Pallets of bricks have been randomly discovered in areas of civil unrest in the US, sparking theories the makeshift weapons were deliberately planted by extremist groups to encourage further violence amid the protests.
Major US cities have been ravaged by riots in response to the alleged murder of African American man George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. Protests have become increasingly violent, overshadowing peaceful demonstrators campaigning for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Arson, looting and vandalism are rampant, with businesses set alight, defaced and robbed and police vehicles left smouldering in the streets.
The turmoil has been further inflamed by acts of violence against the protesters by law enforcement. Widely-circulated footage depicts many incidents of police aggression towards demonstrators, including an NYPD vehicle appearing to deliberately ram protesters in Brooklyn on Saturday (local time) after the car was pelted with debris. Other videos purportedly show people being assaulted by officers, including a clip of a young woman appearing to be violently thrown to the ground by a male cop. Authorities have responded to the riots with rubber bullets and tear gas, weapons many allege are being misused and abused. Curfews have attempted to quell the chaos to little avail.
Now, protesters have reported finding unattended pallets of bricks on the streets of cities including New York, Kansas City, Dallas and Fayetteville in North Carolina.
The discoveries have sparked theories that the bricks were deliberately planted by extremist groups to incite further violence. The stashes have attracted widespread commentary on social media, with locals claiming the locations of the pallets are far from any construction sites. Speculation on Twitter has also led to claims of foul play by police.
One Instagram user from Dallas, Texas, documented a large stash of bricks discovered in front of the city's courthouse, posting: "The Dallas protest was a lot of things. But I was very disappointed to see this random stack of bricks in front of the courthouse. #SetUp."
In a tweet on Sunday (local time), Kansas City Police confirmed the existence of the bricks in a post to the department's official Twitter.
"We have learned of and discovered stashes of bricks and rocks in and around the Plaza and Westport to be used during a riot. If you see anything like this, you can text 911 and let us know so we can remove them. This keeps everyone safe and allows your voice to continue to be heard," the department wrote.
In New York City, video footage shared to social media documents the discovery of a stash of bricks in Manhattan, chanced upon by rioters between St Marks Place and Seventh Street on Sunday evening (local time).
Rapper Ice-T chipped in his two cents, claiming: "Looks like a set up to me... there's always more than meets the eye" alongside footage of "more staged bricks".
Meanwhile, US officials have confirmed they are investigating the possibility of the protests being infiltrated by extremist groups, encouraging the chaos. The NYPD's deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, John Miller, told local media the department has a "high degree of confidence" that "anarchist groups planned violent interactions and vandalism".
"Complex networks of scouts were in place to direct breakaway groups to commit vandalism with rocks and accelerants," he said, as reported by the Daily Mail.
In a series of tweets on Sunday, US President Donald Trump blamed the media and anarchists for fuelling the disorder, his accusations following a widely-condemned, inflammatory tweet last week that claimed looting should be met with "shooting".
According to a tally by the Associated Press, at least 4400 people have been arrested over the days of protests.
Investigators have reportedly been tracking online interference and looking into possible meddling by foreign agents. As reported by the Daily Mail, US officials have noted a surge in social media accounts with less than 200 followers within the last month, a classic signal of a disinformation effort.
On Monday, May 25, 46-year-old George Floyd was arrested on suspicion of forgery in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Video captured by an onlooker shows Caucasian officer Derek Chauvin, 44, kneeling on Floyd's neck for roughly eight minutes, despite the man's pleas for air. Floyd was pronounced dead shortly after.
On Friday, Chauvin - who has been the subject of numerous conduct complaints throughout his career as an officer, it has been revealed - was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He and the three other officers involved in Floyd's arrest have been fired.
Floyd's alleged murder is the latest case to be adopted by the Black Lives Matter movement in protest of deep-seated inequality and ingrained, systemic racism in the US.
On Monday morning (NZ time), results from Floyd's autopsy revealed the man had died by asphyxiation.