Motorcyclists from all over the country meet in Sturgis, South Dakota, every August for a massive motorcycle rally. This year, an intelligence analyst at Wyoming’s Division of Criminal Investigation described as credible rumors that Black Lives Matter and antifa protesters were traveling through Wyoming to the rally. (South Dakota Department of Tourism/FlickrCC)

An intelligence officer in Wyoming’s Division of Criminal Investigation warned other law enforcement that Black Lives Matter and antifa protesters were traveling through Wyoming on their way to Sturgis, South Dakota, according to an email obtained by WyoFile.

“We have received credible information from a South Dakota Agent and South Dakota ATF Analyst that BLM & ANTIFA members are currently staying in Cheyenne enroute to Sturgis, South Dakota,” DCI Intelligence Analyst Lanae Fry wrote in an Aug. 6 email. 

“We’re awaiting further detail. We do not know what Motels/Hotels or mode of transportation they may be in yet,” Fry continued. 

Both Fry and DCI acting Director Forrest Williams declined to discuss where the information came from, or whether activists had in fact passed through the state on the way to South Dakota. Both officials said the information in the email is sensitive and should not be public. 

“We look at that as intelligence, law enforcement intelligence information which is not information we share with the public,” Williams told WyoFile last week. “Unless there’s a need to,” he added. 

“As far as whether we were ever able to verify the validity of it, that’s the kind of thing I’m not going to talk about,” he said. 

WyoFile has filed a public records request for further DCI communications related to Black Lives Matter or antifa that has not yet been completed.

Rumors and doctored posts

Unsubstantiated rumors of mobilized rioters have plagued the rural West in the wake of George Floyd protests, prompting ramped-up police responses and the formation of armed citizen groups, according to widespread reporting.

As early as June, news outlets and Facebook had labeled as false doctored social media posts suggesting protesters would travel to Sturgis to cause trouble at the rally. 

An interview with Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater suggests there was little validity to the concerns. He contacted Wyoming law enforcement after fielding phone calls about threats he’s since judged to be rumor mongering, he said. 

Throughout the protests that have swept the nation in the last few months, even at those that turned violent, there has been little evidence of organized antifa — short for anti-fascist — protesters, according to analyses of arrests at the riots by the Washington Post and other news organizations. Linking the antifa organization to the Black Lives Matter protests is a way to discredit that movement, experts say.

Protesters march down a sidewalk of Laramie’s Grand Avenue on June 3, 2020, holding signs in support of Black Lives Matter and calling for justice for Minneapolis resident George Floyd, who was killed by police May 25. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

Though the DCI email suggests South Dakota agents were passing information on to Wyoming law enforcement, Williams said the reverse was also true. “It was information requested by South Dakota folks,” he said, without specifying the agencies. 

Sturgis hosted a gathering of hundreds of thousands of bikers in South Dakota this week. The event drew national media attention as rally goers largely eschewed COVID-19 precautions.

The Sturgis Police Department received warnings from people who identified themselves as ex-law enforcement officers or ex-correctional officers, VanDewater told WyoFile on Aug. 13. 

The callers reported they had traveled through Wyoming and seen Black Lives Matter or antifa flags flying at crowded campgrounds, VanDewater said. But Wyoming officers have been unable to substantiate those reports, he said.

“We’ve had partners in Wyoming trying to verify it and no one has seen it,” VanDewater said. 

The callers, “just want to stir up the dish with drama,” he said.

Facebook users have to click through this warning from the social media company that the underlying post about protesters planning to disrupt a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, is false. (Facebook)

In June and July, Facebook and news outlets labeled as false several social media posts suggesting antifa protesters were targeting the Sturgis rally. The posts used a 2015 photograph of demonstrators in Denmark, with a banner that had been digitally doctored to read “ANTIFA against bikers,” according to the news agency Reuters.   

To see the photographs on Facebook, one first has to click through a warning from the social media platform that it is “false information.”

