Security Implications of the Derek Chauvin Trial
Karen Giraldo, Kayla Kearns, Neoclis Soteriou, Breana Stringer, Krystel von Kumberg; NORTHCOM
Hennepin County Government Center
The Counterterrorism Group’s (CTG) NORTHCOM Team has detected several threats that will likely stem from rising tensions epitomized by the Derek Chauvin trial. The trial started on Monday, March 22, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, MN, and is expected to last several weeks. CTG assesses that violent clashes between far-left and far-right groups are likely to occur. This trial symbolizes a microcosm of the divisiveness between the spectrum of extremist beliefs in the United States (US); ranging from the movement to defund the police in a bid for racial justice to opposing movements, which include groups in favor of the police as well as white supremacists and far-right extremists that fear equality. Law enforcement’s visibly poor consideration of human rights issues on African American communities has opened a window of opportunity for retaliation in the form of protests and violent displays of action, as well as retaliatory attacks. Specifically, some groups are likely to use the façade of social justice to participate in violent acts during and after the Chauvin trial. CTG predicts with high probability this threat will continue to spread across the US, as political grievances will exacerbate confrontations among radical groups based on the ongoing news coverage released, as well as the outcome of the trial. This trial and its aftermath will likely continue to divide US society, leaving the US vulnerable to being exploited by foreign adversaries with the intent to further internal strife, as seen by Russian efforts to divide and polarize US society during and after the 2020 US presidential election. CTG has identified the following threats as critical and ongoing:
We assess that it is very likely that the trial of Chauvin will revive tensions among the public over the issues of racism, criminal justice, police brutality, and civil rights.
We assess that the likelihood of alt-right and alt-left extremist groups violently clashing against one another will almost certainly increase as a result of their starkly opposing viewpoints.
We assess that the likelihood of violent militia groups disguised as vigilantes and law enforcement, pretending to help and protect communities, will increase. Extremist groups such as the Three Percenters and Boogaloo Boys will continue to pose a high-security threat towards communities across the US.
We assess that there will likely be an increase in protests throughout the Chauvin trial as a result of police officers’ excessive use of force against targeted individuals as well as groups of protesters. There is a high potential their use of force will likely result in violent clashes amongst them and Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters.
We judge that it is likely security threats towards the judge presiding over the case, jurors, lawyers, and the courthouse itself will be concerning in the coming weeks.
It is almost certain that the exposure of the trial will be exploited by foreign adversaries to further foment division within the US.
Trial Reviving Tensions
In the US, there has always been tension with socio-political issues such as racism, criminal justice, police brutality, and civil rights. However, these issues have gained significant traction over the past decade due to the widespread use of smartphones, which allow for incidents of police brutality to be recorded by the victims or civilian observers, and social media allows for those incidents to be widely shared among the public. Smartphones and social media have allowed the issue of police brutality to become more visible within the public sphere, and it has also meant that the tension and social division felt over this issue has increased. The death of George Floyd on Thursday, May 25, 2020, in the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota was a catalyst for protest and unrest throughout the US and abroad against the issues of racism and police brutality. These protests also led to criticism and in some cases backlash against BLM, such as counter-protests and violent clashes.
The ongoing trial of Chauvin over the death of Floyd is likely to reinvigorate tension among the population over the issues of racism, criminal justice, police brutality, and civil rights. Regardless of the verdict at the end of the trial, a portion of the country’s population will believe the result was a miscarriage of justice. Some members of the public are likely to view the verdict as having been pre-determined to have gone one way or another. Given the scale of the protests and national dialogue in the wake of Floyd’s death, it is most likely the case that most Americans have already decided whether they believe Chauvin to be innocent or guilty, even though his trial remains ongoing. Efforts by Chauvin’s defense team to shift blame for the incident to onlookers are likely to be perceived negatively by much of the general public. Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, has, while cross-examining several witnesses, attempted to frame them as being “hostile,” “angry onlookers” that were “threatening” the officers and that this was distracting to the officers. This approach of blaming the witnesses, most of whom are African American, has so far not been portrayed very well in the media and is unlikely to garner much public sympathy for Chauvin.
