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.