The Associated Press reported Sunday that there was a small protest in Sturgis over the weekend. Protesters demonstrated against the rally taking place during a pandemic and against Gov. Kristi Noem’s response to COVID-19, which has been looser than in other states.

Sturgis police arrested one protester following an altercation, and then shut the protest down, VanDewater wrote in a statement Monday afternoon. 

“There was approximately 7 [protesters] who as far as we know were just local citizens from Rapid City [South Dakota] and NOT affiliated with ANTIFA,” VanDewater wrote. The one man arrested was from Rapid City —  less than 30 miles from Sturgis.

Tracking protesters

The DCI’s warning came out of the agency’s Fusion Center, Williams told WyoFile. During public remarks on Thursday, Williams described the Fusion Center as an operation that “provides assistance and intelligence to all local, state and federal law enforcement in Wyoming.” 

Fry, the DCI agent who sent the email, also appeared in a batch of 2016 communications published by the nonprofit journalism website MuckRock. In those emails, focused on protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Fry and another DCI agent sent out reports about possible Wyoming-based civil action.

The post beneath Facebook’s warning about false information is a photograph of antifa protesters in Denmark in 2015 digitally altered to suggest they oppose bikers. (Facebook)

In a Nov. 8, 2016 email, Fry warned that “it appears NoDAPL protests may be staged on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at the US Army Corp of Engineers, Wyoming Regulatory Office.” Fry cited a call to action from a group called “Wyoming Supports Standing Rock ‐ Day of Action at Army Corps of Engineers Action Network.” 

The post Fry cited called for national protests at an Army Corps of Engineers office “near you.” 

WyoFile spoke with three people involved in Wyoming-based activism during the Standing Rock protests. None could recall a protest ever occurring at the Army Corps of Engineers office in Cheyenne.

In another email, a different DCI agent wrote that Wyoming residents were traveling to North Dakota to join the protests against DAPL. 

“We just received information that members of the Wind River Reservation and others are being bussed [sic] from Wyoming to protest in North Dakota,” DCI Criminal Intelligence Analyst Sandra Erickson wrote in that Oct. 28, 2016 email. 

“The numbers, times, etc. are not known at this time,” Erickson wrote.

One organizer for Standing Rock activism in Wyoming said he didn’t find it strange DCI would have tracked such organizing. 

“It doesn’t seem inappropriate to me,” Rodger McDaniel, pastor for the Highlands Presbyterian Church, told WyoFile. “These law enforcement agencies exchange a lot of information. A lot of it’s not true, but they share it anyway.”

As for the latest intelligence from the agency, caravans of protesters camping in Wyoming on their way to confront a giant crowd of motorcyclists was “hard to imagine,” McDaniel said. 

Tying Black Lives Matter, a political protest movement, to antifa, a catch-all term for far-left militant-style groups, is a scare tactic used by the president and Department of Justice officials, McDaniel said. “You can’t make Black Lives Matter look bad enough without tying them to antifa,” he said. “Lump them together and then you can really scare people.”

Fear strikes rural areas

President Donald Trump and members of his administration have linked violence at protests over police brutality and racism to antifa. In early June, Trump described a nation “gripped by professional anarchists,” and named antifa. The statements drew a rebuke from prominent Democratic senators.  

“These claims are highly inflammatory,” Sens. Dianne Feinstein (California), Charles Schumer (New York) and Mark Warner (Virginia) wrote in a letter to intelligence agency chiefs. “They also appear intended to frame the legitimate peaceful protests taking place around the country as terrorist threats in order to justify unnecessary federal, even military, intervention and the excessive use of force. Worse still, the President and others have made these assertions without any factual support or evidence.”

As the protests spread through the country, so did rumors of antifa and BLM protesters being bused into rural areas. Those rumors have in some cases driven people to take action to “protect” their towns from threats that don’t materialize, according to widespread reporting from around the country. 

