Were Pallets of Bricks Planted at Black Lives Matter Protests?

39 min read

MetaNews InDepth Feature

Introduction: As Violence Escalates, Clashing Explanations

We’re going to look at a news event from the summer of 2020 that remains cloudy in many people’s minds because the coverage of it varied from outlet to outlet and was shaded by overt or hidden biases. In other words, pretty typical for anything touching on politics. We’ll dive into how and why this event is so difficult to pin down, offer some tools for figuring it out, as well as offer some thoughts on how the media might improve.

On the morning of May 31, 2020, a journalist in Raleigh, North Carolina, tweeted what appeared to be a photo of her office, taken in the daylight, the windows completely shattered: “I’m devastated,” she wrote. “We are a progressive newspaper. Last night I was inside when the first brick was thrown.” [1] Across the country that morning, cities were cleaning up broken glass and debris from the sidewalks. Later, downtown shopping and business districts in many cities would begin boarding up their storefronts in preparation for the nights to come.

During the final weekend of May 2020, peaceful protests turned into violent conflicts, as riots and looting broke out in several cities including Raleigh, Minneapolis, and Dallas. COVID-19 lockdowns and the resulting economic downturns (mostly affecting the poor) deepened the partisan strife and racial conflicts that were being brought to the streets. The summer’s protests for racial justice were planned as non-violent marches but once sparked, rioting and looting escalated quickly in some areas. Early events in this escalation involved the use of rocks, bricks, and other projectiles to break windows and to assault police, as well as widely shared footage of conspicuously dressed individuals destroying storefronts, who were apparently not part of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.[2] In this context, based on a series of viral social media posts that showed large piles of bricks near protest sites, speculation began to circulate that agent provocateurs were planting large piles of bricks in an attempt to escalate violence.

The idea that bricks were being planted began to circulate among BLM activists, spokespersons for the police, and local politicians, who appear to have had sincere concerns that agitators were exploiting peaceful protests. Police claimed groups such as Antifa might be planting bricks as part of organized violence against the state, while protesters suggested that the police or federal authorities might themselves be strategically planting bricks to escalate and thus delegitimize the protests. Many major media outlets factchecked the stories and dismissed them as unfounded and conspiratorial. With emotions already boiling, these competing claims about planted bricks spread because they were inflammatory. After three weeks in the news cycle, this issue left public awareness almost entirely, without ever having been adequately addressed. The news cycle as a whole had the result of leaving readers a bit more polarized, hostile, and confused, presenting a world in which groups have basically unreconcilable views about important issues.

The idea that bricks were being planted began to circulate among BLM activists, spokespersons for the police, and local politicians, who appear to have had sincere concerns that peaceful protests were being exploited by agitators.

MetaNews analysis is useful in addressing this news cycle after the fact, not just to make sense of the issues, but to use it as an object lesson in the types of dynamics leading to polarization and radicalization in our current culture and public sphere.

In this case, one of four things might be true: there were piles of bricks planted to tempt demonstrators; there were piles planted by demonstrators; there were innocent piles of bricks used in building sites that happened to be near demonstrations; there weren’t any piles of bricks near demonstration sites. It’s also true that one of these four was true of one or some sites, but not all. Did the media get to the truth of the matter?

Our analysis of this news cycle shows that while there has been little evidence to date of any coordinated effort to plant large amounts of bricks at protest sites, claims about the activities of agent provocateurs have been left unresolved, despite this being the primary concern of both protesters and police on the streets.

Important questions remain open about these events and the news cycles surrounding them. This MetaNews investigation finds major media outlets did little to enhance public understanding of what actually happened. Polarization dynamics in the media resulted in fundamentally inadequate coverage, with consistently poor arguments and weak evidentiary grounding across the board, as will be addressed in a series of explanatory boxes below. In general, there was a failure by major media outlets to provide for a complex discussion of what occurred at the protests. This deepened polarization and suspicion rather than resolving it, because obvious and important issues remained unaddressed.

Meet Brickie:

Figure 1: Meme created and circulated among activists and supporters of protests. Note in the lower right corner a message suggestion that authorities might be surveilling social media posts about the protest.

