Footage emerged of the white man, dressed all in black, and in gloves and boots, calmly smashing the windows of an auto parts store with a large hammer.
His face is obscured by an expensive-looking gas mask and he is also holding an open black umbrella — although it was not raining. Twitter quickly christened him 'Umbrella Man'.
The strange choice of clothes for a warm day, combined with the high quality gas mask, raised suspicions. He also seemed unwilling to engage with other protesters.
As he methodically smashes the windows of the Minneapolis branch of AutoZone, video shows that he is confronted by two people, apparently trying to stop him, before he turns and walks quickly away.
— J-Mo. 🇵🇷🏳️🌈 (@javimorillo)May 28, 2020
A small group follows him and he tries to snatch the phone of the person filming. Someone yells: "Are you a f***ing cop?"
Twitter users have accused him of being everything from an undercover police officer, to part of Antifa, to a white supremacist, or an agent provocateur there to incite violence that would ultimately trigger a widespread riot. The incident was recorded before fires were started.
This man doesn’t look like any civil rights protestor I have ever seen. Looks like a provocateur. Can anyone ID him? “Suspicious Man Breaks Window & Starts Minneapolis Riots” - YouTube https://t.co/e1lNAabWcb— Keith Ellison (@keithellison)May 28, 2020
Minnesota’s attorney general Keith Ellison even chimed in, tweeting: “This man doesn’t look like any civil rights protester I have ever seen. Looks like a provocateur. Can anyone ID him?”
The umbrella also caused confusion. Why did he have it at all and why was it open? To mark him out to his counterparts? To help protect his identity? Neither of those seem to fit. Another suggestion was that it was to protect him from pepper spray or security cameras in the same ways as the 2014 Hong Kong umbrella protesters.
Others want to know who the second man is. Dubbed “pink pizza guy” on Twitter, there is debate as to whether he is confronting umbrella man, then trailing him, or if he knows him. They appear in other footage together.
So we also want to be perfectly clear about this: The person in the video is not our officer.— Saint Paul Police Department (@sppdmn)May 29, 2020
A popular theory that went viral identified a specific police officer from neighbouring St Paul by name, based on screenshots of a series of text messages purportedly from a former partner.
The St Paul Police Department acted to curb speculation and addressed the rumour in a series of tweets — also telling Heavy that the officer in question had an alibi and was on duty.
“We are aware of the social media post that erroneously identifies one of our officers as the person caught on video breaking windows in Minneapolis,” the tweet reads. “We've seen it. We've looked into it. And it's false.”
Help the Minnesota AG @keithellison identify the agent provocateur aka #UmbrellaMan
Hey Minnesotans, were you near the Autozone on 5/27 around 7:00 PM? Check your phones for videos and photos of the umbrella man. https://t.co/vuisHdaHIG— Kerry (@kshea32)May 29, 2020
It continues: “We don't know who that person is, but we hope he's identified and held accountable for his actions.”
The police statement was met with scepticism and accusations that the department was protecting the officer.
The identity of 'umbrella man' continues to be a subject of speculation and rumour.