Mary Keller leads a peaceful march around Cody’s city park in June 2020 as an armed onlooker stands by. (Emily Reed)

Wyoming isn’t free of reactions to such bogeymen. In Cody, for example, a group formed to “protect Park County citizens from outside rioters and looters,” according to reporting in the Cody Enterprise. The group began in response to a rally against racism in that city. 

A founder of the group, Boone Tidwell, told the newspaper that “many of the members had heard reports of outside forces planning to come to Cody to cause havoc at the rally.” 

No havoc unfolded at the peaceful event.  

Tidwell is a retired police officer from California, according to the newspaper. The group was made up of retired law enforcement officers, military members and “security staff,” Tidwell told the newspaper. 

“Tidwell said members of the quickly-organized 60-person membership set up intelligence gathering efforts and surveillance outside town for buses coming in and monitored downtown Cody and the courthouse,” the newspaper reported.

“Social media is plum full of rumors,” Williams, the DCI director said. As for the protest movements, Williams said there are “certainly great people in both those organizations,” but “unfortunately those organizations themselves have been linked to a lot of violent protests and rallies.”

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Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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  1. So far as I’ve heard and read, which are a few posts and the name of the defined point of view, and a glance at a dictionary, antifa is a newly coined word to reflect an old attitude — opposition to fascist ideologies, groups and individuals. I think it should have a hyphen, but if it is only a philosophy, a belief, such as free choice, or christianity, or non-violence, or even a thought about achieving independence or freedom by overthrowing oppression, or violent fascists it’s pretty meaningless without action. I agree with the writer who said good things about the entire group of world war II anti-fascists who mostly volunteered to take action by fighting fascists of the Axis powers. All the non-Axis powers were also antifa, by that reasoning. The Soviets did not have any good feelings for them, but their belief systems pretty much echoed those of their leader, if they valued their life and the lives of their families. But that’s Stalinism for you. But fascism is clearly resurfacing if one believes the words of someone like Steve Miller who would interrupt a decades long economic system of migrant agricultural labor just to feed his fascist appetite of hate of the other. Wimp! If antifa is something else, defenders should find a champion to come out and fight for its rights in the light of public discourse. Trying to get other cops and bikers worked up over a possible sighting of peaceful citizens with a T=shirt of bumper sticker of questionable content represents the fear of a cop with way too much time on his or her hands, someone who should probably take a day off and go watch a parade.. That would be civic engagement.

  2. Down here in Phoenix where we have had endless days of BLM, RED FOR ED, REOPEN ARIZONA protests with tens of thousands marching through the streets the threat of ANTIFA/PATROIT groups has been all over social media. The looting and rioting in Scottsdale, shown on national and world news, was not done by outside Patroit groups, as the Left would have us believe, or by outside ANTIFA groups, as the Right would have us believe, It was done by locals as has been proven by arrests still being made using CCTV taken during the looting.

  3. 1. If you insist on using CAPS LOCK to post your message, you have already muted and mooted whatever it was you were trying to say. ALL CAPS is the primitive scrawl of serveral species of trolls , usually found on cave walls.

    2. People who engage on this web news service generally do their own thinking derived from multiple verifiable sources and only then offer their considered fact based opinions.

    The Bottom Line : too much of # 1 and not enough of #2 in this article instance…

  4. My sense is that antifa is a right wing bogeyman more than a substantial reality. It exists in the fears of the right wingers, but otherwise is a lose and ad hoc reaction to specific events. The armed people who showed up when there was a little black lives matters demonstration in Casper, and the retired California policeman in Cody, go to peaceful small town demonstrations so that they can swagger around with their firearms exposed and claim to be protecting the community when all they are doing is attempting to intimidate protesters. Why else bring a gun to someone else’s peaceful protest.

    Just as America was ripe for the McMartin preschool myth 30 years ago, for “a red under every bed” trying to poison us with flouridated water in the 1950s, so America is ready for “antifa is coming to our town” now. It is the product of ignorance and fear.

    1. Valid points and reasoning.

      I’d go a step further and say the antifa hate is a product of ignorance, fear, and the stupidity of those who can’t discern facts from social media hype.

