City dump truck set on fire outside Richmond Police Department headquarters, July 25 Photo Credit: Richmond Time-Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

As noted recently on this blog, Virginia’s capital city experienced some semi-organized violent activity last weekend. This was not a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration that escalated. Rather, it was a mob, with some members armed, seemingly bent on confrontation, violence, and general mayhem.

This event brought about a rare confluence: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial page both agreeing on something: the lack of leadership from city and state officials.

Beyond the lack of leadership, I was struck by the cluelessness of city officials regarding the origin or, more likely, origins of this event, which was well advertised on social media in advance. At first Mayor Levar Stoney said that white supremacists had infiltrated the ranks of Black Lives Matter demonstrators in order to undermine the cause. The Chief of Police, Gerald Smith, said that Antifa was also involved, an assessment Stoney later agreed with. In other words, they had no idea who instigated the violence.

Granted, in the age of the internet and other social media, mass events can be inspired or instigated quickly and somewhat anonymously. However, the city and state have access to numerous resources that should be able to assist:

Virginia State Police—The agency operates its Fusion Center, of which it is enormously proud. The State Police define its missions as follows:

The primary mission of the Virginia Fusion Center is to fuse together key counterterrorism and criminal intelligence resources from local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industries in a secure, centralized location, to facilitate information collection, prioritization, classification, analysis, and sharing, in order to better defend the Commonwealth against terrorist threats and/or attack and to deter criminal activity.

The Center is staffed around the clock by personnel from the State Police and various agencies at an annual cost of several million dollars. Admittance to the Center requires a security clearance  As set out in the mission statement, it is supposed to monitor potential threats and coordinate with local law enforcement. If the personnel in the Fusion Center cannot identify the organizers and instigators of these mobs, the General Assembly should ask some hard questions about the need to spend that much money to support it.

UniversitiesVa. Tech, UVa, GMU, VCU, and ODU all have cybersecurity programs that offer advanced degrees. One would think the faculty, at least, and some of the graduate students in these programs could help identify the mob instigators.

National Guard—The Virginia National Guard has a cybersecurity unit that supposedly constitutes a core element of the U.S. military’s cyber security activities. As described by the military:

Activated in September of 2017, the Virginia Army National Guard’s 91st Cyber Brigade, or “Shadow Brigade” provides training and readiness oversight of all Army National Guard Cyber Protection Battalions in order to provide ready, fully resourced and proficient forces capable of conducting full-spectrum cyberspace operations in support of State and Federal requirements. The brigade integrates the National Guard’s strong relationships with State and local authorities….

If none of these resources are available or able to help identify the source or sources instigating these mob events, then perhaps the city or state should contact the guy who has been “ghosting” far right groups into chasing their tails. (I don’t condone his methods, but, at least, he seems to know how it is done.) If the city and state do not want to legitimize that guy’s methods, there is probably a high school computer geek around who could figure it out.

If, with all these resources available, the city and state cannot identify who or what is behind the instigation of these violent events, it is likely Russian or Chinese trolls and this country is in greater danger than we imagined.

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18 responses to “Clueless”

  1. Dick, you make some good points here. Virginia has ample resources to figure out who was behind the mob violence. As I recall, the Virginia State Police kept Governor McAuliffe pretty well informed during the run-up to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. (One may or may not agree with the way he handled the situation, but he was clearly well informed of the impending clash.)

    Someone should ask the state police what they know about the agitators promoting violence in Richmond. Who are they? What are their motives? And how do they exercise their influence?

  2. If RPD remains feckless because of government orders to stand down because [as Pelosi stated] “People will do what they do,”

    Richmonders should hire the Hell’s Angels for a few cases of beer per night….. that would stop the vandals! Just ask the Rolling Stones.

    Or maybe hire the Ohio National Guard, they’re 4-0 against demonstrators.

  3. WayneS Avatar

    Those who engaged in wanton violence and/or property destruction should be appropriately charged, tried and, if convicted, sentenced to jail time and made to pay restitution.

  4. Jim Loving Avatar
    Jim Loving

    Dick, you raise a really important question.
    When I was still working with DHS (client of IBM’s), they original Fusion Centers were created, which primarily acted as local eyes and ears for foreign terrorism, post 9/11.

    Domestic Terrorism is what we are now dealing with and it appears to be within the scope of the Fusion centers to address, in cooperation with the FBI and local law enforcement, at least according to their web site.

    I suspect, but there needs to be an accounting, that the current rioters are as we have heard a mixture of Antifa and the coalition of white supremacist groups, mashed-up with peaceful BLM protesters.

    So you have people exercising their 1st amendment rights, then you have essentially domestic terrorists (so far mostly aimed at property destruction, but there has been loss of life and many injuries) entering into these, with each of these entities coordinating through various communication means and varieties of social media challenges.

    American Citizens have 4th and 1st amendment rights so suspicious activity is dealt with within the context or probably cause before a crime, then you have active full on rioting and the challenges in addressing them – see this 2012 Small War Journals article “The Strategic Challenge of Riots.”