Tracking the News Cycle: Bricks in the Headlines

Protests related to the death of George Floyd began on May 26. By May 29 many initially peaceful protests had turned violent, with some officially declared riots. Our focus is media coverage between May 30 and Jun 9. The media landscape polarized around this escalation, as so-called “bait bricks” were at the center of an eruption of divergent news coverage. Drawing the analysis into focus, our team sifted through more than a thousand stories to distill a smaller subset of widely shared pieces that specifically mention what became labeled in social media as “#baitbricks.” This brought the total number of unique relevant stories to just under 70, which we then analyzed thematically and in terms of their arguments and evidence. See MetaNews methods section for more details. Link to methods document. What did we do? A snapshot of the stories we looked at can be seen in the following figures. These show the results of our analytical sweep through one of the largest databases of media output that is publicly available. The figures provide context for the detailed overview of the narrative landscape offered in the next section.

Figure 2: media attention timeline. This figure was produced via MediaCloud datasets and tools. The results are based on separate query string words of “bricks” and “protest” or “antifa” or “blm” or “black lives matter” between 16 April -16 November 2020. The first spike in media attention about “bricks” and “protests” is on May 30th with 592 stories, followed by the high on 1 June with 674 stories. Antifa, rather than the Black Lives Matter movement was linked to the placement or usage of bricks at the protests, if any attribution was made. The spike of the media reporting on Antifa in relation to bricks correlates with tweets by President Trump on May 31st attributing claims of protest violence to the group.

Figure 3: media landscape influence-bubble graphic. The figure depicts our sample of stories and their aggregate Facebook shares by media outlet. This shows which media organizations were influencing the narrative through their reporting and then subsequent shares on Facebook. Out of the top ten most shared media organizations (the largest bubbles) in our sample, six of those organizations (Fox News, The Federalist, Daily Caller, The Nation, Epoch Times, Blaze) are considered as right slanted, with four of them considered far right organizations whose reporting was deemed as having high variation in reliability, according to AdFontes Media, which is a source we regard as reliable, with transparent funding, and open verifiable methods. A majority of the more established, mainstream news organizations, such as the largest bubble, Fox News, had over 238,000 shares due to producing the most content (57 stories from search queries). Outlier news organizations, such as the hyper-partisan outlet The Federalist (whose content was judged by Ad Fontes to be “Selective or incomplete story/unfair persuasion/propaganda”) had only one article produced based on the search query, but the article dominated in virality on Facebook: “Media Falsely Claimed Violent Riots Were Peaceful and That Tear Gas Was Used Against Rioters,” led all articles with over 133,000 Facebook shares. The graphic was produced using MediaCloud datasets based on separate query string words of “bricks and “protest” or “antifa” or “BLM” or “black lives matter” between 16 April -16 November 2020. This was then exported into the Gephi network analysis platform for dataset attribute analysis.

Figure 4: thematic analysis diagram.The themes listed on the outside of the circles were the top themes noted across the majority of the reporting analyzed. While far right themes appeared to revolve around inflammatory language, far left themes frequently appeared to try to downplay the matter significantly, seemingly with little investigation, and taking a “de-escalation” stance against claims of attribution to highly organized leftist groups with violent agendas. Media organizations are positioned in the graph based on which themes they contained in their reporting, which fell largely along partisan lines. The closer a media organization sits to the outer edge of each circle (and subsequently, closer to the themes) is representative of how many polarizing themes the outlet touched upon in their reporting. On the right, sites like ZeroHedge consistently reported that the bricks were planted, alluded to agents of the left, and inferred other weapons were planted as well. On the left, however, mainstream giants like the Washington Post appeared to refuse to even address theories such as planted bricks at protests, outside of their opinion columns (their fact-checker gave this claim “four Pinocchio’s” meaning it was false). Instead, their primary reporting focused on “debunking” claims of organized outside influence on local protests. This graphic and the associated analysis was created based on thematic, contextual analysis of 70 sample articles across a variety of media mediums (podcasts, mainstream, alternative media, webcasts, etc.), as selected by our researchers as representative of the reporting in our overall sample.

