Three men with ties to the U.S. military and alleged to be members of an extreme white supremacist group face multiple terrorism conspiracy charges of planning to wreak havoc at protests in Las Vegas over George Floyd’s death.
Federal prosecutors say the men belong to the far-right “Boogaloo” movement and not the American militant anti-fascist movement Antifa, which President Donald Trump continues to blame most for stoking violence around the country.
All three were part of a Nevada Boogaloo Facebook group and befriended each other at a rally supporting the reopening of business amid the pandemic, the network reports.
Parshall, who served in the Navy, and Lynam, an Army reservist, came on the FBI’s radar in April after someone approached the agency about a potential terrorist attack, NBC reported. The person next agreed to become an informant, and then Loomis, an Air Force veteran, surfaced later in the investigation.
Court documents allege the men plotted several attacks, including one on an observation station at Lake Mead, near Las Vegas. Prosecutors say the men planned to firebomb municipal power substations and smoke-bomb an upcoming rally.
The informant and two of the suspects first “discussed causing an incident to incite chaos and possibly a riot” May 27, the documents allege. Initially they wanted to firebomb the city’s power grid, which would create a diversion to keep law enforcement preoccupied as they wreaked havoc elsewhere, prosecutors said. Later they decided to launch an offensive on a Black Lives Matter protest instead.
“They wanted to use the momentum of the George Floyd death in police custody in the City of Minneapolis to hopefully stir enough confusion and excitement, that others see the two explosions and police presence and begin to riot in the streets out of anger,” according to the document.
An FBI SWAT team moved in and arrested the men before they had the chance to carry it out, officials said.
Nevada state police on Saturday issued warrants alleging conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, material support for committing an act of terrorism and multiple explosives violations.
At the time of their arrest, the men were in possession of Molotov cocktails, NBC News reported.
“Violent instigators have hijacked peaceful protests and demonstrations across the country, including Nevada, exploiting the real and legitimate outrage over Mr. Floyd’s death for their own radical agendas,” said Nicholas Trutanich, the U.S. attorney for Nevada, according to NBC.
The ‘Boogaloo’ movement
Activists monitoring social media activity of extremist groups online amid the heated protests have identified the loosely organized right-wing movement “Boogaloo,” which is a code word calling for a second Civil War.
Reports say members of the group have been infiltrating peaceful protests around the nation, trying to incite violence that will stir up racial tensions.
The group’s members, known as “Boogaloo Boys,” have also been photographed at protest scenes across the country, in the crowds, carrying high-powered rifles and wearing tactical gear.
Last week, NBC News reported that members of the “Boogaloo” movement were seen at protests in states including Minnesota and Texas, as well as in Philadelphia.
The Boogaloo group has a considerable following on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Reddit, and the fringe website 4chan, according to a report released Tuesday night by the Network Contagion Research Institute, an independent nonprofit organization of scientists and engineers that tracks and reports on misinformation and hate speech across social media.
At least one of the three suspects arrested Saturday, Parnell, had made incendiary social media posts calling for “insurrection.” According to NBC, his social media pages were rife with images connected to the extreme far right, including Confederate and Nazi symbolism.
No evidence yet on Antifa
Meanwhile, the FBI has so far found no evidence that the American militant anti-fascist movement Antifa has been involved in violence that erupted during national protests over the death of Floyd.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died on Memorial Day after a white police officer in Minneapolis reportedly knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Violence exploded across the country in the days since his death, but the FBI’s Washington Field Office reported “no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement,” according to an internal FBI memo obtained exclusively by The Nation, a progressive U.S. weekly magazine.
The FBI has begun issuing the reports daily since the weekend, The Nation reported, but no evidence or developments have surfaced yet that implicates the group for any violence or mayhem.
Since Saturday, though, Trump has continued push the narrative that the loosely organized leftist radicals were responsible for mayhem across the nation without citing evidence. He then threatened to designate Antifa a terrorist organization, although the U.S. Constitution provides no clear authority for him to do so.
The president has never publicly mentioned “Boogaloo,” and has only used euphemisms such as “others” or “other groups” when describing other militants that may be involved, while mentioning Antifa specifically by name.
“I don’t see any indication that there were any white supremest groups mixing in,” Trump tweeted Monday about violence that erupted nationwide. “This is an ANTIFA Organization.”
Federal law allows foreign terror groups such as al-Qaida to be designated a terrorist organization, but legal experts say the Constitution does not extend the same jurisdiction to ideological movements in America, which are protected under the First Amendment.
Further, Antifa has no real organizational structure, nor does it have any members serving in central leadership roles.
Ultimately, officials concede that both left- and right-wing American radicals may be responsible for thefts and vandalism since the outset of the unrest, mobilized by group efforts on social media.
Eric Jackson, a former chief of the Dallas field office of the FBI, who spoke to the Dallas Morning News, said the dueling factions have adopted law enforcement tactics and also have fueled numerous conspiracy theories online that are used to spread respective ideologies to recruit new members.
“Some groups are hoping for a large law enforcement presence and the use of tactics that will harm demonstrators, while others are looking for the introduction of the U.S. military against demonstrators,” he said.
Antifa fears ‘exaggerated’
The FBI’s Washington field office said its agents witnessed bricks being thrown at police and that a backpack was found with explosive materials, “but the fact that the FBI’s situation reports cannot find any evidence of such involvement now suggests that fears about [Antifa] may be exaggerated,” The Nation reported.
The FBI’s memo also warned that a far-right social media group had “called for far-right-leaning provocateurs to attack federal agents, and use automatic weapons against protesters.”
There have also been widespread reports of people posing as protesters while stoking anarchy and leaving the blame on leftist activists.
Adding to the confusion, false rumors have been spreading that Antifa transported people to wreak havoc on small cities across America, unsubstantiated claims that have become red meat for conservative news media and on pro-Trump social media accounts.
Twitter and Facebook busted some of the instigators behind the unsubstantiated social media chatter. Twitter determined Monday that a tweet promising Antifa would “move into residential areas” and “white” neighborhoods was sent by the white supremacy group Identity Evropa. The tweet was shared hundreds of times and cited in online news articles before Twitter removed it Monday, a company spokesperson said.
The mood on Capitol Hill
Trump’s allies in Congress have also singled out Antifa for violent confrontations during several protests across the country.
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas have echoed the president's call to designate Antifa as a terrorist organization.
Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler says she is co-sponsoring a Senate resolution that would call for Antifa to be designated as a domestic terrorist organization.
The resolution, introduced by Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Cruz in 2019, would call for groups that identify as Antifa be designated as domestic terrorists as well as call upon the federal government to “redouble its efforts to combat the spread of domestic terrorism in all forms.”
Attorney General William Barr said Sunday the FBI would use its regional joint terrorism task forces to “identify criminal organizers” but stopped short of giving the group a designation, saying only that he was assigning the Department of Justice’s existing counterterrorism task forces to look into it.
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