Sept. 24 (UPI) -- The Justice Department announced Thursday that more than 300 people have been charged with committing crimes "under the guise" of peaceful protests that erupted nationwide following the police-involved killing of George Floyd.
In a statement, the department said hundreds were arrested in 29 states and Washington, D.C., since late May with more than 40 of the 94 U.S. Attorneys' Offices filing federal charges, including attempted murder, assaulting a law enforcement officer, arson and unlawful possession of a destructive device, among a slew of other federal offenses.
"Violent opportunists have exploited these demonstrations in various ways," the Justice Department said.
Protests erupted nationwide against police brutality and racial inequality after Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was killed by a White police office on Memorial Day in Minneapolis.
The Justice Department said of the hundreds arrested since then, 80 were indicted on arson and explosives charges, 35 were charged with assaulting a law enforcement officer, 30 with civil disorder offenses and 15 were charged with damaging property.
"These individuals are alleged to have set fires to local businesses as well as city and federal property, which will regrettably incur millions of taxpayer dollars to repair damages to the Portland Courthouse, Nashville Courthouse, Minneapolis Police Third Precinct, Seattle Police East Precinct and local high school in Minnesota; and, to replace police cruisers in South Carolina, Washington, Rhode Island, Georgia, Utah and other states," the Justice Department said.
In one instance in Virginia Beach, Va., John Malcolm Bareswill, 63, pleaded guilty in August to making a telephone threat in early June to burn down an African American church. In another in Boston, John Boampong, 37, has been accused of firing 11 rounds at a crowd of police officers and civilians.
The Justice Department said several of those charged with civil disorder offenses used social media platforms to incite destruction during the protests and for police officers to be attacked.
In Knoxville, Tenn., Dominic Brown, 18, was charged with inciting a riot after posting messages to his Snapchat account instructing his followers to attack police officers.
In one message, he is accused of writing "we are not each other's enemy only enemy is 12," using a slang term indicating police officers and for his followers to "lace your shoes, wear masks and gloves. Bring hammers bricks whatever you have."
"Several of these charges carry significate maximum prison sentences," the Justice Department said, explaining that both arson and felony assault of a federal officer with a dangerous weapon carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison.
"Through these acts, these individuals have shown minimal regard to their communities and for the safety of others and themselves," the federal department said.