The Riots: Who were the rioters?

For Twin Cities residents, Saturday night was much better than the ones preceding it. The long delayed decision to deploy the National Guard in overwhelming numbers seems to have broken the back of the riots which have rocked Minneapolis and St. Paul this last week.

Many questions will be asked, not only about the riots, but about the incident which they pushed off the top of the news: the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. These questions will focus on the response of state and local authorities and Minnesotans themselves. They will focus on who suffered. They will focus on policing and process. But one of the first questions regarding the riots ought to be ‘Who were the rioters?’

The Out-of-Towners?

On Saturday morning, Gov. Walz said:

I think our best estimate of what we heard are about 20 percent are Minnesotans, and 80 percent are outside.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said:

I want to be very, very clear…The people that are doing this are not Minneapolis residents. They are coming in largely from outside of this city, outside of the region, to prey on everything we have built over the last several decades.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said:

Every single person we arrested last night I’m told was from out of state.

On the available evidence, all of these statements were false.

Looking at the data for Minneapolis from Friday night and Saturday morning, Fox 9 reported:

The overwhelming majority of people arrested in connection with the Minneapolis unrest have Minnesota addresses, a search of the online Hennepin County Jail log shows.

Of the 45 people arrested for rioting, unlawful assembly, stolen property, burglary or robbery on May 29 and May 30 so far, 38 had Minnesota addresses, according to publicly available jail records reviewed by FOX 9.

That is 84%.

It was a similar pattern on the night of May 30th/31st. Of 57 bookings in Hennepin County (after curfew and excluding seemingly unrelated things like domestic violence, drug arrests), 47 – 82% – were Minnesotans with just 10 – 18% – coming from out of state.

St. Paul saw much the same. An analysis of the arrest records shows that, of the 18 people arrested in St. Paul between Thursday and Saturday morning, 12 – 67% – were from Minnesota.

These statements – quickly made – were quickly retracted. Later on Saturday, Mayor Carter admitted that his earlier claims had been inaccurate. When asked, on Sunday, about his earlier claim that the vast majority of agitators from out of town, Gov. Walz said that he wanted it to be true.

This is not to say that there were not rioters from out of Minnesota, there certainly were. And they may well have been present in greater proportion than the arrest records suggest – it might not be a representative sample and those arrested might have given false information.

But the bulk of this violence appears to have been homegrown, no matter what Gov. Walz might want to think. Wishful thinking is a terrible basis for dealing with civil unrest.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.