Attorney General William Barr said Thursday that the the federal government has evidence that the radical left-wing antifa movement as well as other extremist groups have "hijacked" legitimate protests around the country to incite violence, and said certain "foreign actors" are seizing on the unrest to sow discord in the U.S.
"While many have peacefully expressed their anger and grief, others have hijacked protests to engage in lawlessness, violent rioting, arson, looting of businesses, and public property assaults on law enforcement officers and innocent people, and even the murder of a federal agent," Barr said. "We have evidence that antifa and other similar extremist groups, as well as actors of a variety of different political persuasions have been involved in instigating and participating in the violent activity.
Barr added, "we are also seeing foreign actors playing all sides to exacerbate the violence."
In a news conference at the Justice Department alongside other department heads Thursday, Barr and FBI Director Chris Wray both singled out the antifa movement in their opening remarks, though to date the DOJ has not provided direct evidence of widespread involvement of antifa followers in the violence seen thus far across the country.
In contrast, on Wednesday the DOJ announced the arrest of three men connected to the far-right 'Boogaloo' movement who were allegedly plotting to incite violence at protests in Las Vegas.
Asked by ABC News' Senior Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas why he didn't name-check those arrests, Barr pointed to his opening statement where he acknowledged "actors of a variety of different political persuasions" who were also carrying out violence.
"There are some groups that don't have a particular ideology, other than anarchy and there's some groups that want to bring about a civil war -- the 'Boogaloo' group that has been on the margin of this as well trying to exacerbate the violence," Barr said. "So we are dealing with as I say a witch's brew of a lot of different extremist organizations."
Barr also cautioned that investigators are seeing "a lot of disinformation out there" with certain groups posing as members of other opposing groups.
Wray then followed up on Barr's remarks by making clear that while the FBI has a number of "ongoing investigations" of "violent anarchist extremists' with antifa-like views, the FBI's investigative efforts are not driven by the political ideology of violent actors.
"We're about there violence, we're not about the ideology and it doesn't matter what your ideology is, if you commit violence or rioting or acts that we would consider terrorism we're going to pursue it," Wray said.
Barr, who is under fire for his order Monday to push back a protest in front of the White House to make way for President Trump's photo op at St. John's Episcopal Church, defended the underlying plan to clear out the protesters as having "no correlation" with Trump's visit.
"I think it was entirely appropriate for him to do," Barr said. "I did not know that he was going to do that [visit] until later in the day after our plans were well underway to move the perimeter, so there was no correlation between our tactical plan and moving the perimeter out by one block, and the president's going over to the church."
Barr said that officials on the ground had identified "instigators" who were throwing projectiles and otherwise making the perimeter an unsafe area.
"One of the difficulties is that while there are peaceful demonstrators and participants in these protests, it is the instigators, those committed to violence who basically shield themselves by going among them," Barr said, adding he personally witnessed projectiles being thrown on his visit to Lafayette Park prior to the evacuation. "We could not continue to protect the federal property involved and protect the safety of our agents with such a tight perimeter."
Barr used the news conference to applaud federal officials across the country for their work so far in prosecuting bad actors at the protests, announcing that there has so far been 51 federal arrests in connection with violent looting and rioting.
As a part of his remarks, Barr also weighed in on the nature of the concerns expressed by protesters about the inequities of the criminal justice system, and said he would be holding meetings with DOJ's law enforcement commission and have conversations with community leaders to "find constructive solutions."
"While the vast majority of police officers do their job bravely and righteously, it is undeniable that many African Americans lacked confidence in our American criminal justice system," Barr said. "I believe that police chiefs and law enforcement officials and leaders around the country are committed to ensuring that racism plays no part in law enforcement, and that everyone receives equal protection of the laws."
Asked whether he agrees with the concerns of protesters who have said they see Floyd's death as a part of a broader systemic issue of police brutality of people of color, Barr answered he believes excessive force is generally restricted to a "distinct minority" of officers.
"Federal civil rights laws address will fully use of excessive force and those that engage in that kind of activity I think are a distinct minority," Barr said. "I think the overwhelming number of police officers try conscientiously to use appropriate and reasonable force.