    On top of that, you do not have unity of objectives and outcomes within the political/governing bodies that oversee the local, state and national law enforcement which has been 15 years building and we are in an election year during a global pandemic.

    Oh, and you have the on-going, and continued amplification of these domestic forces from outside the homeland (denied by the POTUS and AG), using our own internal divisions and amplifying them with social media.

    In other words, we are in a chaotic situation with no easy answer. Our foreign adversaries are getting an incredible return on their investment, with no casualties of their own. We could deploy the “China Option” and completely crack down and clean up, in essence that is what has sort of been attempted with some DHS (CBP, DEA, ICE) LEOs, but that has only emboldened protesters and Antifa/White Supremecist elements to come out in force.

    Simply put, I am guessing our Fusion Centers are completely overwhelmed, or assuming they know who is instigating and organizing, are unable to act proactively with LE on scene because of US law until after the fact (unlike our response for the last 20 years in the GWOT).

    It will be interesting to read any after action reviews of how LE at all levels responded to this, assuming there is an end to it eventually.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Good points made here.

    I would add that if improvement isn’t made on this, and fast, more and more Virginians are going to find it more and more plausible that some actors within the state government _do_ know who is instigating the violence or at least have a very good idea and, for their own purposes, choose not to share that information. That already is a widely-made accusation in more extreme quarters (“Democrats are letting the riots happen to make Trump look bad!”) and not matter how silly it may seem here and now, high-level incompetence or whatever it is that is preventing effective law enforcement will only make it more tempting an assumption.

  6. djrippert Avatar

    Having worked for the last 43 years in technology I can assure you that tracing the instigators of the violence in Richmond is not really a challenge, at least not technically. There may be legal and/or privacy issues. Or, people like Ralph Northam and Levar Stoney may not want to know. America’s least competent mayor, Bill di Blasio, has clearly stated that his anti-COVID19 policies will not be enforced against Black Lives Matter demonstrations. This was the same mayor who sent the police to break up a rabbi’s funeral procession in NYC earlier this year.

    Tim Kaine’s son was sentenced to probation for violence at a Trump rally in Minneapolis. Is there any real question that he’s part of the loose affiliation of anarchists known as Antifa?

    The perpetrators of violence in Richmond will remain unknown because our elected officials don’t want to know who is inciting the violence.

    1. novalad Avatar

      I think this is pretty on point, but the incentive for inaction extends beyond elected officials. Litigatory blowback from charging rioters based on video evidence and SIGINT/metadata processed through fusion centers is an enormous risk for law enforcement ops at all levels of government, from the standpoint of both data privacy/data sharing and purely political considerations.

      Kaine’s son is not the only person with political connections to get caught up by the dragnet; de Blasio’s daughter was arrested during the May riots. Even if the median Richmond rioter is a VCU arts student with a solidly middle-class background, there are enough big names in the mix that well-funded civil or criminal suits against such arrest methods are likely. It’s one thing to sweep up WNs or those with connections to foreign terror groups, but quite another to book dozens (hundreds?) of kids whose parents donate to the ACLU.

      LE agencies aren’t purely interested in carrying out the public interest — they want to keep their jobs and program funding too. With 2020 being the year that it is, everything is at risk, and everything up for grabs.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        The core group that began protesting were and have been non-violent but other groups with less wonderful motives have essentially used the peaceful protests as a cover for them to join in and carry out activities that have nothing to do with the reasons for the original protests.

        And it’s different groups from those that align with Antifa and anti-govt to those that are essentially opposed to efforts to deal with injustice and racism – those groups, e.g. white supremacists actually seek to undermine the protestors – to cause unrest to force the police and government to shut down all protests.

        In short – there are several players – with differing motives that are in the streets and some of them WANT unrest and violence.

        All of these groups are nimble and flexible as to when/where and organize themselves on social media groups. They can and do marshal a group on short notice – where all of them will coordinate to go to a site as a group and function as a group.

        It’s hard for the police to discern the intent of the players until they actually act – either as peaceful protestor or vandals and criminals.

        The peaceful protestors have shown a propensity to obey curfews and boundaries…. the others, not.

        1. novalad Avatar

          Social media analysis is one leg of PIDing the people in the streets; mobile data and full motion video analysis are the other big ones. For instance: Pull cell traffic from downtown during the curfew, run IDs that come up against existing files, build new ones if you have to (you almost certainly would with the volume you’d be dealing with), correlate timestamps from messaging with FMV footage and social media, rinse and repeat for a week or two, and shazam — you’ve got yourself at least a few folks worth arresting if you are so inclined. Concomitantly, you can weed out peaceful demonstrators reasonably well.

          This is incredibly labor-intensive on the part of LE, but the technical aspect is pretty tried-and-true. The question is whether there’s the bandwidth and political will to carry it out.

          Aaaand here comes the ACLU…

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            It IS incredibly labor intensive but technology can gather a lot of info – and not all the stuff needs to be viewed. For instance, a time stamp will tell you what part of the video to look at.

            re: the ACLU –

            yep – once you start tying a cell phone to a person and track it – you have to have reasonable cause just like any crime IMHO.

