Did white supremacists really orchestrate riots in Richmond? It’s complicated.

Did white supremacists really orchestrate riots in Richmond? It’s complicated.
Destructive protests in Richmond.

After a night of destructive protests in Richmond involving a torched dump truck, shattered windows, chemical agents and several arrests, Mayor Levar Stoney made a surprising claim.

White supremacists “marching under the banner of Black Lives Matter,” he said Sunday, had “spearheaded” the violence.

“Last night shows that the real hate comes from the racism that is still very much alive in our commonwealth,” Stoney said. “And some have used this moment to still express that hate.”

When asked to elaborate, Stoney deferred to Police Chief Gerald Smith, lingering at the lectern to say it was “certainly spoken of on social media outlets,” an apparent reference to the fact that a few armed white men in Hawaiian shirts — the outfit of the far-right, anti-government boogaloo movement — were spotted in the crowd and denounced by other marchers.

When Smith came up to speak, he said police had identified “some individuals that have been with the boogaloo boys,” as well as others involved in or influenced by the antifa movement, a loosely organized group of far-left activists.

The claim that racists had orchestrated what was ostensibly a pro-Black Lives Matter event quickly drew national attention, fueled partly by a headline posted by a Roanoke-area TV station that paraphrased the officials’ comments as: “Police: Richmond riots instigated by white supremacists disguised as Black Lives Matter.” 

Some saw it as confirmation that far-right infiltrators are trying to spark riots and racial unrest amid nationwide outrage over police brutality and the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Qasim Rashid, a Democratic candidate for Congress challenging U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, tweeted the headline and said: “I won’t hold my breath for Trump or the GOP to call out these white supremacist terrorists & apologize to BLM.”

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.