Police deny link to mysterious ‘Umbrella Man,’ who broke windows during riot

Who was the mysterious Umbrella Man and is he a cop?

Speculation had social media buzzing Friday after an unidentified man in a gas mask and carrying an open umbrella smashed the windows of an AutoZone with a hammer during Thursday’s riots in Minneapolis.

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According to video, protesters seemed to know immediately the man was an impostor.

The incident has since gone viral on social media with the hashtag #UmbrellaMan.

Unrest has escalated in the days since the Monday incident where 46-year-old George Floyd, a black man,  died after a Minneapolis police officer, who has since been charged, kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes as the man pleaded “I can’t breathe.”

On Thursday night, protesters set fire to a Minneapolis police precinct.

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Elsewhere in the city, other buildings were set on fire, a Target was looted and other businesses were destroyed or damaged.

But demonstrators at the AutoZone didn’t recognize the Umbrella Man, who casually walked up and shattered at least four windows of the business, which was later set on fire.

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The man’s actions were so odd that other rioters in the area paused their own protests to call him out and begin filming.

Credit: Social media photo

Credit: Social media photo

“Those cops will come for you if you’re pulling that crap,” said Brad Svenson, the Minneapolis man who recorded the video, according to reports. “That’s garbage, pulling that s---.”

Another video on social media showed a man in a pink T-shirt begin to follow the man as he hurried away from the scene. At one point there was a brief confrontation between the two, but the masked man kept moving.

“Guy just came with a hammer and smashed the windows,” said a woman in the video.

The man next ducked through an open gate and across a parking lot while refusing to answer questions or remove his mask.

“Are you a f---ing cop?” someone else can be heard yelling to the man. “Does it matter?” the man says back before disappearing from view.

Once video of the incident hit social media, the speculation began.

“A bunch of undercover cops were the main ones starting the arsons!!!!!! Spread the word!!!” several voices claimed on Twitter.

“Convince me this guy that started s--- at autozone windows is not a COP,” another person tweeted.

“Here is a video of the incident which shows protesters trying to stop him from smashing the windows,” another Twitter user posted with the video. “We need to be aware of police purposefully creating violence just to give justification for future forceful reactionary measures. The narrative is ours and we must control it.”

Agent provocateur?

The man has not been positively identified and police are strongly denying he’s one of their own.

The gas mask the man wore revealed his eyes and skin color. He wore all black, a long-sleeve jacket, tactical boots and gloves.

Credit: Social media photo

Credit: Social media photo

Some people theorized the person could have been an undercover police officer acting as an agent provocateur, whose actions were meant to stir up more anarchy in Minneapolis.

The term describes a law enforcement operative who takes political payment to infiltrate a protest group and commit illegal acts to undermine and sabotage the outfit. It is a tactic popularly used by Russian intelligence forces to discredit social movements. A device like an umbrella is often used so that authorities can easily identify the interloper among the crowd.

Police deny connection

The St. Paul Police Department issued a statement Friday saying one of its officers, Jacob Pederson, had been misidentified by social media activists as the man seen in the video, calling the accusations false.

The department initially denied Pederson’s employment, according to reports.

Police officials later said Pederson had an alibi and that his whereabouts checked out for the time the incident occurred.

“We are aware of the social media post that erroneously identifies one of our officers as the person caught on video breaking windows in Minneapolis. We want to be perfectly clear about this: The person in the video is not our officer," the statement read.

report by the online news magazine Heavy said the department declined to answer whether police knew the identity of the person.

separate report by Insider about the case said, "Those who believe he is a police officer cite unconfirmed reports that Pederson's ex-fiancé, who has not been named, identified him as the man in the mask."

Over the weekend rumors continued to circulate about Pederson, including that the masked man fled and entered the 3rd Precinct, which was later burned down by the rioters.

Internet sleuths tweeted at the St. Paul Police Department, imploring officials to provide proof of Pederson’s innocence.

The John F. Kennedy assassination 

The term “Umbrella Man” also refers to a figure who was in Dealey Plaza on the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

Louie Steven Witt was identified by the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978 as the man who opened and raised an umbrella as shots rang out on Kennedy’s limousine on Nov. 22, 1963.

The umbrella man came under some suspicion after the Zapruder film revealed he was one of the people standing closest to the curb toward the president’s motorcade, carrying an umbrella on a sunny fall day. Conspiracy theorists of the time speculated the umbrella may have been a signal to more than one shooter.