Instead, he and his cohorts acted as the white tip on the match that burned our city. They were few but acted as accelerants — they brought Molotov cocktails and not only used them but handed them out, plus gasoline and other bombs, so our police and fire departments were totally overwhelmed and could not respond as businesses were robbed and burned, including random sites on the north side. This was not because of righteous anger for the tragedy of George Floyd, but a cool calculation to create maximum mayhem.

So now our city wakes up to a half a billion-dollar bill in damages, and the livelihoods of many Minnesotans of all colors destroyed, possibly forever, much of the destruction centered in one the most racially diverse and dynamic areas of the city.

There will be much-needed change in the practices of the Minneapolis Police Department. And much change, we have a right to expect, in the terrible racial dynamic of parts of our city and country. But the accounting must include these violent mercenaries. Because they did not come here to address a problem, but to create one. Who were they? They exploited our grief, and cost the heart and soul of this city a lot.

James P. Lenfestey of Minneapolis is a poet and a former editorial writer for the Star Tribune covering education, energy and the environment.


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Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by Vett Roby on 06/24/2020 - 04:34 pm.

    As a lifelong resident of living in the Saint Paul Midway area I have always been able to leave my doors and windows unlocked without worrying about something happening. As a kid, most of my neighborhood friends were white and I am african American. I was never treated any differently because of my skin color….However, I do remember times as a child that i would hear conversations between my parents about being mistreated by landlords, neighbors and law enforcement in certain parts of the cities. I heard my dad use words that were not always the best to say around a child because he was so frustrated and fed up of being treated inhuman. Growing up I have always had friends as well as family of different nationalities and I never really experienced racism or even witnessed it happening so much until the last few years with all the police brutality and injustices in the world. I never knew that racism existed so close to home until I witnessed the assassination of Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and now George Floyd. What those outsiders did was turn our city completely upside down and then just return back to their highly privileged lifestyles and homes. Now we all have to suffer because they made our life way more inconvenient then it already was by burning our places down and trashing them. Sooo thanks guys!

  2. Submitted by lisa miller on 06/24/2020 - 06:12 pm.

    I agree that some white out of towners inflicted mayhem. The experts say they came from various political sides and some of them had no specific leaning other than to cause terror. What I also find bothersome in so many articles is that even in liberal Minneapolis, how people over look the ongoing gun violence in north Minneapolis. It is as if the violence doesn’t seem to count unless it crosses over 94 or pass from the south over Cedar. This too is part of our Minneapolis.

    • Submitted by Robert Edwards on 06/25/2020 - 02:48 pm.

      Yes, the ongoing gun violence in North Minneapolis has been ‘tolerated’ for many years. Like there’s a different standard of civility for that part of the city. Either the police don’t want to pick up that problem or are helpless to intervene in that community.
      Consider also what happened in Madison, with the destruction of two statues–one a celebrated civil war hero/abolitionist (Col Heg) and the statue of a woman (woman artist) that feminists have formed around in the past. Queried, the vandals responded without any inkling of political motive.

  3. Submitted by Joe Smith on 06/24/2020 - 07:38 pm.

    Doesn’t matter the color of your skin, if you burned and looted you are a criminal, period. 250 businesses where looted, burned and wrecked by “peaceful protesters “. There is enough blame to go around, Mayor, Governor, black folks, white folks, Mpls residents, out of towners, ANTIFA folks, BLM folks, anarchists and anyone who broke the law. Claiming one group did all of the half billion damage is ridiculous.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/25/2020 - 11:16 am.

      Except that is completely false. Just outright lies. This wasn’t done by protesters. This wasn’t done by Antifa.

      • Submitted by Joe Smith on 06/25/2020 - 01:53 pm.

        Pat, please show me your proof. With 250 businesses looted and burned, you are telling me ANTIFA and protesters had nothing to do with any of those 250+. Please show me that documentation.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/25/2020 - 03:52 pm.

          You are asking me to prove a negative. I can only tell you what the evidence has revealed so far. There is no evidence of any antifa connection. Antifa is mostly a right-wing fantasy anyway. The people they keep arresting are white and from the suburbs. That umbrella guy at AutoZone sure wasn’t part of BLM.

          • Submitted by Joe Smith on 06/25/2020 - 06:17 pm.

            As I said color of skin makes no difference…. You seem to be hung up on this white/black thing. If you looted, you are a thug, end of story.

          • Submitted by Payton Powell on 07/02/2020 - 01:29 pm.

            As someone who long dwelled in the punk scene and was on the periphery of many radical college age white kids I can assure you that ANTIFA is not some conservative fantasy. Back when MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL still published a magazine I distinctly remember their exploits of causing mayhem and escalating counter protests being published. In fact many zines published for the fringe communities still detailed such radicalism well into the Obama era.

            Furthermore, let’s not forget the raid on radicals prior to the RNC in 2008. I knew personally radicals that were implicated during that era of anti-Bush anti-GOP action, some of whom ended up in prison.

        • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/25/2020 - 05:21 pm.

          I’m fairly sure that the vandals were part of the same group who marched on Charlottesville and described by Trump as very fine people. Do you have any documentation otherwise?

        • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 06/26/2020 - 06:59 am.

          Joe, where was your identification of White supremacists? Or the Bugaloo boys, the only group proved to have been involved? Once again, your extreme bias is showing.

          • Submitted by Joe Smith on 06/27/2020 - 06:52 am.

            Anybody of any color skin that was looting, burning and ruining someone’s business is guilty…. I don’t care if they are white, black, brown or orange. Race has nothing to do with it. My point was with 250 businesses burned and ruined, there is plenty of blame to go around. Somehow liberals feel if they repeat “only white people” burned our city enough times, folks will believe them. Anybody with a TV and a brain knows it was criminals of all skin colors burning the Twin Cities down.

            • Submitted by Matt Haas on 06/29/2020 - 11:22 am.

              No Joe, the problem is that you refuse to name conservatives as any of your long list of “suspects”. As such the entire concept you attempt to present is fraudulent.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/25/2020 - 12:25 pm.

      Yes, and that is why no such claim was made. The writer simply told the story of 2 buildings that were damaged/destroyed. One based on video evidence the other on a witness.

  4. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 06/25/2020 - 10:28 am.

    My suspicions were aroused when I looked at the list of destroyed and vandalized buildings and saw how many Black-, Native American- and immigrant-owned businesses and cultural institutions were hit.

    Vandalizing the outposts of major corporations like Target, while not excusable, made a sort of perverse sense in the context of a riot, especially when people with criminal tendencies joined in, using the “hiding a murder victim on a battlefield” principle to conceal their mega shoplifting sprees.

    It is known that there was internet chatter among far right and white supremacist groups about “starting a race war” in Minneapolis, and sure enough, the security camera footage that the police and FBI have publicized shows mostly white people looting and starting fires, not to mention the white teenagers from Wisconsin whom AIM members prevented from vandalizing a store.

  5. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/25/2020 - 12:07 pm.

    We know the FBI has reported recently that terrorism by al-right white right-wing and/or supremacist groups have become a greater threat to peace and a lawfully ordered society than terrorists from the Middle East. There needs to be an investigation of the events of the past month to determine just who these arsonist rioters were and what were their motives and affiliations. I’m tired of hearing from the right-wing complaining about lawlessness and rioters arising from peaceful protests when it’s their fellow alt-right people perpetrating this lawlessness.

  6. Submitted by Richard Owens on 06/25/2020 - 04:16 pm.

    Gazelka was reportedly frightened when protesters almost got into the Senate office building (rammed through by Democrats when we didn’t need any office building). The Senate leader’s response to the killing of George Floyd by the MPD seems to indicate that he cannot conceive of the fear others have of the Police. Asking Barr to intervene? Is Gull Lake really that far away?

    And yet, Black Lives Matter protests have been relegated to some kind of terrorism in his mind. He wants to talk about the property crimes.

    Paul, at least one of YOUR constituents was arrested for firebombing the 3rd Precinct building. He’s not a BLM protester. He’s from the vacation land of your homeboys!

    “The ATF released this video of people believed to be involved with the burning of the 3rd precinct of Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd. Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged the man in the white shirt with dark sleeves with aiding and abetting arson. His name is Dylan Robinson, 23, of Brainerd.”

  7. Submitted by William Duncan on 06/26/2020 - 10:15 am.

    The first thing I thought when I saw the extent of the damage was, it looks like Syria. Like our eternal war complex come home to roost.

    In a certain way, it doesn’t matter who did it. America has a totally unaccountable war/security complex we spend about 3-4 trillion on every year, that hardly anyone seems to question (except when it is local police). We also have an economy that is gamed to take from the many to give to the few, this pandemic is leading to another mass transfer of wealth that will be greater than all the transfers of every bubble before – and most Americans seem oblivious about it.

    This is how empires collapse. This is how civilizations collapse. It can’t be “arrested”, pardon the pun, this breakdown of the society, if we don’t or won’t acknowledge the root causes. America and humanity is in overshoot, we are destroying the capacity of the earth to sustain us, so this sort of violence is inevitable and will likely increase over time if we act as if getting back to some kind of normal is what is needed.

    • Submitted by Richard Owens on 06/26/2020 - 10:45 am.

      “… it doesn’t matter who did it.”?

      Of course it does. Black Lives Matter is being blamed by the Senate leadership even though the perpetrators are not BLM or any peaceful protesters.

      This is how racism taints the whole message.


      Using arsonists to discredit the legitimate protests of outrage of witnesses to murder is willfully ignoring the police behavior that is being protested.

      • Submitted by William Duncan on 06/26/2020 - 01:53 pm.

        Of course it matters to many people, to find out who was responsible for what, that fateful day. I for one would absolutely like to know, who was that guy in the umbrella at autozone?

        What I am merely saying is, in the fog of war, there is little if any accountability about anything. If we want to avoid further mayhem, then it would be best served to address how it was we got to this place, which is a lot more than racism. Racism is not going to be less of an issue if this pandemic makes a very few vastly more rich than they already are, while a few ten million and more Americans of all races and ethnicities and religions are thrust into destitution.

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