Minneapolis Neighborhood Patrols Fear White Supremacists Are Infiltrating to Derail Protests
Minneapolis residents are forming patrols to protect their city from people who would mar the protests with violence—and some report having strange run-ins with armed white men.
MINNEAPOLIS—Edward walked up to an SUV full of four armed white men on Monday night, pumped his shotgun, and told them to get out of his neighborhood.
The men—who he said were armed with hunting knives and wearing tactical vests—told him they were from a suburb south of the city. After repeatedly asking them what they were doing and why they were in the Field neighborhood of South Minneapolis, Edward signaled to his wife, who retrieved the weapon and gave it to her husband.
“I just figured I’d respond using the language and methods that they use, and it worked,” Edward, who requested to use a pseudonym out of concern for his safety, told The Daily Beast.
The incident speaks to the fear that has descended on Minneapolis in the week since George Floyd was killed by a local police officer, and protests—including occasional bursts of violence, looting, and arson— consumed the city. Across the city and its surrounding suburbs, residents who sympathize with anti-police protesters are creating small, independent groups of citizens—or else arming themselves individually—to look out for their own neighborhoods.
In other words, with police—and a bevy of state and National Guard reinforcements—focused on monitoring protests, the people of Minneapolis are in some cases policing themselves.
KB Brown, who owns a printing shop in north Minneapolis, said he coordinated community patrols two days after Floyd’s death, when protests began to roil the city. These volunteers included rival gang members, now reportedly united to protect the area, a contingent of biker clubs, and even “white people with hockey sticks.” “We were abandoned by law enforcement so I figured the quote-unquote thugs were the best ones to patrol the streets, and they were more than willing to do it,” Brown, 45, told The Daily Beast.
“I agree with you protesting over Floyd,” the business owner said, adding that one of his printing machines was damaged in the riots. “I don’t agree with you tearing up my stuff. I worked too hard for it. A lot of people in the neighborhood felt the same way.”
Brown’s nighttime network of about 60 people has covered a large swath of north Minneapolis, which is predominantly black, to fend off outsiders and looters. At one point, he says, his group faced off with armed white men firing shots, and thieves trying to break into a single mother’s house. Using patrols by foot and by car, Brown says, he provided intel to the mayor’s office and police. One night he stationed himself outside a mosque on Lyndale Avenue N.
“The first night I was out with my German Shepherd, I gathered up the gang members and said, ‘This is your hood. Now you have fighters and they’re threatening your neighborhood. What you gonna do? They stepped up to the plate—big time,” said Brown, who also spoke to the Minneapolis Star Tribune of his effort.
While the riots have quieted down, Brown says, he wants his group to “keep intact in case something happens again.” On Thursday, Brown said he and his dog—named Akasha, after R&B singer Aaliyah’s character in The Queen of the Damned movie—would take the night off and “pray that nothing happens tonight.”
“I have never been more proud of my community—that’s been outside of race,” Brown said. “There’s whites, Mexicans, blacks, Somalians, Africans, everybody’s out and everybody’s doing their part. The rest of the community that are not on the front lines are leaving sandwiches and cookies and coffee. They’re coming out saying thank you for keeping us safe.”
In the south of the city, the specter of violence was keeping residents alert, too. Some of them, per this NPR report, took posts on the roofs of apartments and Latino businesses, armed with semi-automatic weapons in absence of a law enforcement presence.
While black residents have been patrolling the predominately African-American north side, white residents are working their mostly-white neighborhoods south of downtown as well, in addition to Somalis patrolling their own pockets of Minneapolis.
“We don’t know how preoccupied the cops are or even if they’re around and patrolling, so it’s a lot of fear and anxiety and paranoia around these people who might mess with personal property,” said Justin Bruhn, a white man who lives in the city’s Longfellow neighborhood, where much of the destruction, burning and looting took place last week. “We’re literally and figuratively in the dark about what is happening in the neighborhoods at any given moment.”
All of the residents who spoke to The Daily Beast said they support the protests, with Edward adding that he “absolutely” supports “complete police reform and criminal justice reform.” Mohamed Salad, a 20-year-old who came to Minneapolis as a child after his family fled Somalia, said violence, looting and vandalism “diverts from the cause and the message we’re trying to put across, which isn’t justice for George Floyd, but justice for everyone who has been wronged in America.”
