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Experts say outside agitators stirring the pot in Omaha on social media

Posted at 6:26 PM, Jun 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-03 21:18:56-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — It's been a trend across the country. Mayors, governors and police chiefs are blaming "outside agitators" for the civil unrest. Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said the same on Monday.

On Wednesday, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert backed Schmaderer’s statement, saying she thinks some are coming and possibly being paid to cause trouble.

“This post said we need rioters, demonstrators in Omaha in Nebraska and we will pay you $25 an hour to come," says Stothert.

Stothert says you can never be sure on social media but she says there's some evidence rioters are coming from out of town.

The specific "ad" she referred to has been proven to be fake.

The arrest data Omaha Police made available shows they've arrested almost exclusively people from the community.

Experts say many of those posts are likely fake, but are being sent out with a purpose.

"These groups, as well as state actors like Russia, are trying to amplify the discord and the fragmentation,” said Dr. Gina Ligon, the director of the National Counter-terrorism, Innovation and Technology Education Center of Excellence at UNO.

Ligon has been studying this for years. She says she now has over $30 million from the department of Homeland Security to investigate counter-terrorism and extremism more closely.

She says agitators from many ideologies, or state actors, will use mass protests to sow discord on social media.

"There's no violent extremist, terrorist, domestic or internationally motivated person who would not want to take advantage of this situation,” she said.

She cites the examples of threats of a riot at Village Pointe Mall. There was no riot or even a protest but it forced businesses to board up their doors.

"Having us close Village Pointe, having us close downtown Old Market, they caused that kind of economic impact for our city and they may not even be in Nebraska," she said.

Schmaderer declined to answer whether he sees evidence of outside agitators sending disruptive posts towards Omaha. He did say he's investigating whether people were paid to protest or riot in the community.