Over the past two and a half months, as much of our country has lived in quarantine, we’ve witnessed the violent loss of black lives with disturbing frequency. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have died at the hands of racists and law enforcement. Complex Networks recognizes the power of its platforms and is committed to amplifying their stories and the voices of our communities to work for justice.
In the midst of violent Black Lives Matter protests across the United States after the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Sean Reed, and George Floyd, people of color are expressing how deep this pain is by peacefully protesting and calling out those responsible. When the world saw Floyd being pinned in an illegal hold by Officer Derek Chauvin, and dying on video saying “I can’t breathe,” it sent another chilling reminder about race relations in America. The footage of his head on the street, under a police officer’s knee, reignited the national conversation surrounding police violence against black people, and it has sent many to the streets raging in protest throughout the country.
But is everybody really down for the cause?
There have been a growing number of tweets and videos similar to this one, showing white antagonists acting as provocateurs stoking the rioting among the protesters. This storyline has continued to surface in places such as Atlanta, Detroit, Nashville, and Houston. “Every brick I saw thrown without exception was thrown by white people,” author Nancy French tweeted on May 30. “This man was yelling at these white people who’d just put horse excrement on a cop car and broke out their windows.”
The city hall in Reno, Nevada, had white antagonists responsible for escalating the situation between the police and actual Black Lives Matter protesters.
Online sleuths are pointing at “ACAB” or “All Cops Are Bastards” as a direct source behind the growing antagonism at Black Lives Matters protests. A hashtag that has 1.5 million posts on Instagram and 65.1 million views on TikTok, “ACAB” attempts to align itself with Black Lives Matter while negatively engaging with the police. Believed to have originated in the 1940s, “ACAB” is “a slogan of long standing in the skinhead subculture,” according to the Anti-Defamation League, and “should be carefully judged in the context in which it appears.” As Elissa Bain writes on HITC, “Its recent revival on social media comes in conjunction with the current protests in Minneapolis.”
Social media users have included “ACAB” and its substitute “1312” in their usernames and bios, while one post even instructs viewers to be prepared for tear gas and smoke bombs over Vince Staples’ “Ascension.” Though both groups are angry at the police, the way allyship works with those in “ACAB” is misguided and leads to Black Lives Matter protesters getting pepper sprayed, arrested, and assailed upon by law enforcement.
“Participation in social movements more closely resembles community action planning, wherein action, reflection, and information gathering happen simultaneously,” Johanna C. Luttrell writes in White People and Black Lives Matter: Ignorance, Empathy, and Justice. “Expertise on social movements come from being involved in them.” Those who are not involved in Black Lives Matter open themselves up to misunderstanding the message of Black Lives Matter and its intentions.
The tweets from the president—“looting and shooting,” “vicious dogs,” “ominous weapons”—register for a certain sect of his supporters who will disrupt the Black Lives Matter message at any cost. Forbes writer Andrew Solender recorded protesters telling an outside group not to destroy a Brooklyn Target, which falls in line with what happened in Eugene, Oregon. “The reason why I held people back from Target was because the individuals who wanted to break and enter were undercover detectives,” David, a protester speaking with the reporter, claimed. “They wanted it to look like they were with the group, but they were not!”
Even the viral incident involving a burnt-up NYPD van outside the Brooklyn Museum was allegedly caused by white antagonists who weren’t a part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Two sisters from the Catskills—Samantha Sadler, 27, and Darian, 21—were arrested for the Molotov cocktail attack that resulted in the moment that led to 200 arrests. Samantha was charged with four counts of attempted murder, as well as attempted arson, assault, reckless endangerment, and criminal possession of a weapon.
Another black life taken too soon has put organizations that speak out on this behavior back on the frontlines and motivated everyone to express their concern at these marches. While the jury is out as to why the Sadler Sisters decided to come from Upstate New York to firebomb a vehicle in Brooklyn and why “ACAB” is mobbing from state to state, we comprehend the real and potential dangers their actions create. By appearing to make BLM look disorganized and violent, it gives Donald Trump and his ilk motive to put their National Guards and Secret Service officers on high alert where black people would be their first targets. With more non-black protesters entering this space led by Black Lives Matter, we all must be aware that there are forces that aren’t there to support it as much as they are to incite more chaos.