The nation’s chief law enforcement official said adversaries are using digital means to increase unrest in the United States.
Attorney General William Barr said Thursday foreign actors and hackers are “playing all sides to exacerbate” violence in protests occurring across the country in response to the death of unarmed black man George Floyd by police in Minnesota May 25.
Barr, citing evidence collected by the Justice Department, FBI and other federal agencies, said foreign hackers are using civil unrest in the United States to “sow discord,” perpetuate disinformation and advance their nations’ geopolitical agendas.
“[Misinformation] is constant,” Barr said at a press conference with several of the nation’s top law enforcement officials. “We have evidence that some of the foreign hackers and groups that are associated with foreign governments are focused in on this situation.”
Barr did not disclose what nations foreign hackers were affiliated with. However, Barr’s remarks follow reports of increased social media activity from state-backed accounts in Russia and China following Floyd’s death.
FBI Director Christopher Wray added that foreign actors are using media reports “as a bullhorn to gin up more activity.”
Barr said intelligence indicated “extremist agitators,” including antifa—referring to far-left-leaning, anti-fascist groups—were “hijacking the protests to pursue their own separate and violent agenda. Barr did not elaborate further on what intelligence DOJ has collected. Congress, however, is requesting specific intelligence and other information regarding who and what groups are instigating violence, citing media reports that suggest far-right extremists are stoking violence in protests.
In the week since Floyd’s death, Barr said more than 50 people have been arrested on federal charges in connection with violence, looting, vandalism and other charges. More than a half-dozen federal agencies, including the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Marshals Service; and Bureau of Prisons are coordinating the federal protest response with the Defense and Homeland Security departments in Washington, D.C. alone.