Part Two

Protest Theater: Right-leaning Media Outlets Run With the Story

On Monday, June 1, Fox News led with a story that opened: “Social media users participating in protests over the death of George Floyd have reported large piles of bricks randomly appearing at rallying sites.” Fox attributed the virality to @Breaking911, “a Twitter handle with nearly 700,000 followers,” who had tweeted that “videos continue to surface showing protesters stumbling upon pallets of bricks or pavers in areas with no construction taking place.” It also commented that there were several theories in play, “…ranging from them being planted there by police so rioters could face tougher charges, to outside agitators trying to stir up more trouble.” While the article referred to the people in the video as “rioters,” it also noted that rapper “ICE T, who has spoken out against police brutality and in favor of the protesters,” had posted one video with the comment that it “look[ed] like a set up.”[12]


It soon became fairly common to refer to the phenomenon as “bait bricks,” and then eventually #baitbricks.

It soon became fairly common to refer to the phenomenon as “bait bricks,” and then eventually #baitbricks. The story gained popularity on “alternative” American media sites, often right-learning or anti-establishment in nature, like the popular ZeroHedge. The outlet often acts as a news aggregator, and throughout the day, it updated a post with various claims related to the bricks controversy.[13] ZeroHedge, which focuses on financial and investment news, frequently reprints the work of other alternative media writers, and on June 2, it reprinted a long piece on this topic.

The author argued, “The protests against police brutality have been hijacked by sinister forces, and they are attempting to channel the outrage over George Floyd’s death in a very violent direction,” and that “law enforcement authorities all over the U.S. are telling us that they have identified a highly organized effort to orchestrate violence, and this appears to be happening on a nationwide basis.” He highlighted two claims from mainstream U.S. media: “On Sunday night, New York’s top terrorism cop, Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller, detailed his office’s analysis and investigation into why the New York City protests have become so violent and damaging at times,” blaming “organizers of certain anarchist groups.” And Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot “publicly acknowledged that “’there has been an organized effort’ to turn the protests over George Floyd’s death ‘into something violent’ in her city,” leading her to ask three federal agencies for help, though she wouldn’t name who she thought responsible. A New York police official was quoted as seeming to suggest “that someone has been stealing bricks [from construction sites] and leaving them in pre-staged piles for the rioters.”[14] Additionally, on June 2, Joe Rogan (who does not identify as conservative or liberal) discussed one of the clips on his popular podcast, arguing in favor of the idea that piles of bricks were likely being planted.

Also, on June 2nd, CBS’s newsmagazine television program, Inside Edition, included three clips related to the brick narrative. Viewers were told that “police say small bands of the so-called ‘professional agitators’ are taking advantage of the crisis and hijacking peaceful demonstrations.” This included “piles of bricks” appearing at demonstration sites, resulting in “speculation they may have been planted there by Antifa for use as projectiles aimed at cops and storefront windows.”[15] Meanwhile, the official White House account (not the POTUS), tweeted “Antifa and professional anarchists are invading our communities, staging bricks and weapons to instigate violence.” The tweeted post included a compilation of seven brick-related clips, including the three that had just aired on Inside Edition. They continued, “These are acts of domestic terror.” In its coverage of these events, The Intercept, a left-leaning investigative outlet, omitted the final line of the White House tweet, though it provided a screenshot: “The victims are the peaceful protesters, the residents of these communities, and the brave law enforcement standing watch.”[16]

© Adaptive Cultures
©Adaptive Cultures
Part Four

With the Narrative Polarized, Frame Control Begins.

At this point, especially on a sensitive or controversial story, it’s normal for each “side” to develop ways to frame the story to their liking.

