D.C. prosecutors Tuesday for the first time alleged that more than 200 protesters arrested during the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Trump used so-called “black bloc” tactics, with participants setting out to cause violence and attempting to disguise their identities by covering their faces with masks and scarves.
The allegations came as prosecutors announced a superseding indictment against 214 people who face a charge of felony rioting. One of those people also was charged with assaulting police officers. Others were linked to specific damage, including the torching of a limousine and smashed windows at a McDonald’s restaurant and a Starbucks coffee shop.
The “black bloc” tactics have been used for decades across Europe and, more recently, in the United States. They were used during protests in Portland, Ore., in November and at the University of California at Berkeley this month.
D.C. prosecutors said the Inauguration Day rioters wore black or dark-colored clothes, including scarves, ski masks and gas masks, to “conceal their identities in an effort to prevent law enforcement from being able to identify the individual perpetrators of violence or destruction.”
According to the indictment, some protesters were armed with hammers, crowbars, bricks, rocks, flares, firecrackers and other explosive devices. The group, prosecutors said in the indictment, “cheered and celebrated the violence and destruction.”
Of the 231 people arrested during the inauguration, 214 have been indicted and connected to the “black bloc” tactics. Prosecutors dropped charges against 16 people, including some journalists who were covering the chaotic scene.The investigation is ongoing.
Felony rioting carries a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Of those arrested, Dane Powell, 31, of Largo, Fla., faces the most serious charges, including felony rioting and assault on three police officers. He also faces two counts of destruction of property in connection with the Starbucks and McDonald’s vandalism.
A second person, Jashua Barnak, 29, of Wilmington, N.C., also known as Joshua Barnak, was indicted on two counts of destruction of property, involving damage to the limousine and to Starbucks.
D.C. police have stressed that most people who demonstrated on Inauguration Day did so peacefully.
Black-bloc activists often infiltrate calm demonstrations “as a way to conceal themselves while committing their acts of vandalism,” David Gomez, a former senior FBI counterterrorism official in Seattle, where there have been high-profile encounters with such groups, said in an interview last year. “They’re taking advantage of the legitimate protesters to destroy things and emphasize their anarchist roots.”
Gomez said the group often strategically targets businesses during demonstrations.
“They like to destroy or damage businesses that reflect their view of the world order,” he said.
At Berkeley this month, swarms of demonstrators shut down a planned speech by the right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos. About 1,500 people had showed up to demonstrate against the event when a black-clad mob of a few dozen started breaking windows and setting fires on the campus.
Mark Berman contributed to this report.