Police, civil rights groups, the US President and the family of George Floyd are urging people engaged in violent protests and rioting to go home, as the United States is gripped by chaos.
Several days of increasingly volatile demonstrations over the death of an unarmed and handcuffed Mr Floyd, an African-American man, at the hands of a white police officer, shows no sign of easing.
Beginning in Minneapolis in the US state of Minnesota a week ago, scenes of destruction have now spread to countless other cities, most recently Washington DC, which forced Donald Trump to shelter in a bunker at the White House.
Mr Trump has pointed the finger squarely at “radical left” elements for hijacking initially peaceful protests.
But groups on both extreme ends of the political spectrum are fuelling division in a bid to extend the unrest for as long as possible, it can be revealed.
Overnight, Mr Trump declared that the government will designate the group Antifa – short for anti-fascist – as a terrorist organisation, claiming it and other “radical left anarchists” are responsible for much of the violent unrest spreading across America.
Attorney-General William Barr agreed with the President’s view, saying Antifa and other “agitators” have hijacked the initially peaceful protests.
“The violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly,” Mr Barr said yesterday.
And White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters overnight that Antifa is a “big element of this protest”.
But underground far-right groups are also playing a significant role in fuelling the violence, with some even blatantly plotting murder.
‘HOPING FOR A RACE WAR’
The New York-based organisation Counter Extremism Project (CEP) has infiltrated a number of secretive online communities for white supremacists and neo-Nazis in recent days.
An investigation reveals that several channels with thousands of members are revelling in the unrest and even seem to be plotting violence and murder.
Using the secure messaging app Telegram, one “particularly violent” neo-Nazi group with more than 5500 members celebrated the mass demonstrations and “advised that a large protest would be a good opportunity to commit a murder”.
“Another accelerationist neo-Nazi channel claimed that now was the time to attack synagogues, while emergency services are dealing with protests and civil unrest,” CEP said.
Other channels on the app, as well as on image board websites, contained posts from far-right group members that “expressed their hopes that clashes between protesters and police would set off waves of social violence”.
“A white supremacist Telegram channel was created to specifically share news about the protests, mirroring Telegram posts from a popular civil rights channel, while making it possible for users to obtain the news without subscribing to a source that supports the protests,” CEP said.
Mayor of Minneapolis Jacob Frey has also pointed the finger at outsiders on the right wing of the political spectrum for contributing to unrest in the city.
“We are now confronting white supremacists, members of organised crime, out of state instigators, and possibly even foreign actors to destroy and destabilise our city and our region,” Mr Frey said in a Twitter post at the weekend.
Police authorities in Minnesota said about 20 per cent of arrests on Saturday were of people from outside the state.
Cable news channel CNN quoted unnamed federal law enforcement officials as saying that “outside groups are behind some of the property destruction and violence”.
Those elements are using “the cover of the legitimate protests in Minneapolis and elsewhere”, CNN reported.
But it said “those domestic extremist groups include anarchists, white supremacists and far-left extremists, some of whom have overlapping affiliations”.
WHAT IS ANTIFA?
Like similar forces on the extreme right, Antifa is less of a formal organisation with leaders and co-ordinated channels and more of a movement or idea, experts say.
But there’s no doubt its sympathisers are also revelling in the wave of destruction and violence sweeping the country.
Mark Bray, a historian at Rutgers University and author of the book Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, told Associated Press that it’s unclear what specific role the movement is playing.
“The radical left is much bigger than Antifa – much, much bigger – and the number of people who are participating in the property destruction are much, much bigger than the radical left,” Bray told AP.
“They do different things at different times in different ways, some of which there is evidence of them breaking the law. Other times there is not.”
Some who subscribe to Antifa ideals dress in black, head-to-toe, often referring to this as “Black Bloc” and typically wear masks to shield their identities from police.
In an article for The Conversation, Troy Whitford, a lecturer in history and politics at Charles Sturt University, described the movement as “socialism on amphetamines” that often uses “violence and intimidation as a tactic to quash conservatives and nationalists”.
“Antifa effectively uses social media to organise protests and counter-protests,” Dr Whitford said.
“But it also possesses political intelligence-gathering techniques. It locates and monitors the actions of its opponents, and uses social media to discredit and taunt nationalists and conservatives.
“Its websites and Facebook accounts provide dossiers on conservatives and nationalist leaders and groups.”
Scott Crow, a former organiser of Antifa activities, told CNN that he doesn’t believe rioting and property destruction is akin to violence.
“There is a place for violence,” Mr Crow said.
“Is that the world that we want to live in? No. Is it the world we want to inhabit? No. Is it the world we want to create? No. But will we push back? Yes.”
While Mr Trump plans to designate it a terrorist group, Mr Whitford said Antifa is more of a loose collective of people rather than a structured group.
MULTIPLE ‘FALSE FLAG’ OPERATIONS
Authorities across America have spoken about the emergence of so-called ‘false flag’ attempts in recent days.
At the weekend, Van Johnson, the mayor of Savannah in the state of Georgia, said a planned rally in the city purporting to be a Black Lives Matter protest was actually organised by “white gentleman” from another state.
“Be very clear – we know who you are,” Mr Johnson said at a press conference. “We will not let you or anyone else come here and trash our city.
“We want justice for George Floyd. I want us to remain focused on the reason why we are marching … we want Savannah to set the standard on how a protest can occur.”
Several videos on social media showing white-skinned rioters smashing shopfront windows and looting have gone viral.
In New York City, a senior police official revealed that encrypted messages had been intercepted from “anarchists” in the lead-up to unrest there.
Members communicated the locations of hidden rocks, bottles and gasoline during protests and also fundraised bail money for anyone arrested, The New York Times reported.
“They prepared to commit property damage and directed people who were following them that this should be done selectively and only in wealthier areas or at high-end stores run by corporate entities,” John Miller, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner in charge of counter-terrorism and intelligence efforts, told the newspaper.
“They instructed group leaders to tell the people following them that this was not meant to be orderly activity.”
Today, a Twitter account claiming to represent Antifa nationally and urging violence on the streets was revealed to be run by a white nationalist group.
The platform issued a statement to say the account, which posted messages like “Tonight’s the night, comrades” and “move into the residential areas… and take what’s ours”, was suspended.
How much of the mayhem can be blamed on those with ulterior motives?
“The truth is, nobody really knows,” Keith Ellison, the Attorney-General of Minnesota, told NBC show Meet The Press yesterday.
“There’s been a lot of videotape taken by demonstrators of people who are very suspicious, who really did start breaking windows. There have been other photographs of cars with no license plates. Very suspicious behaviour.”