Most protesters arrested this year aren’t urban ‘Antifa,’ they’re young suburbanites with no ties to leftist groups, AP investigation finds

  • President Donald Trump has tried to link violence and destruction at this year's protests to left-wing militants, using that premise as part of a pledge to keep suburbia safe.
  • An AP investigation has found that many of those arrested for bad behavior at protests are from the same suburban communities the president paints as safe havens.
  • More than 40% of those arrested around the country on federal charges are white and more than 30% are under the age of 30.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Most people who have been arrested at protests this year have no affiliation with "Antifa" — an umbrella term used to describe so-called left-wing militant groups — but are rather young suburbanites, an investigation from the Associated Press found. 

Anti-racism protests and their counter-demonstrations around the US have resulted in sparks of violence, looting, and destruction of property that President Donald Trump has largely attributed to left-wing activists. He has used the unrest to fuel a race-baiting pledge to protect suburbia, which he calls largely white.

The Associated Press, which sifted through thousands of documents, found that most of the behavior at protests that actually resulted in arrests wasn't of city-dwelling criminals, but rather young people, some of whom traveled from the same communities Trump has painted as Rockwellian safe havens for middle-class America. 

It is true that there have been arrests of men and women with anti-government views, and that some of them had carried weapons or had a criminal record, the AP found.

Some of those facing federal charges for violent behavior were members of extreme left- or right-wing chat ideologies. 

One man from suburban who was arrested, 20-year-old Brian Bartels, is a "self-described left-wing anarchist." He pleaded guilty to charges that he painted an "A" on a police cruiser before smashing its windshield, the AP reported. 

A 63-year-old man from Virginia Beach, John Malcolm Bareswill, was angry that a local Black church held a prayer vigil for George Floyd and, in a phone call riddled with racist slurs, threatened to burn it to the ground, prosecutors said, according to the AP. 

But a majority of the defendants had no ties to known militant groups, despite the president's attempts to link destruction to "antifa," the AP found.

"I know about antifa, and I know about the radical left, and I know how violent they are and how vicious they are, and I know how they are burning down cities run by Democrats," Trump said at an NBC News town hall.

The only apparent mention of antifa in court documents related to protests stemmed from one Boston investigation into a someone who fired a gun at officers. Authorities called is "suspected ANTIFA" activity, but didn't claim the suspect accused of firing was a member of the group.

Anti-police protesters rally outside the Portland Police Association building on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, in Portland, Ore.
Noah Berger/AP

The AP reported more than 40% of those facing federal criminal charges related to protest activity are white, at least one-third are Black, and about 6% are Hispanic.

More than two-thirds are under the age of 30 and most are men, according to the AP. More than a quarter have been charged with arson. 

In Portland, where 93 people have been arrested on federal criminal charges related to protests, 18 aren't even from Oregon, the AP reported. 

Jim Middaugh, a spokesman for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, told Insider how officials are addressing protesters who venture into the city: "The way we're working to manage the situation is that we don't really care where you're from, we care about the behavior you're engaged in," Middaugh said.

"We don't care about your political ideology, we just want you to be peaceful and obey the law and if you do that, you're welcome to be in Portland. If you don't, we're going to do our best to hold you accountable." 

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