National security adviser Robert O’Brien on Sunday said foreign powers were trying to exploit the fraught state of U.S. race relations and protests over George Floyd’s death.
On Saturday night, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio — the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee — tweeted that he was seeing “very heavy” social media activity on nationwide demonstrations and counter reactions linked to at least three foreign adversaries. “They didn’t create these divisions. But they are actively stoking & promoting violence & confrontation from multiple angles,” he wrote.
On ABC’s “This Week,” O’Brien said that was “spot on.” He said he saw tweets from the Chinese taking pleasure and solace in the chaos in America. He also mentioned Zimbabwe and Iran.
Asked whether Russia — which tried to stoke racial unrest and other divisions during the 2016 election — is also involved now, O’Brien said there may be Russian activists playing a role. But he said that’s different from China, where “it’s coming straight from the government.”
On Saturday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying responded to the U.S. State Department’s concerns over Hong Kong by tweeting, “I can’t breathe.” It’s the phrase both Floyd and Eric Garner said, black men who died at the hands of white police officers.
Chunying later retweeted a clip about the protests from RT, a Russian government-funded television network, writing “THUGS & HEROES HYPOCRISY.”
Also on Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted a marked-up 2018 news release the U.S. State Department sent amid protests in Iran.
“Some don’t think #BlackLivesMatter,” he wrote. “To those of us who do: it is long overdue for the entire world to wage war against racism. Time for a #WorldAgainstRacism.” (Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then countered: “You hang homosexuals, stone women and exterminate Jews.”)
Anger over Floyd’s death sparked demonstrations across America. Curfews were enacted in more than two dozen cities and the National Guard was summoned in at least 12 states and the District of Columbia. In addition to peaceful chanting and protesting, some people set fires and looted businesses. Police officers in parts of the country tear-gassed protesters, drove cars through crowds and targeted news media crews with nonlethal rounds.
O’Brien said Sunday he has been on the phone with allies of the United States and other national security advisers as they look into interference from foreign adversaries.
The national security adviser defended President Donald Trump, who has been accused of inciting violence with his tweets. He blamed far-left groups and Antifa for inciting much of the violence and said the “bad apples” in police departments should be removed, condemning Derek Chauvin — the white Minneapolis officer who killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck — and the three officers who stood by.
O’Brien promised Chauvin would be investigated and prosecuted with a fair trial. He added that he “can’t imagine” the other officers wouldn’t be charged.
“There’s a difference between us and you,” he said, speaking of foreign adversaries. “When this happens, we’ll get to the bottom of it and we’ll clean it up. It’s not going to be covered out. And this wasn’t done on behalf of the party or on behalf of the state.”