By June 3, most left-leaning U.S. media outlets started to push a common debunking narrative. A reporter from the BBC, Benjamin Strick, got the majority of the credit in the American press for his disinformation team’s debunking story, upon which other left-leaning reporters quickly built a similar narrative. Most followed BBC and Buzzfeed, engaging in open-source journalism to pick apart claims from afar, cross-checking social media claims against various databases.[26] The Intercept claimed that Vice, another left-leaning investigative outlet, had helped demonstrate that almost all of the videos “showed ordinary piles of bricks used in construction projects.” However, Vice’s June 3rd piece noted that the controversy had been much aggravated by the fact that “NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea posted a video on Twitter of an NYPD officer on a street corner, facing what look like several blue plastic bins full of bricks or concrete chunks. ‘This is what our cops are up against,’ he wrote. ‘Organized looters, strategically placing caches of bricks & rocks at locations throughout NYC.’”[27] Vice claimed to have already investigated and debunked the story, but this was either not known or ignored by the Commissioner.

A widely republished Associated Press piece[28] stands out as a clear example of frame control around the issue of Antifa involvement in the protests.

Here are the first few paragraphs:


“There is little attempt to convey a logically coherent and well-grounded narrative.”

There is little attempt to convey a logically coherent and well-grounded narrative. The evidence presented by the AP to make their case is insufficient. For example, while they claim to be investigating violent agitators at the protests, what few arrests records they look at are not for individuals convicted of crimes involving major violence or property damage. There’s no reason given as to why data was limited in this fashion, nor as to why generalizations about nationwide violence can be gleaned from a small sample of nonviolent arrest records. However, there is enough internal consistency that a casual reader, especially one who gets information mostly from similar sources, would likely understand the interpretive conclusion embedded in the story thanks to the frame employed. The casual reader could fill in the blanks with their own associations and “decode” the general message, that all claims of radical protest interference were absurd, and probably just malicious nonsense from the political opposition. Interestingly, the AP’s headline was “As Trump blames antifa, protest records show scant evidence.” As is often the case with online media, the content did not match that headline. In this case, with even more than typical exaggeration, we find a misleading claim of empirical evidence.




Another style of frame control is shown in a piece published at ZeroHedge. Taken from the blog of independent journalist Michael Snyder, the piece offers the frame of: “Antifa is provoking protest violence.”[29] Rather than a coherent narrative or even analytical framework, it is a collection of anecdotes, unsupported conclusions, sudden pivots, and jarring logical errors. At one point, Snyder states that Americans believe that Antifa is behind the violence, citing a national poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports in which 49% of people agreed that Antifa should be designated a terrorist organization. There is no effort to logically connect these two very different claims, though it would be easy enough to say something like, “as Antifa was unknown to most of the public before this controversy, the support for this designation probably results from reports about the protests.” It seems that Snyder used the statistic to make the point that many people thought Antifa was up to no good, and therefore planting bricks was the kind of thing they would do.

This, in effect, leads people to conclusions while maintaining the plausible deniability of not having explicitly stated that conclusion. The approach is probably more effective with readers who already believe that Antifa was involved and did not need to be convinced of it through logical argument. Also, readers of such an article, who probably tend to be sympathetic to its views, may care less about whether Antifa committed any particular act than that they are perceived to be up to something, and that downplaying them is aggravating. It’s telling readers what they want to hear and giving them someone to blame for the strange reports across the country. As there is still little logical and evidence-based analysis of the issue available, and it may not be possible to do at this point, it is understandable why the frame control approach would be taken up as a way to provide solidarity and certainty.


“While specific brick videos may have been almost entirely misleading, infiltration of the peaceful protests by agitators of some kind seemed to become accepted as compelling and important by the end of the week.”