Regardless of the trial proceedings, and Nelson’s seemingly counterintuitive defense strategy, the outcome of the trial is likely to be met with some level of protest and an increased threat of violence in response. If Chauvin is found not guilty for the death of Floyd, this will highly likely reignite tension over the issues of racism, criminal justice, police brutality, and civil rights. If Chauvin is found guilty of the death of Floyd, this will likely provoke a response from the far-right which will also increase tension over the issues of racism, criminal justice, police brutality, and civil rights. The verdict of this trial will come at a time when the US is experiencing increased social and political tensions due to several causes, such as the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a rise in shootings and hate crimes across the country, and the increased activity of far-right extremist groups since the Wednesday, January 6, 2021, Capitol attack in the United States. Therefore, it is very likely that this trial and its eventual outcome will contribute to the existing tension among the population of the US.
Far-right and Far-left Clashes
Clashes between far-right and far-left extremist groups are very likely as many are displeased with the current situation in the US; some perceive police brutality and defunding the police as necessary to ensure their particular views of the world. While the Chauvin trial is taking place in Minneapolis, MN, protests, rallies, riots, and violence are likely to occur throughout the US. Major cities are preparing for the potential violent outcome of “White Lives Matter” rallies (See Annex A). Law enforcement and city officials are planning for violence, but the groups are not providing specific information in regards to where they will be demonstrating or how many people their groups will have. While these rallies are not necessarily a direct result of the Chauvin trial, they may be a foreshadow of what could happen after the verdict.
Far-right extremists, Blue Lives Matter activists, and white supremacists are displeased with the reintroduction of a third-degree murder charge for Chauvin after it was previously dismissed. The far-right’s strong beliefs in law enforcement and their abilities to protect and serve the nation are threatened by an additional murder charge and by the trial in general. Many extremists with far-right views believe in Blue Lives Matter but are also willing and able to protect the interests of the US and their ideology if they view police and the National Guard as unable to adequately defend the nation. Far-right extremists are well-armed and well-trained and often claim that their actions are done to protect the US from the far-left. If far-right extremists take to the streets intending to ‘defend the US,’ law enforcement may yet again be unwilling to stop them, as demonstrated during the Wednesday, January 6, 2021 riots that took place in Washington, DC, and across the US.
The far-left, however, celebrates the additional third-degree murder charge and views it as an assertion from the court to bring justice to the Floyd family. This could be seen as a demonstration of the justice system’s seriousness in prosecuting police brutality, as opposed to cities merely paying families settlement money. For example, the family of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman shot in her Kentucky home by police in her home during the administering of a no-knock warrant, was compensated with $12 million, and the family of Korryn Gaines, a Black woman who was killed by Baltimore police, was given $38 million. The fact that Derek Chauvin is standing trial could be seen as a change in how the criminal justice system will carry out police brutality and infractions from now on. Instead of families receiving money for the deaths of their loved ones, they could see the responsible parties lose their jobs and potentially be convicted of murder. This would appeal to not only secondhand victims but the far-left, as well. According to Annex B, the “Liberty and Justice For All; No Exceptions” phrase does not seem applicable towards cases against police brutality based on how the criminal justice system has dealt with these kinds of situations. Many may see this as an empty promise with no retributive justice (See Annex D). The far-left may take to the streets to protest the far-right, or vice versa, and law enforcement may be unable to properly maintain peace and security, which is likely to result in the National Guard being called upon, which is likely to anger both the far-left and the far-right.
The opposing views presented in the trial of Chauvin will likely continue and increase the violent clashes between far-right and far-left groups. The appellate court reinstated a third-degree murder charge that was previously dismissed and the trial has seen difficulties in jury selection. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Two jurors were already dismissed from the pool after they disclosed that they were unable to stay impartial in light of the settlement Floyd’s family received from the city.
The different implications of the trial will likely cause far-right and far-left extremists to clash violently, as seen in 2017, in which a Unite the Right demonstration was met with counter-protesters in Charlottesville, VA, USA and turned violent. This demonstration was a white supremacist rally with different racist, anti-Semitic, and Confederate participants. While this was not a protest in regards to police brutality, history may repeat itself pending the outcome of the Chauvin trial. Police brutality and its implications have the potential to provoke intense clashes between the far-right and far-left and produce an outcome similar to Charlottesville. As more trial proceedings are released to the public, different testimonies and other factors of the case will appeal to or enrage certain sides and cause demonstrations that began peacefully could interfere with other groups and their beliefs, encouraging violence.
