Police have identified the so-called “umbrella man” who set off a chain reaction that led to days of rioting and looting during Minneapolis protests against George Floyd’s killing, reports The Star Tribune.
A masked man who was seen in a viral video smashing the windows of a south Minneapolis AutoZone store has been identified as a 32-year-old white supremacist associated with the biker gangs Aryan Cowboys and Hell’s Angels, but his name was not released because he has not yet been charged.
A Minneapolis police arson investigator said the man’s actions at the AutoZone on East Lake Street set off a chain reaction that led to days of looting and rioting. The building he vandalized was later burned to the ground.
“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 wrote in a search warrant affidavit filed in court this week. “Until the actions of the person your affiant has been calling ‘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.”
Police were able to identify the suspect thanks to a tip that came via email last week, Christensen said.
The masked man intended to incite further racial tension in the demonstrations that had remained largely peaceful until he carried out his act of vandalism. At least two people died in the subsequent riots, which eventually spread as far as north Minneapolis and South St. Paul, and caused an estimated $500 million in damage.
A livestream video from May 27, two days after Floyd’s death, showed the man walking along the front of the former site of Auto Zone store, breaking out its windows with a 4-pound sledgehammer, prompting some peaceful protesters to confront him and ask him to stop.
One protester, seen wearing a pink shirt in the video, is seen following the suspect around the rear of the building and demanding to know who he was.
Police say, the man, clad in black head-to-toe and carrying a black umbrella, had spray painted “free (expletive) for everyone zone” on the double front doors prior to the confrontation.
Christensen wrote in the affidavit that she watched “innumerable hours” of videos on social media platforms like Tik Tok, Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube to try to identify the suspect, to no avail. Investigators finally caught a break when a tipster e-mailed the Minneapolis Police Department identifying the man as a member of the Hell’s Angels biker gang who “wanted to sow discord and racial unrest by breaking out the windows and writing what he did on the double red doors,” the affidavit said.
A subsequent investigation revealed that the man was also an associate of the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood, a small white supremacist prison and street gang based primarily in Minnesota and Kentucky. Several of its members were present at the Stillwater incident.