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Photographer Went Undercover With Looters Expecting To Find White Supremacists. Instead, He Found Anarchists

A furloughed photographer who documented protests starting on May 31 expected to find white supremacists behind widespread looting but instead found anarchists, according to a New York Times opinion column.

Jeremy Lee Quinn started photographing a Black Lives Matter protest in Santa Monica, California, May 31 when someone notified him that people were looting a nearby shoe store, New York Times’ editorial board member Farah Stockman wrote in a Wednesday column. When Quinn arrived, he saw young people running out of the store carrying shoeboxes while a group of black-clad men wearing masks behaved like supervisors as the store was looted.

Quinn witnessed a black-clad white man break a store window with a crowbar the following day, though he didn’t take anything from the shop, Stockman wrote.

After reviewing videos of looting across the country, Quinn noticed similar groups of masked black-clad supervisors, so he dressed the same way and attended a protest, Stockman wrote. Quinn thought the supervisors would be tied to white supremacy groups, instead, he found a group of “insurrectionary anarchists.”

Quinn decided to march alongside groups of “black bloc” anarchists across the country to learn more about them, according to Stockman. He said that though he respects their optimistic goal to create a society free of hierarchy, some of their tactics made him uncomfortable since they could aid President Donald Trump’s reelection.

Anarchists advertised the protests on social media, drawing “cultlike energy” to events in Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., Quinn told Stockman. He marched with protesters who launched fireworks at a federal court building in Portland, Oregon, and with protesters who heckled diners in Washington, D.C.

The protests following the police killing of George Floyd on May 25 weren’t born of anger but were strategically organized and advertised on social media by anarchists who thought their actions could advance social justice, Quinn said, according to Stockman.

Floyd died in police custody after a former Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, video shows. Nationwide protests followed his death, with some leading to violence, rioting, and looting.

On the third day of protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota, anarchist publication CrimethInc reported black-clad individuals breaking windows, vandalizing police cars, and starting fires before disappearing in the crowd of protesters, Stockman wrote.

Some anarchists participate in pacifist civil disobedience, while others justify committing crimes like arson and looting by saying it wears down the capitalist economic system, according to an anarchist podcast Stockman reviewed.

Some anarchist’s social media profiles gained hundreds of thousands of followers since May, according to a Rutgers study. The “systematic, online mobilization of violence that was planned, coordinated (in real-time) and celebrated by explicitly violent anarcho-socialist networks that rode on the coattails of peaceful protest,” co-author Pamela Paresky told Stockman.

“The ability to continue to spread and to eventually bring more violence, including a violent insurgency, relies on the ability to hide in plain sight — to be confused with legitimate protests, and for media and the public to minimize the threat,” Paresky said.

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