No proof of ‘out-of-town looters’ coming to Verde Valley

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With protests that are sometimes violent and spread across the country and harsh police raids in response, the entire nation is on high alert.

On Sunday May 31, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey imposed a nationwide curfew at 8 p.m. Serious protests and riots have been reported in some of the state’s major cities.

So far, nothing has happened in the Verde Valley and local law enforcement agencies are not strictly enforcing the curfew. But that hasn’t stopped worrying about looters coming to the normally quiet, rural area.

“I don’t know if that’s true or not, but my roommate told me there is a protest for Cottonwood and they will attack Walmart too. Has anyone else heard of it? “reads a post dated Tuesday, June 2nd, in a local bulletin board group on Facebook.” I’m not trying to start anything [sic] Just a rumor I heard that I wanted to know if anyone else heard anything. “

There was no protest in Cottonwood on Tuesday. There was also no attack on Walmart. Reports that the Walmart had boarded up its windows to block looters were also false.

“We had officials in the Walmart area yesterday based on information we received that potentially violent protesters would be at the location at the time,” said Sgt. Chad Sinn, of the Cottonwood Police Department, on Wednesday April 3rd June, in an email: “It was totally precautionary and there was ultimately no activity.”

“It appears that some of our agencies in North AZ have noticed social media posts suggesting this. It was all deliberate disinformation, but the agencies are still investigating every post generated indicating threats of violence. “

The Walmart rumor wasn’t the only thing floating around. On Wednesday, Sedona police staked out the parking lots for the Harkins movie theater based on another rumor of possible violence. You didn’t find any.

Sedona Deputy Mayor John Martinez said he received the rumor via email from a friend and checked it, but only found the normal parking lot.

“I said you know, I’ll stop by Harkins’ place to see what’s there,” Martinez said. Since there was nothing I decided to go home. “

“The internet rumors of violent groups descending on Sedona are unfounded,” Sedona police chief Charles Husted wrote in an email. “We have confirmed that there are socially conscious young people and adults in our region who have organized peaceful rallies to share their message with others.”

A screenshot of a tweet from an account called “ANTIFA America” ​​made the rounds on Facebook and other social media sites with the message:

The picture of one of the fake accounts provided by Twitter that Twitter has since removed. The red boxes block explosives in the original message.

The reason the tweet is distributed as a screenshot with no link to the original tweet is because Twitter deleted it on Monday and banned the @ANTIFA_US account, not only to incite violence, but also to violate its platform tampering guidelines and Violating Spam Policies by creating a fake account as another.

“This account violated our tampering and spam platform guidelines, particularly creating fake accounts,” a Twitter spokesperson wrote in an email. “We took action after the account posted a tweet inciting violence and violating Twitter rules.”

The Twitter spokesman went on to say that the account was linked to the fringe group Identity Evropa and that Twitter had previously taken action on the group’s fake accounts, which typically focused on “hateful behavior” and mostly focused on racial issues Religion and sexual life focused orientation. “

“Identity Evropa is a white nationalist group that attended the Unite the Right white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia,” wrote Jared Holt, an investigative reporter at Right Wing Watch who investigates marginalized groups, in an email . “The group began calling itself the American Identity Movement after anti-fascists infiltrated and published chat transcripts of the group, which resulted in many members and key organizers being publicly identified as bigots. The group has repeatedly inflated the kind of threats anti-fascists pose to hate groups like theirs in hopes that Republican-centered media and political figures will see their struggles as a common cause. “

An FBI document from The Nation magazine reads, “Based on CHS [confidential human source, aka informants] The FBI WFO has no information to indicate any involvement / presence of Antifa. “, The open source / social media partner engagement and the connection.”

Although people wearing only black and destroying property have been videotaped in large cities, similar to the tactics used by anti-fascist activists in the past, no direct link has been found between the riots and antifa. Other anarchist and leftist groups besides Antifa have dressed in this fashion and similarly destroyed property in other contexts.

So far, the vast majority of property destruction has been confined to large cities and usually coincides with a large-scale protest related to the police murder of black people, including George Floyd, Breanna Taylor and Dion Johnson. There are no reports of looting in small towns unrelated to protest.

“Antifascist activists have no central leadership and act independently on the local and hyperlocal level,” said Holt. “Such groups are unlikely to target random communities, and even less likely to organize transportation to areas that are causing problems. In addition, anti-fascist protesters often stand in direct opposition to forces and groups they believe are fascist, bigoted, or violent – non-randomized communities. “

While the Verde Valley has remained calm during the upheaval across the country, local law enforcement agencies continue to monitor and respond to these rumors as a precautionary measure, just in case.

“Social media posts that indicate violent or destructive intent have been and are taken very seriously and fully investigated,” wrote the Cottonwood Police Department in a press release. “Please note that targeted disinformation efforts have been made locally and across the country to create fear and unrest. Don’t fall for it. “

A group of local Sedona high school students and teenagers, organized by Sedona Red Rock High School graduate Monserrah Arizmendi, organized a rally of the Black on three of the four corners of State Route 89A and Coffee on the afternoon of June 4th Lives Matter Pot Drive / Sunset Drive.

“I think it’s important to raise awareness, especially in a community like ours, because I feel like everyone is ignoring the problem they are not separate from. And raising awareness is the best way to solve a problem that is not just in people’s minds but in an entire community, ”said Arizmendi. “Although people say that standing out here is useless, I don’t think that, as I said, it makes other people aware and that it is more important to come together than to stand apart.”

David Jolkovski / Larson Newspapers
Teenagers from the Sedona area led by Monserrah Arizmendi, a 2020 Sedona Red Rock High School graduate, hold signs at a rally on State Route 89A and Sunset Drive on Thursday, June 4.

Another local rally is scheduled for Friday, June 5th, 9am to 12pm on the same corner. When announcing the rally, the organizer wrote: “It would be wonderful to report on a peaceful demonstration. We also invited the police and wanted to let them know so that they don’t feel assaulted. ”

The rally is also linked to a Facebook event listing the same details.

Jon Hecht can be reached at 282-7795 or by email at jhecht@larsonnewspapers.com

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