Far-Right Groups disguised as Vigilantes and BLM Protesters
Domestic extremists seize any opportunity they can to spread their radical ideologies and goals, especially during the wake of civil rights movements. Groups such as the Three Percenters, the Boogaloo Boys, and American Identity Evropa have previously taken advantage of critical moments in US history by trying to radical change in the status quo. CTG’s NORTHCOM team predicts that it is highly likely that the circumstances surrounding the Chauvin trial will enable these kinds of far-right groups to establish different personas, taking up roles as fake vigilantes and BLM protesters. Claiming to help social injustices, these movements will likely create chaos under different identities misleading law enforcement and protesters.
Law enforcement presence has increased during the wake of the Chauvin trial, especially across the city of Minneapolis to prepare for potential threats arising from protesters or radical groups alike. Considering the dangers surrounding this trial, it is highly likely this will enable far-right groups to surface as vigilante groups claiming to protect and aid law enforcement in any way they can. In August of 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two protesters amidst the peak of BLM protests. Misinformation, labeling, and political divisions have shaped the public narrative about the Rittenhouse incident, placing him in a category as a self-styled vigilante. Rittenhouse triggered and enabled a movement that has allowed far-right groups to take matters into their own hands against groups of violent protesters by claiming to help law enforcement efforts. Since the Rittenhouse incident, there has been a sharp increase in far-right groups claiming to be vigilantes. There are reports that white vigilantes and far-right actors have shown up to oppose BLM protests in the US at least 500 times within the past year. This will most likely not be an exception during the Chauvin trial and there will likely be many cases that will involve law enforcement supporting these kinds of patterns and behaviors.
For the last two decades, white supremacists and militias have had numerous opportunities to infiltrate law enforcement and the military. White extremism is constantly being embedded within law enforcement, allowing them to work in conjunction with white supremacy vigilantes helping them to further their goals and ideologies. The military and law enforcement will likely have ties with extremist groups during the Chauvin trial by supporting and enabling their violent antics targeting the US government. The explicit racial and ethnic bias from far-right groups is similar to those from members of law enforcement. Research organizations have uncovered hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials participating in racist, nativist, and sexist social media activity, which demonstrates that overt bias in this is far too common. As a result of this, white supremacists and militias can use this as an opportunity to recruit members of law enforcement during the Chauvin trial.
The previous investigation from the American Patriots Three Percent website exposed crucial information on the Three Percenters, indicating that they do not see themselves as radicals but rather as “community protectors at the request of local authorities.” Their self-proclaiming status is solidified by the number of members of the military and law enforcement supporting their cause. Law enforcement and military involved in far-right paramilitary groups are not just betraying their oaths, they are threatening US democracy and national security. There is an exhaustive list of these far-rightists trained in the use of lethal force overseas who turned those techniques on Americans back home in pursuit of political aims. With the confirmation of the Department of Homeland Security, CTG predicts that it is likely that these groups may attempt to exploit activities and events surrounding the legal proceeding and violence could occur with little to no warning.
There are far-right groups who work with law enforcement on violently toppling the US government, while others commit to altering their identities to fight for this particular cause. Likely, groups like the Boogaloo Boys and American Identity Evropa will also be disguised as BLM protesters both in-person and through social media platforms. Amidst the Floyd protests that took place last year, a member of the Boogaloo Bois opened fire on the Third Precinct building with an AK-47-style gun and yelled “Justice for Floyd” pretending to be a part of the BLM movement causing panic throughout Minneapolis. On Twitter, American Identity Evropa had also previously posed as Antifa to further their agenda aimed to overthrow the US government. The surrounding nature of the Chauvin trial will most likely allow these kinds of radicals to once again take advantage of the far-left movement’s presence to recruit more members and overthrow the government. Social media platforms, private online chat rooms, emails and SMS text messaging will likely continue to be the primary sources of communication and radicalization methods amongst these kinds of groups who will pose as BLM protesters wanting to negatively alter the status quo.
Protests and Police Action
The outcome of the trial is likely to result in riots similar to the ones in Charlottesville in 2017 that leftover thirty people injured. In some events, extremist groups will attend dressed or disguised as first responders to defuse situations but instead take part in the demonstrations. This tactic might delay real law enforcement’s response and lower many demonstrators’ guards to safety, putting them at a higher risk for danger. It could also increase the violence as civilians without legal authority claim that their actions are to reinforce the efforts of law enforcement and carry firearms in public. Regardless of the tactics used by unlawful militia extremists, the threat of violence and danger as a result of a demonstration between BLM and Blue Lives Matter groups is imminent.
