More than 300 “violent opportunists” nationwide are being prosecuted federally for crimes committed “under the guise of peaceful demonstrations” against racial injustice, the U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday.
They include a saboteur who inadvertently engulfed himself in flames when he poured liquid from a gas can onto three U.S. Supreme Court vehicles in Washington, D.C., the department said in a release.
Several defendants “leveraged social media platforms to incite destruction and assaults against law enforcement officers,” the release says.
Nearly three dozen defendants are charged with assaulting law enforcement officers – including one who fired almost a dozen shots at police in Boston and another hit a U.S. Marshals deputy from behind with a baseball bat in Portland, it says.
Two Pennsylvania men are charged with driving to Cleveland to participate in a riot and cause harm.
Authorities said they found the pair carrying a black backpack containing a hammer, two containers of Sterno Firestarter Instant Flame Gel, a can of spray paint, a glass bottle of liquor with a bar-style pour top, a Glock semi-automatic firearm and two magazines loaded with ammo.
Another defendant in Knoxville, Tennessee urged his social media followers to “bring hammers bricks whatever you want” – then struck a police officer in the head with a trashcan lid filled with an unknown liquid, the Justice Department said.
A female agitator was identified, captured and charged with torching two Philadelphia police cars during a riot after FBI agents reviewed news footage and an amateur photographer's shots (photo, above).
They and others who were taken into federal custody and charged “have exploited demonstrations in various ways” since May, the department said Thursday.
“Through these acts, these individuals have shown minimal regard [for] their communities and for the safety of others and themselves,” the release says.
Some set fires to local businesses, as well as to city and federal property, which the department said will “regrettably incur millions of taxpayer dollars to repair damages to the Portland Courthouse, Nashville Courthouse, Minneapolis Police Third Precinct, Seattle Police East Precinct, and local high school in Minnesota.”
Taxpayers also must pay to replace police cruisers in South Carolina, Washington, Rhode Island, Georgia, Utah, and other states, it said.
Corporate and local businesses were also targeted, including a Target Corporate headquarters in Minneapolis, a Boost Mobile Store in Milwaukee, a Champ Sports Store in Tampa and local restaurants – among them, a pizzeria in Los Angeles and a sushi bar in Santa Monica, federal authoritise said.
As a result, 40 of the 94 U.S. Attorney’s offices across the country and in Washington D.C. have filed federal charges against hundreds of defendants. Charges include attempted murder, assaulting law enforcement officers, arson, gun store burglary, possession of explosives and inciting riots, among others.
Roughly 80 of the defendants are charged with arson- and explosives-related crimes, the Justice Department said.
Another 15 are charged with damaging federal property.
Another 30 or so are charged with civil disorder-related offenses.
Charges have also been filed accusing others of burglary and carjacking. Two were charged with trying to burglarize a bank in Pittsburgh, while two others were charged with conspiring to steal drugs from a local Walgreens in Louisville, federal authorities said.
In Virginia Beach, authorities identified a man who they said threatened to burn down an African-American church.
“Several of these charges carry significant maximum prison sentences,” the Justice Department said. “For example, felony assault of a federal officer with a dangerous weapon is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Arson is punishable by up to 20 years in prison with a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.”
Participating agencies include the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Charged were brought by U.S. attorney’s offices in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts, as well as in Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
The ATF and FBI continue to urge the public to report suspected arson, use of explosive devices, or violent, destructive acts associated with the recent unrest. Anyone with information can call 1-888-ATF-TIPS (1-888-283-8477), email ATFTips@atf.gov, or submit information anonymously via ReportIt.com.
The FBI is also looking for people who may have incited or promoted violence of any kind. Anyone with digital material or tips can call 1-800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324) or submit images or videos at FBI.gov/violence.
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