WASHINGTON — In an interview with Fox News on Wednesday, Customs and Border Protection chief Mark Morgan said that "groups like Antifa" are sending organized protestors by plane to cities around the country to incite violence.
“That's a typical tactic of some of these groups like Antifa,” said Morgan. “They will fly in people from outside the city, outside the state to go in, to cause violence … That's being done in cities across this country."
But when asked by NBC News to provide examples of groups sending protestors by plane to cause violence, a CBP spokesman said there was no information to support Acting Commissioner Morgan’s claim. Instead, the spokesman said Morgan was referring generally to the fact that many protestors at protests around the country are from out of state.
More than once, President Donald Trump has claimed that individuals wearing dark uniforms have been coordinating their efforts to fly into cities to incite violence at protests.
"We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend and in the plane it was almost completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms with gear and this and that. They’re on a plane,” Trump told Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Monday.
When Ingraham pushed Trump for more details, he said, “I’ll tell you sometime, but it’s under investigation right now, but they came from a certain city, and this person was coming to the Republican National Convention, and there were like seven people on the plane like this person, and then a lot of people were on the plane to do big damage.”
On Wednesday, Fox News host John Roberts asked Morgan about Trump's claim, and Morgan responded with his statement about “groups like Antifa.”
"So I don't have any information with respect to that specific incident,” Morgan said. “But John, what I can say is, that's a typical tactic of some of these groups like Antifa, for example. They will fly in people from outside the city, outside the state to go in, to cause violence, to raise chaos. And then when the police respond, then they claim you know, that they're fascist. That's a part of their tactics and modus operandi that they do. So that's not uncommon. That's being done in cities across this country."
The CBP spokesman also pointed to arrests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake as evidence that protestors are coming from out of state.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported Monday that Kenosha police said that 175 people had been arrested during protests over the shooting. Of those arrested, 73 were from Kenosha. Most of the rest were from Wisconsin, according to the report, while 30 were from Illinois and a few others were from other states. Kenosha, a city of 100,000, is 33 miles from downtown Milwaukee, five miles from the Illinois border, and 65 miles from Chicago.
Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, which is 21 miles from Kenosha, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder for the shooting deaths of two protestors.
NBC News reported Tuesday that Trump’s anecdote about a plane “loaded with thugs” was very similar to a viral Facebook rumor from June warning that a group of a dozen black-clad men from Seattle, including one with an Antifa tattoo, had gotten off a plane in Idaho. One version of the rumor said a local sheriff’s office had confirmed the arrival of the men. The sheriff’s office then released a statement saying the viral rumor was “false information.”
Out-of-state protesters are common, especially at national demonstrations in Washington such as civil rights and anti-abortion rallies.
Chuck Rosenberg, an NBC News analyst who is a former federal prosecutor and ex-chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said protesters who travel are not inherently violent.
“We have long enjoyed the rights to assemble, travel, march and protest. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what [Morgan is] asserting is ludicrous. And the burden shifts to them to prove it.”