Investigations have shown that before the riots at the US Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, some right-wing extremist groups allied with each other. Messages from the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers revealed that their leader, Kelly Meggs, had been in constant conversation with the leaders of the Proud Boys. An alliance between the two groups strengthens their numbers, weapons, and tactics. With these reinforcements and newfound teamwork between right-winged extremist groups, there will be power in their numbers. If the alliance is strong enough, the outcome of this trial could result in gun violence or violence in general between the far-left and the far-right if they come into contact with each other.
Protests and riots are highly likely to erupt following the verdict of the Chauvin trial. This threat is more concerning should Chauvin not be given a sentence that the public deems harsh enough or should the trial be considered a mistrial. These actions are likely to upset those opposed to police brutality and who support some of the ideologies held by the far-left (see Annex B and C). Similarly, members of extremist groups and far-right groups may use protests and riots taking place during the trial as a means to commit vandalism, property damage, and other violent acts. An example of this can be seen during the protests during the first anniversary of the death of Breonna Taylor in Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles, California. Rioters and members of far-right and far-left groups took advantage of the protests and carried out violent acts of vandalism in those areas. Police were called in to help de-escalate the situations and rid the area of rioters, unfortunately, this only further catalyzed hate previously held towards law enforcement and made the “Defund the Police” movement stronger.
If riots take place during or following the Chauvin trial, it is likely that law enforcement will be called in to help tame the crowds. As such, there is an increased risk that members of law enforcement and the public will be injured as a result, leading to further deteriorating views of the police. It is likely that far-right members will be angered by an increased military-like police presence should protests and riots occur.
Increased tensions among the public and law enforcement may be attributed to the recent killing of Donovon Lynch, a 25-year-old black man, by police in Virginia Beach on Friday, March 26, 2021. Lynch was the victim of a series of shootings that took place that night, where officers claim he was shot after being seen brandishing a gun. BLM activists have taken to the streets in Virginia Beach’s Oceanfront to conduct protests calling for outside investigations to be carried out on Lynch’s death. The officer who shot Lynch reportedly had a body camera, however, it was not activated at the time. This factor, coupled with the lack of outside video footage and witnesses, has brought much uncertainty to Lynch’s death and public outrage against law enforcements’ actions. It has also been revealed that Lynch was the cousin of famous singer and producer Pharrell Williams, which has brought much media attention to the incident. The questionable killing of Lynch by police along with the media coverage is likely to increase tensions among far-left movements, such as BLM, and the police, where it is highly likely that protests and potential riots for justice will result. In the wake of the shooting, Lynch’s family is calling for a federal investigation into the shooting as there is new evidence that Donovon’s body had been moved and the officers involved have yet to be named.
BLM’s presence in the Virginia Beach area, the US, which claims they will not cease protests until there is justice, may draw the attention of far-right groups in the area and across the US. Should this be the case, it is likely that the two opposing groups will resort to some type of violence. The recent rise in police brutality against African Americans in the wake of Floyd’s death will continue to create a divide amongst US citizens and law enforcement which far-right and far-left extremist groups will seek to exploit.
Threats to Judge, Jurors, Lawyers, and Courthouse
It is highly likely that there will be threats to individuals and locations involved in the Chauvin trial, more specifically to the judge, jurors, lawyers, and courthouse. Jury tampering, such as bribes or threats made towards members of the jury, is likely to occur in attempts to influence the trial outcome. To counter threats to the jury, officials have stated that the 12 jurors and two alternates are to remain anonymous throughout the process and will not be shown on camera during media coverage of the trial.
Primary threats to the courthouse and surrounding area are likely to ensue during the trial process as well as a post-trial process following Chauvin’s verdict. Law enforcement in the area has taken precautions by restricting areas near the courthouse, however, demonstrations will be allowed to occur in other areas where the trial is being held. As such, it is highly likely that members of the far-right and far-left will protest outside the courthouse, regardless of the verdict. It is likely that violent actions between members of the far-right and far-left will be carried out during protests, as emotions will be high and neither side gets along with one another.
