By KARMA ALLEN, ABC News
(MINNEAPOLIS) — A masked, umbrella-wielding man accused of helping incite riots and looting in the aftermath of George Floyd’s police-involved death has been identified as a member of a white supremacist group that aimed to stir racial tensions amid largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, according to police.
The 32-year-old, dubbed “Umbrella Man,” was captured in a viral video back in May wearing a black hooded outfit and a black gas mask as he smashed store windows with a sledgehammer and encouraged people to steal, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in court this week.
His actions quickly led to the first of several arson fires that police say transformed peaceful protests into local danger zones, the affidavit said. He’s also accused of spray painting the words “free s— for everyone zone” on the doors of an AutoZone before he allegedly smashed in the windows. The store was broken into and set on fire shortly after, the affidavit said.
“This was the first fire that set off a string of fires and looting throughout the precinct and the rest of the city,” Erika Christensen, a Minneapolis Police Department arson investigator, wrote in a search warrant affidavit filed in court this week. “Until the actions of … ‘Umbrella Man,’ the protests had been relatively peaceful.”
“The actions of this person created an atmosphere of hostility and tension. Your affiant believes that this individual’s sole aim was to incite violence,” she added.
Investigators said the suspect is associated with the Aryan Cowboys, which the warrant describes as a “known prison gang out of Minnesota and Kentucky.” The Anti-Defamation League lists the Aryan Cowboys as a white supremacist prison and street gang, although the group’s Facebook page claims it doesn’t care “about a person’s color.”
No charges had been filed as of Wednesday afternoon. The investigation is ongoing.
Christensen, the arson investigator, said police identified the suspect after an emailed tip last week. The tipster described the man as someone who “wanted to sow discord and racial unrest by breaking out the windows and writing what he did on the double red doors.”
Police did not reveal exactly how they corroborated the tip, but they said the man also was present during “an incident in Stillwater Minnesota where a Muslim woman was racially harassed by a group of motorcycle club members wearing Aryan Cowboy leather vests.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey warned residents of the possibility that white supremacists could be trying take advantage of increased racial tensions, but those claims were never proven.
“In the last few days, both our city and state law enforcement capacities have been overwhelmed by simple math — an overwhelming ratio of rioters that even our unified effort has been unable to push back,” Frey tweeted on May 30 as the state deployed the National Guard to help calm the streets. “We are now confronting white supremacists, members of organized crime, out of state instigators, and possibly even foreign actors [seeking] to destroy and destabilize our city and our region.”
Floyd’s death ignited waves of protests throughout Minnesota, the U.S. and eventually the world as cellphone video captured the 46-year-old Black man gasping his last breaths as a white Minneapolis police officer pinned his neck to the ground with his knee.
The four Minneapolis Police Department officers involved in the incident all were fired, arrested and charged within a week amid protests and calls from anti-police brutality advocates.
They all have pled not guilty.
ABC News’ Ahmad Hemingway contributed to this report.
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