The judge was incredulous as a federal prosecutor pushed to keep a 25-year-old man behind bars until his trial on a charge of having a Molotov cocktail at a protest in May. The judge said he couldn’t understand how the government could even argue that the man — who had never previously been in trouble with the law, wasn’t a member of violent groups and lived with his parents in a suburb outside Austin, Texas — was too dangerous to be released.
The prosecutor pressed his federal case anyway, defending the government’s effort to keep the man locked up even as prisons across the U.S. were holding off on taking in new inmates because of increasing virus cases.
The Department of Justice has pushed aggressive tactics against those it has charged in the civil unrest over racism. They have been portrayed by President Donald Trump as members of violent left-wing radical groups, and used by him in an effort to scare white, suburban voters into reelecting him.
But an Associated Press review of thousands of pages of court documents from the more than 300 federal arrests made nationwide shows that most defendants look more like regular citizens caught up in the moment. Very few appear to be affiliated with any highly organized extremist groups, and many are young suburban adults with little criminal history, from the very neighborhoods Trump is vowing to protect.
Not to say there hasn’t been violence. Police cars have been set on fire. Officers have been injured and blinded. Windows have been smashed, stores looted, businesses destroyed.
Some of those facing charges undoubtedly share far-left and anti-government views. Some have criminal records and were illegally carrying weapons. Others came to the protests from out of state. Some are accused of using the unrest as an opportunity to steal or create havoc.
But many have had no previous run-ins with the law and no apparent ties to antifa, the umbrella term for leftist militant groups that Trump has said he wants to declare part of a terrorist organization.