A masked man who was seen in a viral video smashing the windows of a south Minneapolis auto parts store during the George Floyd protests, earning him the moniker “Umbrella Man,” is suspected to be a member of the Hell’s Angels biker gang seeking to incite racial tension in a demonstration that until then had been peaceful, police said.
A Minneapolis police arson investigator said the man’s actions at the AutoZone on East Lake Street set off a chain reaction that led to days of looting and rioting. The building was later burned to the ground.
“This was the first fire that set off a string of fires and looting throughout the precinct and the rest of the city,” Erika Christensen wrote in a search warrant affidavit filed in court this week. “Until the actions of the person your affiant has been calling ‘Umbrella man,’ the protests had been relatively peaceful. The actions of this person created an atmosphere of hostility and tension. Your affiant believes that this individual’s sole aim was to incite violence.”
Police identified the suspect thanks to a tip that came via email last week, Christensen said.
At least two people died in the subsequent riots, which eventually spread as far as north Minneapolis and South St. Paul, and caused an estimated $500 million in damage.
Police have also connected the 32-year-old man to a widely-publicized incident in Stillwater late last month, in which a Muslim woman was confronted by a group of men wearing white supremacist garb.
The man has so far not been charged with a crime, which is why the Star Tribune is not naming him.
A livestream video from May 27 — two days after Floyd’s death — showed the man walking casually along the front of the former site of Auto Zone store, at E. Lake Street and Minnehaha, breaking out its windows with a 4-pound sledgehammer, prompting some protesters to confront him and ask him to stop.
One protester, seen wearing a pink shirt in the video, is seen following “Umbrella Man” around the rear of the building and demanding to know who he was, prompting the suspect to shout back.
Prior to that, police say, the man, clad in black head-to-toe and carrying a black umbrella, had spray painted “free (expletive) for everyone zone” on the double front doors.
Christensen wrote in the affidavit that she watched “innumerable hours” of videos on social media platforms like Tik Tok, Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube to try to identify the suspect, to no avail. Investigators finally caught a break when a tipster e-mailed the Minneapolis Police Department identifying the man as a member of the Hell’s Angels biker gang who “wanted to sow discord and racial unrest by breaking out the windows and writing what he did on the double red doors,” the affidavit said.
A subsequent investigation revealed that the man was also an associate of the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood, a small white supremacist prison and street gang based primarily in Minnesota and Kentucky. Several of its members were present at the Stillwater incident.
In the days after the rioting started, video of “Umbrella Man” ricocheted around social media, prompting a flurry of speculation about the man’s identity.
One widespread online rumor claimed “Umbrella Man” was a St. Paul police officer, apparently based on a tweet citing information from a “close friend” who claimed to have been married to the officer.
In response, St. Paul police released a series of time-stamped surveillance videos showing that the officer was in St. Paul at the time of the incident and police Chief Todd Axtell released a statement scolding social media users for spreading misinformation that could “jeopardize the officer’s reputation and safety and chip away at the trust this police department has worked so hard to build with its community.”
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter: @StribJany