'Foreign Government' May Be Behind Looting Post on Facebook, Investigation Underway, Police Say

Investigators in Rhode Island are probing the genesis of a flyer inciting protesters against the Minneapolis death of George Floyd to engage in violent activity on Tuesday.

Authorities say the flyer, believed to have originated on the social media platform Facebook, may have been an impetus for outside agitators to create mayhem in the city. Demonstrations began at a Providence, Rhode Island shopping mall before moving into other areas of the city.

Rhode Island State Police Colonel James Manni said in a Wednesday interview with Rhode Island Public Radio that the FBI was attempting to determine if the flyer was posted by a Rhode Island resident or "whether it was someone from outside Rhode Island or whether it was a foreign government."

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said Tuesday that after posts appeared on social media, people began to congregate at the Providence Place Mall. "Given the way it played out, it's hard to believe it was not organized," Elorza said.

Monday's overnight protests resulted in windows being broken and fires set at the mall. Rioters also threw bricks and set a police cruiser on fire. Officers arrested 65 people in connection with the riots.

Russia has denied involvement in the unrest stemming from the George Floyd protests.

"Allegedly we instigate what is happening here. This is utterly wrong. Everything that is happening in the United States is a result of the policy that has been conducted in the U.S. in the field of inter-ethnic and inter-racial relations. It is an explosion of the contradictions that have been simmering for a very long time," Anatoly Antonov, Moscow's envoy to Washington, said, as translated by the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.

China, meanwhile, has been accused of stoking racial tensions in the United States. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien made the statement on This Week on Sunday. Hu Xijin, head of the Chinese Communist Party's Global Times tabloid has suggested that Hong Kong protesters had infiltrated the U.S.

"I highly suspect that Hong Kong rioters have infiltrated American states," he tweeted. "Attacking police stations, smashing shops, blocking roads, breaking public facilities, these are all routine in their protests. Vicious [Hong Kong] rioters obviously are mastermind[s] of violent protests across the U.S."

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Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo said Monday protesters in Providence carried out an "organized attack on our community" at a Tuesday news conference. Paul Morigi/Getty

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo said at a Tuesday press conference that the individuals who had caused the damage "weren't even pretending to protest."

"What we saw last night was an organized attack on our community at a time we were already vulnerable," Raimondo told reporters. Raimondo said the rioters "showed up in the middle of the night, angry, with crowbars and flares and buckets of gasoline with one purpose: to set our city on fire and hurt people."

Newsweek reached out to the offices of Governor Raimondo, Mayor Elorza and Facebook for comment. This story will be updated with any response.

Some observers believe that protests over the death of Floyd's death have been co-opted by individuals from radical groups.

In a May statement, Attorney General William Barr said that "outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda." Barr said that the FBI would employ its Joint Terrorism Task Forces to identify and investigate those people believed to be from other groups.

President Donald Trump has indicated that Antifa—short for "anti-fascists"—may be responsible for much of the violence seen during the protests. In May, the president tweeted that the U.S. "will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization." However, Antifa is recognized as a term describing individuals who protest against what they perceive to be fascism. Antifa is not an organized group.

Social media platform Twitter announced Tuesday it had closed down multiple accounts referring to themselves as Antifa. In reality, those feeds were operated by a white supremacy group called Evropa.

In a press release, Twitter said an account called @Antifa-US had been closed because it "violated our platform manipulation and spam policy, specifically the creation of fake accounts." Twitter moved to shutter the account after it sent a tweet designed to incite violence.