Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said on Saturday, May 30 that 80% of protestors in Minneapolis seeking justice for the murder of George Floyd were from outside the state, labeling them as “outside agitators.” Gov. Walz made this claim without evidence but used the statement to justify ramping up police presence at demonstrations in Minneapolis. In reality, the only outside agitators present in Minneapolis are the police themselves, and the attempt to label protestors as outsiders discredits the cause behind the protests.
The use of the term “outside agitator” is not novel to the Minneapolis protests. Author Cindy Milstein in “Taking Sides: Revolutionary Solidarity and the Poverty of Liberalism” writes, “The term ‘outside agitator’ was popularized during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s, when southern politicians would blame the growing unrest in exploited black communities on the presence of (often-white) radicals from outside the city.” The term has seen wide use since the 1950s; in 2014, it was used in an attempt to discredit protests in Ferguson following the death of Michael Brown.
Blaming others is one of the most convenient ways to shirk responsibility and, in the case of governments, to justify further excessive force. While protestors are urged to not act violently, police and the governments supporting them are calling in everyone from the National Guard to the military police to enact violence on protestors. President Trump has even threatened to use “unlimited power” against the protestors, after already invoking a white supremacist line — “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” — for the shooting of protestors earlier this week.
Gov. Walz was quick to blame anarchists for inciting violence at protests, which in turn forced the police to act more violently. Anarchists are the boogeyman in the closet for these periods of unrest, making convenient and seemingly untraceable scapegoats for unrest at protests. But during this pandemic, anarchists have been far more interested in creating mutual aid groups to help those affected by the crisis in ways the government itself has failed to than inciting violence.
These accusations towards anarchists and anarchist-adjacent groups have lead to President Trump tweeting on Sunday, May 31 that the U.S. government will label anti-fascist group Antifa as a terrorist organization. Regardless of your views on Antifa, the president’s willingness to thwart an anti-authoritarian philosophy while making broad authoritarian remarks is troubling.
The only violence being incited is by the police themselves. It only takes a cursory search on twitter to pull up video, after video, after video, after video, after video, after video, after video, after video, after video, after compilation video of videos — you get the idea. This is the one area where the “outside agitators” argument holds some merit since most police do not live in the city they work in around the country. In Minneapolis, just 10% of the police force lives in the city. A preliminary investigation by KARE has also shown that the majority of arrests in Minneapolis’ Hennepin County have been Minnesotans, which is in direct contrast to Gov. Wal,. The governor’s claim holds no merit, and his lack of evidence seems deliberate.
In discrediting protestors, the police and government can legitimize their violent actions against them. But beyond this, it allows these institutions to contort the true purpose behind these protests: police brutality against black people. The “outside agitators” argument claims that outsiders are traveling to protests to cause trouble. But we are at a point where these protests have spread to every major city in the country. This is not an issue just isolated to Minneapolis, it disproportionately affects black people across the entire U.S. There are no “outside agitators” at these protests, except for the police themselves.
Nicolas Perez is the 2019-2020 Opinion Co-Editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.