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Texas governor blames out-of-staters for ‘violent extremists’ during George Floyd protests

Gov. Greg Abbott, left, and Dennis Bonnen, right. (Jay Janner/Austin-American Stateman/TNS)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday that state officials were working with federal authorities to investigate evidence that out-of-state groups were taking advantage of George Floyd protests, but Department of Public Safety director Steve McCraw had limited specifics about such activity.

McGraw said evidence existed that organized groups from outside Texas, including members of antifa and anarchists, had sought to create trouble during peaceful protests. A list exists of potential out-of-state suspects, but McGraw did not provide details on investigations. Antifa, short for “anti-fascist,” is a loosely organized movement of far-left groups that oppose neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations.

“There is no question of the involvement of violent extremists who are trying to exploit these (protests),” McGraw said.

These groups may have been behind looting and other “violent” acts that have taken place alongside peaceful protests in some parts of the state, McGraw said.

The vast majority of protesters are doing so lawfully, Abbott said, calling the death of George Floyd a “horrific act of police brutality.” Floyd died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

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Tuesday’s comments regarding out-of-state groups influencing Texas protests came after the governor and McGraw met with Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, Police Chief Ed Kruas and Dallas Mayor Erik Johnson and Police Chief Reneé Hall at Dallas City Hall. The conversation regarded police response to the protests over Floyd’s death.

Kraus said Monday about 25 of 50 protesters arrested Sunday were from outside Fort Worth. Of the 42 booked in the Tarrant County Jail on riot charges, 19 were from Fort Worth and 18 were from its suburbs. Only two were from outside the Metroplex.

Demonstrations in Fort Worth have largely been peaceful with the exception of a Sunday standoff on the West 7th Street bridge.

Downtown rallies on Friday and Saturday night ended without incident. On Monday, a rally ended after the Fort Worth’s 8 p.m. curfew when Kruas and other officers knelt and prayed with protesters.

This was in stark contrast to Sunday, when police blocked a peaceful march from heading west of downtown to the Cultural District. After a three-hour standoff on the bridge, officers used smoke and flash bombs to try dispersing the crowd. Later tear gas was deployed. Kraus said the gas was deployed after officers were hit with water bottles, ice and rocks.

Kraus said during Tuesday’s press conference that he did not plan to call Texas National Guard troops to Fort Worth, saying he had confidence in his officers who are “embedded in the community.”

President Donald Trump earlier this week threatened to use military force to subdue protesters, but Abbott said he would not support federal troops policing local protests.

“Texans can take care of Texans,” he said.

Abbott said he expected state lawmakers to begin discussing criminal justice reform measures before the next legislative session. Pressed for details about potential reform, the governor said he wanted to remain open to all ideas and did not provide a specific outline of changes he’d like to see. Abbott deferred to chiefs when asked if the bar allowing police to use deadly force should be raised. McGraw said lethal force is a last resort.

Abbott mentioned efforts to reform criminal justice in Texas, including the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission which is charged with reviewing cases where innocent defendants may have been charged.

“Texas is recognized as a national leader in criminal reform,” he said.

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© 2020 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram