At the end of May, the Twin Cities erupted into a chaos that’s hard to comprehend, even for someone who lived through it. Everything shut down. Fires erupted all over Saint Paul and Minneapolis. For a time, the Minneapolis Police Department seemed to have fled the city, and armored vehicles with the National Guard were parked outside shopping centers. Residents were told to hose down the sides of their homes.
The event which kicked off the chaos was the killing of George Floyd, after he had been accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill. Social unrest increased when the public discovered that the main officer involved had a number of complaints filed against him which had not resulted in any disciplinary action.
Looking back, I felt relief when the National Guard came in, even if I worried that aggressive tactics might escalate, rather than diminish, violence. It was a delicate situation. Hundreds of businesses were damaged or destroyed. I went to help clean up on lake street the morning after a night of fires, and there were a number of large pits in the ground where buildings had once stood.
In the midst of social unrest, where the killing of George Floyd had erupted racial tensions and anxieties within our black communities, what we desperately needed were leaders who would bring peace, help to quell anxieties, and urge compassion and reconciliation.
Instead, the response by our President increased my fears for my physical safety. In the midst of protests and riots initiated by police brutality all around me, I had to deal with increased anxiety when our President tweeted a quote by a former officer glorifying police brutality:
I had to worry about our President asking for “the shooting to start” in my city. I really want my family and friends to understand: I was living in a state of chaos, and our President’s words made me afraid. I’d rather he had said nothing. It’s possible he didn’t understand the context for his words. But he should be accountable for them nonetheless. A time of chaos is not a time to speak carelessly. I don’t want law enforcement to open fire in our streets because someone breaks into a Target.
I don’t necessarily oppose our President sending in the National Guard to help quell violence. Indeed, the National Guard seems to have helped for that period in the Twin Cities. However, the President should not have said what he said. He should have promoted peace and reconciliation through his social media, or not said anything at all.
Before 2016, I did not know who the Proud Boys were. I did not know who the Hells Angels or the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood were. White supremacy and white nationalism had largely been beneath the surface for me. I didn’t know that as part of the initiation for the Proud Boys, you declare, “I’m a proud Western chauvinist,” and you must get into a fight “for the cause.” The founder of the Proud Boys has said, “I want violence. I want punching in the face.” The Hells Angels, though not officially racist, has been known for racist activity. The founder of one Hells Angels chapters has said, “The club, as a whole, is not racist but we probably have enough racist members that no black guy is going to get in it,” and, “We don’t have no blacks.” The Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood was founded in the Minnesota prison system in 2013. It had grown partly out of the Aryan Brotherhood, a prison gang started in the 1960’s which initially focused on violence against non-whites and eventually expanded to focus on broader organized crime, even while focusing on “white power” as a central part of its culture.
This year, the Hells Angels and Aryan Cowboys gathered openly in Stillwater, about thirty minutes from where I live. A Muslim woman eating out in Stillwater at the time reported that one of the men came up to her and said, “We’re watching you.” Staff from the restaurant helped her to quickly move to a local hotel, which gave her and her daughter a place to stay after she experienced harassment. Photos from that day in Stillwater uncovered the beginning of the fires which had occurred in the Minneapolis riots.
The incident which kicked off the burning of buildings in Minneapolis several weeks before the Stillwater incident was the fire set to an Autozone on Lake Street. Two days after George Floyd was killed, Twin Cities businesses were largely unharmed, and confrontations were mostly between civilians and police. Looting had not occurred, and no fires had been started.
Two days after Floyd’s Killing, a masked man with an umbrella began smashing windows during the day at the Autozone, spray painting graffiti, and encouraging looting. In a video, some protestors approach him and ask him to stop. The video is widely circulated, and the Minneapolis police later stated that the actions of the masked man led to the arson of the Autozone, which kicked off the attacks on local businesses. President Trump attributed the violence to Antifa.
Eventually, the Minneapolis police discovered and shared that the man who initiated the violence was actually a member of the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood and the Hells Angels, and had been present at the incident in which the Muslim woman was harassed in Stillwater. While the protests had been initiated by residents in support of the black community, the riots on local businesses had been kicked off by a man supporting white supremacist ideology. (The FBI and Minneapolis Police Department have yet to confirm any violence tied to members of “Antifa.”)
Nonetheless, the President continued to only attack and focus on black organizations, and to encourage violence by our law enforcement.
Given what I’ve already seen, I worry about my physical safety under four more years of President Trump. Not only does he contribute to social anxiety in the midst of chaos and unrest. Even more, his actions encourage white supremacists groups to operate openly in my state. I know what these white supremacist groups are, because they are here. They are excited to be here. And they are excited to have our President. Feeling empowered by Trump’s words the recent presidential debate, the Proud Boys released a new logo with a quote by President Trump. They feel encouraged by everything our President says and does. They have come out into the open because of this presidency. Their voice is in the mainstream because of this presidency.
These are organizations that started in the prison systems but became organized in the broader American society. They were founded upon doing violence against non-white people. They want to do more. And I am not white.
In the interest of my physical safety, and the safety of my friends, I am asking you: please do not vote for President Trump.
These are just some issues I’m personally trying to work through. I’m very open to your thoughts.
More thoughts on the election:
- Why President Trump isn’t getting my pro-life vote
- Anti-racism and my pro-life vote
- Never before have I felt the President’s words could endanger my physical safety
- A Catholic on this election cycle
Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.