Walz activates full National Guard against riots in the Twin Cities

By: - May 30, 2020 10:14 am

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said he is considering calling lawmakers back into special legislative session.

Minnesota officials said Saturday that Minneapolis is under an attack by cells of criminals from outside Minnesota who are attempting to destroy the city and its civic pillars.

Calling the mayhem “an organized attempt to destabilize civil society,” Gov. Tim Walz said he is mobilizing the full Minnesota National Guard for the first time since World War 2, while also consulting with the Pentagon on next steps.

Walz said Friday night’s destruction was “a mockery of pretending this is about George Floyd’s death or inequalities or historical traumas to our communities of color,” referring to the Black man killed after a Minneapolis Police officer put his knee into his neck for seven minutes. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has since been fired, arrested and charged.

Officials indicated a shifting situation since Wednesday, when peaceful demonstrations turned to looting and fires. Now, they said, the arson and resulting chaos is the result of outsiders with unknown political motives. Walz said roughly 80% of the troublemakers are from out-of-state.

Mayor Melvin Carter said that all the arrests related to the upheaval in St. Paul were of people from outside Minnesota. But a St. Paul Police spokesman said at least 12 of the 18 arrests were of Minnesotans.

Walz said they would be releasing names of those arrested and their political ties soon.

Who is ultimately deemed responsible for the widespread destruction of south Minneapolis and other parts of the city will have major political ramifications. A city under attack from outsiders would be viewed far more sympathetically than one badly damaged by its own residents.

The full mobilization of the Guard could bring an additional 1,700 soldiers and airmen into Minneapolis and St. Paul, said Gen. Jon Jensen of the Minnesota National Guard. Some 700 National Guard soldiers were on the streets Friday night, though largely out of sight, as businesses were looted and went up in flames.

Walz said the soldiers and first responders were shot at and bombarded with improvised explosive devices, calling the attackers a “highly evolved and tightly controlled group of folks.”

“For those Minnesotans who are wondering ‘Where are the fire trucks? Where are the police that are out there?’ The situation was so broad and the tactics were so bent on causing destruction that every single person we had mobilized last night … was engaged in that,” Walz said.

Many people of color, Native and immigrant residents and politicians last night said the National Guard, firefighters and police abandoned their neighborhoods to let them burn.

State Representative Hodan Hassan tweeted at Walz and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey at 10:30 p.m. “The city of Minneapolis has a responsibility to put out fires and protect its residents. The fire on Park Ave. is reaching a residential area and there is a gas station nearby. For our city’s leadership to say they won’t send a firetruck is irresponsible.”

A gas station at Park Avenue and Lake Street burned for more than an hour, threatening to engulf adjacent homes before fire trucks arrived with National Guard troops to protect them as they put out the flames.

Walz says large, previously planned protests Saturday — five days after a former Minneapolis police officer killed a handcuffed Black man by kneeling on his neck — will be an expression of the grief and loss of George Floyd.

“There will be legitimate exercising of First Amendment rights” and National Guard and law enforcement will protect them, Walz said.

Gatherings of more than 10 people are currently banned under an executive order aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. Injuries from the riots and protests threaten to overwhelm a hospital system that is already stretched at its seams.

Frey urged Minneapolis residents to stay home.

“If you have family members or friends who are even considering protesting, this is no longer about protesting … This is about violence, and we need to make sure that it stops,” Frey said.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter called on Minnesotans to show the same “togetherness” they showed early in the coronavirus pandemic by staying home.

“Right now, today, this week, we need to show that same sense of togetherness. We must show that same sense of unity,” Carter said. “We will not accept George Floyd’s death and we will not accept the destruction of our communities either.”

This story has been updated to correct information given by Mayor Melvin Carter. 

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.