The Trial under International Spotlight
The consecutive murders of Ahmaud Arbury, a Black man murdered while jogging in Georgia, Breonna Taylor, and Floyd brought about some of the most climactic civil unrest the US has seen in the last decade. BLM demonstrations and protests seeking justice for the victims of police brutality took place throughout the US but also sparked movements in other countries, bringing more and more attention to the issue. While all of this unrest has taken place in the US, the Monday, May 25, 2020 killing of Floyd by Minneapolis police triggered disinformation domestically and abroad. Intense coverage by state-sponsored media in Russia, China, and Iran, all seeking to undermine US credibility is a critical security threat. On Sunday, May 31, 2020, National security adviser Robert O’Brien warned that foreign powers were trying to exploit the fraught state of US race relations and protests over Floyd’s death. Exacerbating divides and polarizing US society when it comes to politics and race are key ways that these states benefit by making the US seem hypocritical by showcasing instability and unrest within the US.
China, Iran, and Russia are examples of foreign actors reveling in US domestic chaos. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying responded to the US State Department’s concerns over Hong Kong by tweeting, “I can’t breathe.” This poignant phrase is used by Floyd and Eric Garner, black men who died at the hands of white police officers. Therefore, China, in particular, uses what they see as US hypocrisy to downgrade the US on the international stage and in doing so promote their image by highlighting that their civil rights abuses at home are acceptable.
On Thursday, March 18, 2021, relations between Biden and Putin spiraled out of control when Biden called the Russian President a “killer” concerning Alexei Navalny’s attempted poisoning, to outline Russia’s human rights abuses. In response, Russia pointed at US history of slavery and slaughtering of Native Americans to highlight US hypocrisy and paint the country in a negative light worldwide. This highlights how Moscow also uses the divisions in US society to sow discord as well as defend their human rights abuses at home.
Due to the socially and politically sensitive nature of the Chauvin trial, the public must perceive the jury selection and trial proceedings to be as transparent as possible to combat any perceptions of unfairness or systemic corruption. So far, this is being done by ensuring that the racial makeup of the jury is a mix between black and white Americans. Of the 12 jurors selected for the trial so far six are white, four are black, and two are multiracial, according to the court. This is being done to reduce bias or to prevent the perception of bias that would arise from a majority white or majority-black jury. This is important because if a large segment of the public regards the trial as being in some way corrupt or unfair, this will only serve to further divide the already largely divided US public.
This potential for increased division poses a critical threat to the US as hostile foreign powers such as Russia continue to spread disinformation and promote divisive rhetoric online. Russia’s recent spread of disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines shows that it is looking to insert divisive rhetoric into the US’ national conversation about controversial topics. The Chauvin trial is an ideal target for such a mission. It could be helpful to employ an information campaign about these efforts to mitigate the impacts of Russian disinformation. To counter this threat, intelligence services should remain on high alert throughout the trial. Authorities may also consider holding public information campaigns as a means to mitigate the risk of foreign disinformation campaigns. There is also the threat that any perception of corruption would likely embolden far-left groups to act violently, using the supposed corruption of the trial as justification for their attacks. As such intelligence services should also continually monitor any developments from these groups throughout the trial.
Recently, the intelligence branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Minneapolis issued an intelligence briefing warning that foreign adversaries and domestic extremists may use the Chauvin trial to further their agendas. DHS analysts warn that domestic extremists such as anarchist and white supremacist groups "may attempt to exploit activities and events surrounding the legal proceeding" and that "violence could occur with little or no warning." DHS also stated that anarchist groups were likely to use the Chauvin trial, regardless of the outcome, to commit property damage against critical infrastructures, such as government facilities, and incite others online to do so as well. Additionally, the briefing stated that white supremacist groups have remarked online that the Chauvin trial may lead to a “race war”, which could lead to attacks against African American individuals and institutions should Chauvin be found guilty. At the same time, should Chauvin be acquitted, if there is to be a mistrial, or if sentencing against Chauvin is perceived as too lenient, black identity extremist groups may target law enforcement or government facilities.
The NORTHCOM team at CTG is working to continually monitor any developments surrounding the trial of Chauvin. These threats range from potentially violent riots and acts of terror by extremist groups such as the Boogaloo Boys or Three Percenters. As well as possible misinformation campaigns by hostile foreign powers such as China or Russia. Our team is working to analyze the multiple threats surrounding this trial, such as security implications or an increase in the racial division throughout the United States. Finally, the NORTHCOM team is working to analyze different strategies to best detect, deter and defeat these threats.
White Lives Matter Protests April 11
Liberty and Justice For All; No Exceptions
Political Cartoon Demonstrating Police Brutality
Portland Police Macing Protesters for Voicing their Grievances
Foreshadowing Riots if Chauvin is Found Not Guilty
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