      Those who are spoon fed their information from Facebook or fox are not willing to understand that they are the ones being whipped up into a frenzy. People need to research their own facts. Those that slurp up the fox and breitbart narrative are lazy and disingenuous in claiming that they love the country they are in.

  5. Putting to one side whether ANTIFA did or did not show up in Sturgis (or at any other event), I’ve been wondering why there are people in this country who believe that ANTIFA truly exists as a group dedicated to standing against (up to?) fascism? Who, exactly, are the so-called fascists in the U.S. that ANTIFA exists to fight against? Trump? McConnell? Any other Republican or conservative politician? Trump may be dumb (ok, remove the “may be” and replace it with “is”). Perhaps the same can be said for McConnell. But what have either of them done that makes them fascists? Before all words lose their meaning, it is worth pointing out that Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “fascism” as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual AND that stands for a centralized AUTOCRATIC government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition; a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control”. I don’t believe that any of my constitutional rights (to speak freely, exercise my conscience freely, worship freely, associate freely, travel as I wish, petition the government for redress of any grievance I may have, or possess a firearm) have been denied to me since Trump took office. Do any of you honestly believe that? Like I said, Trump may be stupid–he may say the most ignorant things ever said by an elected leader in our country’s history–but his lack of intelligence does not make him a fascist. So again I ask, who is it in the U.S., today, that ANTIFA exists to supposedly “protect” us from? I often feel that I need more protection from ANTIFA than I do from any number of stupid politicians be they Republican or Democrat. Please, people, learn to think for yourselves. Stop allowing yourselves to get caught up in the rhetoric of any group or organization. Stand up for yourselves and just let other people live their lives. We’d be a much happier and safer country if everyone would just go about their business and stop worrying about what someone else was doing/saying/thinking.

    1. ” (to speak freely, exercise my conscience freely, worship freely, associate freely, travel as I wish, petition the government for redress of any grievance I may have, or possess a firearm)”

      If you go ahead and actually read the article above, you will find that its primary topic runs exactly counter to what you seem to be claiming here.

      Namely, Wyoming Law Enforcement (the government) is surveilling U.S. citizens, monitoring where they are going, what route they are taking, their mode of transportation, what hotel/motels they may be staying at, etc. on the sole basis that these citizens may have certain, specific, loose political affiliations.

      Wyoming Law Enforcement did not have ANY credible suspicion that these citizens were engaged in a crime or actively planning to commit a crime. (They didn’t actually have credible reason to believe these people even existed at all, it turns out). As the reporting above has uncovered, Wyoming Law enforcement has done this on at least two recent occasions.

      These are two bona-fide instances of Wyoming law enforcement deliberately targeting U.S. Citizens engaged in constitutionally protected activity based entirely on the content of their speech. Is it fascism? I don’t know, but it certainly doesn’t sound like the freedom that is supposedly enshrined in our Constitution.

      It appears that the people in this case [had they actually existed] who were attempting “to speak freely, exercise [their] conscience freely, worship freely, associate freely, travel as [they] wish, petition the government for redress of any grievance [they] may have…” by traveling up I-25 through Wyoming up to Sturgis, SD to protest at well-known public event, were not actually allowed to do so without being surveilled and targeted by several law enforcement agencies across multiple states [the government].

  6. If BLM and Antifa are protesting peacefully, then who exactly is creating all of the chaos in Chicago, Portland, Seattle…….and the list goes on and on? Looting, rioting on a nightly basis – am I missing something in the definition of peaceful?. Seriously, who kicked the poor guy in the head in Portland yesterday – the toothfairy? Who shot the people in the CHAZ or CHOP? How many of the so called “leaders” of BLM promote the looting, rioting, etc? The BLM “leader” in Chicago said the looting was ok because businesses have insurance?

