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Walz, mayors blame looting, violence on ‘outsiders’; urge Twin Cities residents to observe Saturday night curfew

Walz said he now believes that much of the violence is being fanned by well-organized groups trained in urban warfare, while his public safety commissioner says there’s evidence that right-wing extremists and white supremacists have organized efforts to foster unrest.

Gov. Tim Walz
Gov. Tim Walz: "If you are out after 8, you are aiding and abetting these folks, you are making it easier for them and you’re giving them the cover that they want."
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

The governor of Minnesota and the mayors of its two largest cities are urging residents to stay off the streets after an 8 p.m. curfew to avoid providing cover to what they say are people from out-of-state trying to take advantage of the chaos.

Gov. Tim Walz said the state has fully mobilized the National Guard and will have the largest number of police, state troopers and guardsmen out in force Saturday night.

Walz said he now believes that the most-recent violence — arson, looting and even shooting at police officers and firefighters on Friday night and early Saturday — is being fanned by well-organized groups that are trained in urban warfare tactics. He said similar attacks occurred in other cities in the midst of national and even global protests of the death of George Floyd, who died while in the custody of Minneapolis police Monday night. 

Walz said such attacks could be about domestic terrorism, ideological extremism, or even an international effort to destabilize the U.S.

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The governor said protests planned for the day can go on, but he also urged them to end by 8 p.m. “There will be legitimate exercising of First Amendment rights,” he said. “But we’re asking those people, as soon as those are done, to disperse and be out of the area. If you are out after 8, you are aiding and abetting these folks, you are making it easier for them and you’re giving them the cover that they want.”

That request was echoed Saturday morning by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter.

“If you are concerned, I get it,” Frey said of the public safety response the last several nights. “If you have family members or friends who are even considered protesting, this is no longer about protesting. This is no longer about verbal expression. This is about violence and we need to make sure that it stops.

“The people who are doing this are not Minneapolis residents,” Frey continued. “They are coming in largely from outside of this city, from outside the region to prey on everything that we have built over the last several decades.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey: "This is no longer about verbal expression. This is about violence and we need to make sure that it stops."
Carter said it was relatively quiet in St. Paul on Friday night into Saturday morning, and the city only made a handful of arrests. But every one of those arrested were from out of state, he said. (UPDATE: Carter said at a 6:30 p.m. press conference that that information about all arrests being from out of state is not accurate).

“As I talk to my friends who have been in this movement a very long time, who wake up in this movement every day, I ask them what they are seeing,” Carter said of the local civil rights movement. “To a person, I hear them say, ‘We don’t know these folks; we don’t know these folks who are agitating; we don’t know these folks who are inciting violence; we don’t know these folks who are first in to break a window.”

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Carter said those who start fires are using protesters as “human shields.” And while he said he doesn’t expect people who have come to incite violence will care about curfews, the purpose of asking protesters to stay home tonight is to “so that we can separate who are the people in our community who are hurting and need to be able to peacefully exercise their rights, from the people who are looking to break a window or start a fire or create destruction in our community.”

Continued Carter: “Just by virtue of being out in that space, just by virtue of being a part of a crowd that the people who hope to destroy our community can hide in, that would be aiding those who seek to destroy our community.”

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said those who start fires are using protestors as “human shields.”
At still another press conference on Saturday afternoon, Walz was joined by leaders from faith communities as well as those from the Twin Cities’ black, Hmong and indigenous communities. Also joined him were Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and Attorney General Keith Ellison. 

Flanagan said people should be able to gather and mourn peacefully in the streets, but also that, “In this moment we cannot because there are detractors, there are white supremacists, there are anarchists, there are people who are burning down the institutions that are core to our identity and who we are,” she said, urging people to care for their communities to stay home Saturday night “so that we can remove those folks who are harming us…so that we can remove those folks who are detracting from the memory of George Floyd.”

Justin Terrell, the executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, echoed much of that request, asking people to stay home and take care of each other. “I’m asking you, take the day, check on your people, prepare, pack a bag, protect your home. But do not end up in the crosshairs of an ideological battle that’s got nothing to do with us and never has,” he said. “We are not your pawns.”

Overnight chaos

Walz also conceded that not all the violence has been due to outsiders. The fire that destroyed the Third Police Precinct, for example, was celebrated by many local activists on social media. But Walz said most of the worst violence has been perpetrated by people from out-of-state, and that the presence of those people — using the crowds of demonstrators to blend in after breaking windows and starting fires — made law enforcement and the National Guard unable to respond adequately with what he thought would be a large show of force.

That expanded upon what the governor and Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington had first talked about during an unusual news conference held at 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning. 