While specific brick videos may have been almost entirely misleading, infiltration of the peaceful protests by agitators of some kind seemed to become accepted as compelling and important by the end of the week. On June 4, veteran journalist Lara Logan appeared on Fox News’s Hannity and repeated the allegations that “Antifa is dropping off ‘pallets of bricks’ at protest sites to provoke violence and vandalism...a form of logistical support that the U.S. military uses.”[30] The left-leaning press continued to push back against any talk of Antifa involvement, especially consideration of them as an organized group. That same day, however, ZeroHedge reprinted another piece by Snyder that claimed the Department of Justice (DoJ) was investigating the bricks story.[31] Some in the mainstream press also published comments by Attorney General Barr at a press conference early on June 4, alongside DoJ and FBI officials: “While many have peacefully expressed their anger and grief, others have hijacked protests to engage in lawlessness, violent rioting . . . We have evidence that Antifa and other similar extremist groups, as well as actors of a variety of different political persuasions have been involved in instigating and participating in the violent activity . . . we are also seeing foreign actors playing all sides to exacerbate the violence….There are some groups that don't have a particular ideology, other than anarchy and there's some groups that want to bring about a civil war…” Barr also said that federal investigators are seeing "a lot of disinformation out there" with certain groups posing as members of other opposing groups.[32] He did not focus on the bricks, nor did those questioning him. We quote this to demonstrate the reasonableness of keeping open those questions raised by BLM and police concerning agent provocateurs.

All of this resulted in a neat, if confusing two-headed narrative. We were invited to believe that many piles of bricks were planted by Antifa, or that they were planted by provocateurs seeking to blame Antifa. As Huck Finn said: “You pays your money, and you takes your choice.”

Despite efforts to debunk and fact-check the brick story in order to bring the topic to a close, it instead was amplified and ubiquitous in right-wing and alternative blogospheres throughout the first weeks of June. Major media outlets of all political persuasions continued to dismiss the story as false through June 9 and it largely faded out as a talking point over the next few weeks. It is hard to take a serious interest in the story and be satisfied with the state of public opinion that resulted. The result was a deepening of the already growing distrust of major media outlets and an increasing of political polarization and confusion about the largest protests in United States history.




Conclusions

Our research revealed more about issues of media coverage than what really happened at these demonstrations, but that’s the mission of MetaNews. Our analysis should help you reach a verdict based on the weight of the evidence, although in this case that verdict might be one offered in the Scottish legal system: Not Proven.

Overall, it appears from local news coverage and social media that both BLM protesters and metropolitan police spokespersons had strong reasons to claim (based on firsthand experience) that there were agent provocateurs at the protests. However, this claim was not kept distinct in most news coverage from the claim that certain specific pallets of bricks were planted. The two claims became illogically entangled for the entire news cycle. Some wrote as if fact checking specific cases of bricks was proof that all claims about agent provocateurs were also false. Others wrote as if the presence of any bricks near a protest was proof that agent provocateurs were involved everywhere.

Right leaning outlets, including Fox News (which has the most reach of any single outlet in our sample), focused on the clearly visible violence and property damage at the protests. This was well documented by the many citizen journalists with phones at the protests. There were few explanations for the causes of the violence. Viral videos of apparently planted bricks had circulated. Major media outlets attempted to provide explanations that made sense of these events, but these outlets continued to amplify false claims and continued to broadcast footage after these had been debunked. These warrantless claims were used to insinuate plots about leftist radicals. Seeking explanations for the escalating violence at the protest is reasonable; jumping to conclusions and propagating misinformation is not.

The left also began to seek frame control around the protests, as issues of race and social justice were becoming overshadowed by rioting and violence. While focusing on responsible fact-checking around the bricks, most major media outlets avoided the deeper issues on the minds of both peaceful protesters and police. Indeed, as left-leaning media came to defend the false accusations made against Antifa, arguments came to assume the logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” This is not always the case. Prior tensions and conflicts between Antifa, protest movements, and police forces go back to the early days of the BLM movement in 2013. The specter of “anarchists” flashed again across the public imagination, as attempts by the left to control the frame ended up placing Antifa in the cross hairs of public attention.





“The #baitbricks narrative took two separate tracks within hours of emerging, allowing no room for considered judgment of the various claims and perspectives.”