Edward, Brown, Bruhn, Salad and others are dealing with wildly-spreading rumors about alleged incidents and nefarious plots across the city. The chatter includes talk of white supremacists, the KKK and white “militia” men with guns, intent on sowing chaos and terrorizing neighborhoods at night. Antifa members are rumored—as in other cities, from Idaho to New York—to be coming to the city to do the same. Vehicles without license plates are often thought to be an indicator that havoc is imminent. Piles of wood and accelerants are being found in alleys and behind people’s homes. Pallets of bricks have been inexplicably left around the city, supposedly to provide vandals and looters with the tools they need. (In other cities, locals have said bricks and concrete might just be regular construction debris.)
Rumors this week of antifa (or antifascist) militants plotting massive attacks on white people were revealed to be a hoax—propagated by a white supremacist group.
In recent days, even the mayor of Minneapolis and governor of Minnesota publicly warned of white supremacists—and even drug cartels—fanning the flames of violence. State Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington clarified on Saturday: “But I cannot say that we have confirmed observations of local law enforcement to say that we’ve seen cells of white supremacists in the area.”
“I’m tired of this overload of information every five minutes and 80 percent of it being hearsay, or like the game of telephone,” Edward said. “But then, this happened to me.”
Edward didn’t get many answers to his questions when he confronted the armed men, just that they were from the suburb of Burnsville and were in south Minneapolis to join “peaceful protests.” But the main gathering sites for protesters and mourners—the fifth and third police precinct and the Cup Foods where Floyd was killed—are miles from his home. He also pointed out that the men were armed and wearing tactical vests. One of the men wore white laces in his boots, a common practice among skinheads.
For his part, Salad believes the rumors that white supremacists are roaming the city and looking to do damage that will only come back to hurt peaceful protesters, who he says make up 90 percent of those on the streets on any given night. When authorities announced that they believed white supremacists were targeting the city, Salad and his fellow residents of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood took action.
Salad and his neighbors now go on nightly patrols, armed with flashlights, fire extinguishers and walkie-talkies for communication.
“This is a community that’s not only one of the largest black communities but it’s one of the largest immigrant and Muslim communities so it’s a considerably large target,” Salad told The Daily Beast. “Even before the protests and the riots people were coming after us, but so far we haven’t had one incident of looting, which is a blessing.”
Doug Mack, 39, also of Longfellow—a largely white neighborhood that also has black, Somali, Mexican and Asian residents—said neighbors on his street were taking shifts to make sure no one invades the area and destroys homes or businesses. Residents are taking posts up and down the block and in back alleyways, he said, “because there’s been some paranoia about opportunists looking to set garbage cans on fire.”
Mack said there was a community meeting at Longfellow Park on Saturday in which local leaders encouraged the organizing of block-based clubs to be vigilant. “There are definitely a lot of rumors going around all kinds of things,” he said. “People in South Minneapolis are on edge.” His block searched parked cars and in alleys and bushes in case incendiaries were left about—which residents have been finding in their yards and alleys.
“That being said, there’s just genuinely weird stuff going on around here.”
On Sunday night, Mack’s group spotted people in a gray Honda, without license plates, cruising slowly down an alleyway which runs behind houses on the block, he recalled. “It’s weird to see a vehicle with no plates, let alone with a curfew, going down an alley,” Mack said.
The neighborhood sentinels also spotted a red vehicle with Wisconsin plates occupied by young white men “who were pretty evasive when we were trying to say, ‘Hi, how’s it going? Do you need any help?’”
“They seemed pretty jumpy. I don’t want to make any assumptions but we are on a random quiet residential street,” Mack said, adding that the men claimed they were trying to get back to Wisconsin. Later on, neighbors spotted a strikingly similar vehicle at the other end of the block, but it had Minnesota plates, he continued.
On Thursday, Mack said the block’s official night shifts had ended as violence throughout the city appeared to diminish. Residents continue, however, to perch on their stoops and stay alert. The group’s discussion has switched from the neighborhood watch to “long-term equity” and using resources to volunteer and stay engaged “beyond the patrols,” Mack said.
Mack’s block leader sent out a group text Thursday, inviting neighbors to stand on Lake Street in solidarity with Floyd’s family for Floyd’s memorial service later that night.
Meanwhile, Edward didn’t get many answers from the armed strangers, but he did get some insight into their ideology: “Aren’t you tired of having your liberties taken from you?” one of the men asked him, he recalled.
Eventually, he had his wife grab his 12-gauge shotgun. He took the weapon from her, walked toward the men and pumped the shotgun, holding it in the air. The men sped away.
“We are on our own in some of these neighborhoods,” he added.” We are defending ourselves as a community.”