“This is the largest civilian deployment in Minnesota history that we have out there today and quite candidly, right now, we do not have the numbers,” Walz said. “We cannot arrest people when we’re trying to hold ground because of the sheer size, the dynamics and the wanton violence that’s coming out there.”

Harrington also told the Minneapolis council Saturday the state was too slow in enforcing its curfew. “I really do believe we started our patrols and our being really visible too late,” he said. “It was already dark by the time we had people out into some of these places.”

Examples of such chaos weren’t difficult to find. A fire at a gas station on Lake Street burned while Keaon Dousti, outreach director for Attorney General Keith Ellison, filmed and pleaded for help to prevent the station from exploding. (The fire department eventually intervened.) A Wells Fargo branch on Lake Street burned. Rioters set fire to garbage bins close to homes near the Minneapolis Police Department’s 5th Precinct headquarters, while a nearby apartment building was evacuated as an auto parts store next door caught fire, reported the Star Tribune’s Miguel Otárola.

O'Reilly Auto Parts
MinnPost photo by Jana Freiband
Residents cleaning up debris on Saturday outside a south Minneapolis O'Reilly Auto Parts store that was destroyed.
One resident of the building that hosts the Midtown Global Market tweeted that he and others, holding baseball bats, held off five attempts to breach the building. “We stepped up when govt didn’t,” he posted on Twitter.

Walz said that demonstrators were blocking semi-trucks on the highway and “raiding what’s in them.”

More violence predicted

At his midmorning press availability, Walz predicted that Saturday night would be worse than anything the city has seen so far. “What you’ve seen previous nights I think will be dwarfed by what they will be tonight,” Walz said. “If you are an innocent bystanding out there tonight, you will be swept up.” 

“Let’s be very clear, the situation in Minneapolis is no longer in any way about the murder of George Floyd,” Walz said. “It is about attacking civil society, instilling fear and disrupting our great cities. Last night is a mockery of pretending this is about George Floyd’s death or inequities or historical traumas to our communities of color.”

photo of burned post office
MinnPost photo by Andy Putz
A fire was set in the U.S. Post Office near the Minneapolis Police Fifth Precinct Headquarters.
“If you are on the streets tonight, it is very clear that you are not with us. You do not share our values and we will use the full strength of goodness and righteousness to make sure that this ends,” Walz said.

First full mobilization of the guard since World War II

The Minnesota National Guard had 700 people Friday night. Together with state troopers and city police, it was the largest contingent deployed in state history. It wasn’t enough; fires went unfought and looting wasn’t challenged. Only hours after violence had started were the combined forces able to clear the way for fire crews, who struggled to quench flames before moving to the next fire.

“The situation was so broad and the tactics were so bent on causing destruction that every single person we had mobilized … was engaged in that,” Walz said. 

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The force will be substantially increased Saturday, with the first full mobilization of the Minnesota National Guard since World War II.

Walz said people trying to sow chaos and do damage to places in communities of color will face “an overwhelming force.” The adjutant general of the state National Guard, Major General Jon Jensen, said he would have 2,500 guardsmen in the Twin Cities by noon Saturday. “It means we’re all in,” Jensen said.

The state is also in contact with guards from other states and from the U.S. Department of Defense for help, though Walz said the command will remain in control of state governors.

Major General Jon Jensen
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Major General Jon Jensen said he would have 2,500 guardsmen in the Twin Cities by noon Saturday.
Harrington, the public safety commissioner, said at the mid-morning press briefing that he now has evidence of calls by right-wing extremists and white supremacists to come to Minnesota to foster unrest. “We have watched these groups grow both in brazenness and also grow in challenging approaches that we’ve had to adapt to,” he said. 

And while he said he would protect the right to speech and the right to protest, “those rights stop at the end of a Molotov cocktail thrown into an open business.”

And he offered a warning: “Minnesota public safety and Minnesota’s National Guard are gearing up. We’re getting bigger and we are changing our approach because this is intolerable and we are coming to stop it.”

While state leaders pleaded for all to stay home, the message wasn’t embraced by some civil rights activists. Mike Griffin, a senior organizer for Community Change Action,  condemned people he believes were outside agitators roaming south Minneapolis on Saturday morning, armed with hammers and oversize bricks.

But Griffin said he and others still plan to peacefully protest because he said it’s the only way people in power will listen to black Minnesotans. He urged arrests of other officers present when Floyd was detained and killed, and he called on Walz to bring forward sweeping policy plans to invest in black communities, reduce economic and educational inequality in the state and change police policies. “We need to change our laws to make sure we are a more equitable Minnesota,” Griffin said. “I can do my job (of organizing) great. I encourage the governor to do his job a little bit better.”