            If videos show a particular guy doing bad stuff – there are a variety of ways they can “follow” him including other videos, facial recognition, and narrowing down cell location/lat/longs from anonymized data, etc.

            Yep – labor intensive – most all crime is… no shortcuts…

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            Yup – “policing” – smart technology in addition to street presence.

            I see the cell phone issue similar to house or car searches.

            You need to have probable cause and a warrant to get inside.

            labor intensive – yes – don’t need to be a full-up trained police to do that work and it can be done remotely by entry level folks who are “lookers” who then passs up the food chain to decision makers.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    There’s no excuse for some of the stuff going on and I’m further disheartened by the fact that these folks probably would act this way anytime there is unrest or a natural disaster where they would be looting.

    Folks talk here about how kids do bad in school without parental support.

    Ask yourself what kind of parents did these low lifes have?

    Every child is born 100% innocent – but look at what happens to some of us.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      They probably taught their kids that they were special from Day 1 and that rules and regulations were for other people. Self-righteousness and money can find ways around the rules or, at least, their consequences. This is just a different view of the behavior of all the Hollywood stars and other well-to-do people who bought their kids way into prestigious colleges.

  8. CrazyJD Avatar

    Amazing. Simply Amazing. Vague agreement occurring on an issue considered by Bacon’s Rebellion. Of course, we haven’t heard from Peter and Nancy, so I probably shouldn’t count my chickens.

    Seriously, though, it’s nice to see that we can agree that at least something is unacceptable. Maybe that will cause the proper actions on the part of our feckless local politicians.

  9. CrazyJD Avatar

    BTW, Really good post Dick

  10. UpAgnstTheWall Avatar

    Stoney and Smith’s statements aren’t operating at cross purposes, but understanding who Antifa and the Boogaloo Boys are is critical to making sense of it and no one in Richmond leadership has done a good job of articulating that.

    First is Antifa, which is more of a philosophy and less of a movement and certainly not an organization. It’s been around a long time and originated in the punk and hardcore scenes as a response to a growing element of Nazi skinheads invading the scene, taking over venues, and trying to bully leftist punks out of the scene. “Nazi Punks F*** Off” by the Dead Kennedys came out in 1981 and the tension was so we’ll known in the scene that by 1985 Camper Van Beethoven was able to send it up in the title of their nonsense song “Take the Skinheads Bowling.” In Richmond when I started hanging out with punks in 2000 it was incredibly common to see patches of the swastika with the no circle and line over it with both as a general statement and to identify skinheads who weren’t white supremacists.

    So what you have is a loose coalition of young people invested in opposing fascism with no leaders and weak affiliations with each other who attract passionate and energetic young – mostly white, mostly male – people who have grown accustomed to violence as a way to protect themselves and their music scene. The problem with being an acephalous affiliation known for being willing to engage in violent confrontation is that you attract people in general who may be more attracted to the violence than the politics and you leave yourselves open to being hijacked.

    Enter the Boogaloo Boys neé Proud Boys neé 4chan/reddit trolls. These people are literal white supremacists whose name originates from their desire to see Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo (referencing the 1980s movie Breaking 2: Electric Boogaloo). They sound stupid, but that’s a very deliberate tactic on their point – they want the mainstream to dismiss them and to not take them seriously. They want the ironic remove of wearing Hawaiian shirts (Boogaloo -> Big Luau) because it gives them plausible deniability for their white supremacist motives. But while they behave like it’s all a big come on these folks are deeply serious about the 14 words.

    They’re also very online and very used to making themselves disappear behind anonymous accounts and throwaway user names. The poster that circulated encouraging the Saturday action obviously had an author, but it’s also entirely plausible that it got laundered through 4chan/8chan/reddit first before anonymously making its way onto Twitter through burner accounts.

    And then what you have is two groups comfortable with aggressive behavior, one of whom self-selects for people who are dedicated to their cause (Boogaloo Boys) able to sucker another group that includes clueless neophytes (Antifa) into lashing out at the cops under the guise of common ground when really Boogaloo Boys just want to foment unrest and start a race war (and the term RaHoWa should be familiar to anyone who has paid any attention at all to the far right over the last 30 years).

    It’s also not shocking that the local BLM contingent saw this coming and refused to participate. It wouldn’t be the first – and it won’t be the last – time aggro white kids used the cover of a legitimate grievance from Black people (here the issue of police brutality) as a pretext for just destroying things. The Black leaders in Oakland have struggled with Black Bloc white anarchist types for years over this.

    So the mayor and the chief of police have a story that checks out with the known history of all groups involved, and it’s also not surprising that identifying individual culprits in such a way the could withstand legal scrutiny has proved elusive.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      As I have said often before, I am always learning something new on this blog. Thanks for this lesson. This is all a foreign world to me.

  11. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead V

    I suppose we will have to wait for the next mass casualty domestic terror act to get a response from Virginia’s leaders. It is hard to believe that almost one year has passed since the Walmart shooting in El Paso. Seems like a long time ago now.

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