We saw that polarization comes from the emergence of standard, predictable competing narratives. The #baitbricks narrative took two separate tracks within hours of emerging, allowing no room for considered judgment of the various claims and perspectives. There was no coherent public conversion about the protests (and subsequent riots and related violence). Instead, the public was subject to a competition for frame control that oscillated between ungrounded insinuations of conspiracy and simplistic debunking and fact-checking. We also saw that fact-checking is limited in its ability to provide evidence against a particular argument and in some cases can distract from deeper issues. The default approach of major left-leaning and center left media outlets was to dismiss, debunk, and fact-check “right wing conspiracies.” The result was that the “voices from the streets,” such as protestors and police, were not adequately reflected. Public understanding was not served, but actually worsened by the many rounds of decontextualized, rapid-fire, and simplistic fact-checking.

This news cycle shows how important it is to understand the speed at which certain kinds of questions can be answered, and how this is essential for evaluating the quality of a news cycle and one’s own individual opinion formation. There are strong incentives to make sense of complex situations fast, and the role of motivations and emotion cannot be overestimated. Motivated reasoning can lead arguments that conflate claims in ways that mislead, which is a problem for the media at large. Lack of attention to these dynamics leads to the emergence of competing unverifiable claims, polarized along political lines, resulting in a situation of narrative deadlock in which irreconcilable views become entrenched.

However, it is possible to act in ways that decrease polarization. The media should explicitly differentiate, gauge, and discuss the plausibility of claims when presenting them. As complexity and polarization increases it becomes more important to show as much data as you can that is relevant, to orient to facts and how they can be investigated and framed, and to know when fact-checking is not enough. When narrowing focus, clarify what is important and essential to know, justify and explain why one story is being told rather than another. Polarization decreases to the extent that public culture is characterized by intelligent voices that are earnestly seeking out and articulating the views of all relevant groups as part of leading to understanding.



Footnotes

  1. https://twitter.com/LeighTauss/status/1267085577419186178?s=20

  2. See for example this widely shared footage of “umbrella man” who used a hammer to break windows. https://www.startribune.com/police-umbrella-man-was-a-white-supremacist-trying-to-incite-floyd-rioting/571932272/

  3. https://twitter.com/DD8122/status/1266758761177321474?s=20

  4. “Police Chief Renee Hall: ‘All Of A Sudden Bricks Started Hitting Our Squad Car,’” CBSDFW.COM/CBS 11, circa May 30, 2020.

  5. “Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall At George Floyd Protest: ‘All Of A Sudden Bricks Started Hitting Our Squad Car,’” CBSDFW.COM/CBS 11, May 30, 2020

  6. https://twitter.com/reubengotsoul/status/1266745230625255424?s=20

  7. Ibid.

  8. https://twitter.com/64hunblock/status/1266904454420475907?s=20; Robert Mackey, “White House Forced to Retract Claim Viral Videos Prove Antifa Is Plotting Violence,” The Intercept, June 4, 2020

  9. See Siegel, “Our Deathwish.” “New York’s progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio...seemed to share the assessment coming from the White House, when he claimed to have evidence that the violence and destruction in New York City was the fault of anarchists. The NYPD’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, John Miller, said there had been ‘a pretty dramatic escalation in terms of rhetoric and propaganda from these extremist entities’ and specifically mentioned efforts by far-right and neo-Nazi groups to create ‘more disorder, more violence, more mayhem.’”

  10. See, for example, Tom Winter and Andrew Blankstein, “Police describe anarchists' extensive prep for violence, including 'bicycle scouts',” NBC News, May 31, 2020 and Jonathan Turley, “Antifa and anarchists have hijacked Floyd protests but left won't admit it,” The Hill, June 2, 2020.

  11. Bob Price and Lana Shadwick, “Watch: Piles of Bricks Showing Up in Downtown Dallas During Protest,” Breitbart, May 31, 2020.

  12. Edmund DeMarche, “Random Piles of Bricks Reported at George Floyd Protests,” Fox News, June 1, 2020.

  13. “More Bricks Appear In Advance Of Monday Demonstrations In Baltimore, Texas,” Zero Hedge, June 1, 2020.

  14. “Shocking Evidence Suggests Coordinated Effort To Orchestrate An Uprising Inside The United States,” Zero Hedge, June 2, 2020, reprinted from Michael Snyder, “Shocking Evidence That Indicates That Somebody Is Trying To Orchestrate An Internal Uprising Inside The United States,” TheMostImportantNews.com, June 1, 2020.

  15. Inside Edition is watched by a lot of non-political people and often plays viral video clips, but mediabiasfactcheck.com says it has a moderately liberal bias and a high rate of factual accuracy, though the facts are reported in an extremely emotional manner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_8ONQZ9VPs&feature=youtu.be

  16. 16. Mackey, “White House Forced to Retract Claim Viral Videos Prove Antifa Is Plotting Violence.”

  17. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/live-blog/2020-06-02-nationwide-protests-over-george-floyd-death-live-n1221821/ncrd1222216#blogHeader

  18. Beatrice Dupuy, “Bricks in Frisco, Texas, Left for Construction, Not Protest,” AP NEWS, June 1, 2020.

  19. Op. cit.

  20. Meghan Roos, “Missouri Police Discover Large Piles of Bricks, Rocks ‘to Be Used during Riot’ amid George Floyd Protest,” Newsweek, June 1, 2020. The tweet that sparked the call read “We have learned of & discovered stashes of bricks and rocks in & around the Plaza and Westport to be used during a riot. If you see anything like this, you can text 911 and let us know so we can remove them. This keeps everyone safe and allows your voice to continue to be heard.” This suggests they wanted to remove all such material, as a precautionary measure, regardless of the story behind it. It is worth pausing to point out the jarring mismatch between headline and content of the Newsweek article. The headline “Missouri Police Discover Large Piles of Bricks, Rocks ‘to Be Used during Riot’ amid George Floyd Protest,” gave no sign that the article was intended to debunk these claims. This raises a more general issue within the digital news media landscape. The “attention economy” drives media outlets towards practices that both increase polarization and decrease trust in the integrity of their own products, incentivizing “clicks” and “views” over honest clear reporting.

  21. https://twitter.com/kcpolice/status/1267197965380333568?s=20

  22. Winter and Blankstein, “Police describe anarchists' extensive prep for violence, including 'bicycle scouts.”

  23. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/live-blog/2020-06-02-nationwide-protests-over-george-floyd-death-live-n1221821/ncrd1222216#blogHeader

  24. Craig Silverman, “People Say Pallets Of Bricks Are Showing Up Near Protests All Over The U.S.. The Truth Is More Complicated,” Buzzfeed News, June 2, 2020 (Buzzfeed updated this piece on June 5, and may have done so several times, but does not identify the updates).

  25. QAnon followers tend to see their opponent as the American “establishment,” so focusing on American financial elites trying to destabilize the country to preserve power is their focus, rather than say their blaming progressive activist movements. Silverman, “People Say Pallets Of Bricks Are Showing Up Near Protests All Over The U.S.. The Truth Is More Complicated.”

  26. Ahmad, “Bellingcat and How Open Source Reinvented Investigative Journalism.'

  27. Merlan, “NYPD Claims ‘Looters’ Put Bricks at a Brooklyn Corner Miles From Any Protest.”

  28. As Trump blames antifa, protest records show scant evidence,” Associated Press, June 6, 2020.

  29. “DoJ Launches Investigation As More Evidence Emerges That Someone Is Orchestrating The Violent Riots,” Zero Hedge, June 4, 2020.

  30. Quoted in Daily Beast, June 11, 2020.

  31. Op. Cit., June 11, 2020.

  32. Alexander Mallin, “Antifa, ‘foreign Actors’ Involved in Sowing Unrest and Violence: AG Barr,” ABC13 Houston, June 4, 2020. “…to date the DoJ has not provided direct evidence of widespread involvement of Antifa followers in the violence seen thus far across the country . . . [but] announced the arrest of three men connected to the far-right 'Boogaloo' movement who were allegedly plotting to incite violence at protests in Las Vegas . . . [Barr said] ‘There are some groups that don't have a particular ideology, other than anarchy and there's some groups that want to bring about a civil war — the 'Boogaloo' group that has been on the margin of this as well trying to exacerbate the violence … So we are dealing with as I say a witch's brew of a lot of different extremist organizations.’", June 11, 2020.