    The last legitimate protests in this country were the people protesting the lock downs due to Covid 19. – not BLM and it’s cohorts. It’s laughable that McDaniel and the Democratic Senators argue the BLM/Antifa protests are peaceful. I’m not arguing whether the lock downs were right or wrong, but how many on the left took the Covid 19 protesters to task for even thinking about protesting, but joined the masses as soon as BLM came out of the woodwork – arm and arm, some with masks, many without.

    I think Casper was a good example of how private citizens can legally protect property and protestors can legally express their opinions and protest without rioting, looting, clashing with each other and so on. I applaud both sides for doing the right thing in Casper. Its the way it should be. Similar to the small protest video in Sturgis. Until the moron tried to kick the motorcycle, the protest was peaceful, some banter back and forth, but the “big bad bikers” allowed them to do their protest – albeit with police protection which in and of itself is pretty funny considering they want to defund the police.

    At the end of the day, the problem is the mainstream media. Peaceful protests do not sell ad time or newspapers. Chaos, blood, fires, looting…….that sells ad time.

  7. I wonder if it is the same people at DCI that busted a hemp farm thinking it was a marijuana operation?

    🙂

  8. If you are against the anti-fascists then you are pro-fascist.

    I am glad my late father who served is the great antifa effort back in the 1940s is not around to see this. Oh, and by the way, that great antifa effort of the 1940s is known as World War Two. I am sure some of you have heard of it.

  9. Fellow citizens: Please do your own thinking and reading and research. Media (mostly social media) is using scare tactics to divide us. I am far more afraid of armed vigilantes using the threat of violence against the democratic functioning of our social communities than free speech protesters (falsely and absurdly accused of rioting down our main streets!?).

    I wonder how so many of my amazing friends and neighbors, who are not afraid of grizzlies, who are not afraid of risk-filled days on horseback, who are not afraid of powerful equipment or challenging problems, who are not afraid of hard or dangerous work, who are not afraid of extreme cold or heat, etc….are so afraid of people whose opinions or perspectives may be different that they believe fearful fantasies and lies.

    1. Well said. Although, I expect most that have posted here are incapable of grasping the point that you are making.

      It’s a disappointing time that we are currently in.

  10. See – my comment is awaiting moderation, whatever that is supposed to mean! But what else can one expect from a liberal outlet?

    1. every comment here has to await moderation. You are not being singled out.

      Don’t play a victim. 🙁

  11. From the tone of these comments apparently the social media campaign to tie BLM to Antifa was successful. And I love how the bikers were ready to take on or scare away a threat that was never real to begin with, similar to the Cody event. Meanwhile in the USA – Q-ANON supporters (an actual group that has the potential for “domestic terrorism” according to the FBI) are winning public office based on an anonymous social media account that is probably a Russian bot. Scary times!

    1. It’s baffling that people want to see antifa activists locked up and the key thrown away.

      But, those same people believe in a globalist cabal that harvest the pituitary glands of children while raping and killing them in some sort of ritual. It’s pretty convenient that the people who are implicated in the ritual just happen to be on the left side of their personal beliefs.

      Ignorance and stupidity knows no limits when it comes to social media.

  12. It appears the bikers did a good job of taking care of themselves. Not all Americans are spineless wimps, many will fight back.

  13. James Benak, Chicago, and frequent visitor to Jackson.

    I was at Sturgis. I don’t own a bike and I was there as a vendor (and observer). There were an estimated 400,000+ people in a space normally occupied by 5,000. The mood was uplifting and almost joyous. I never saw an altercation or heard s cross word. The constant low rumble of the bikes was mixed with smiles, waves and unbelievable courtesy.

    People talked about Antifa and BLM showing up and just laughed. I don’t think those folks would have received the same treatment at Sturgis that they are given by the Portland and Seattle police. And I don’t believe they have the guts to show up where they can’t outnumber and bully people.

    You should do a little research on these groups before you conclude that they are no more than loosely affiliated 1st Amendment protesters. And before you accuse the president of improperly targeting these groups. They are both run by anarchists committed to the overthrow of the government of the United States by violence.

    I guess they get a pass from you. Your reporting is irresponsible and offensive. Cancel my subscription. I’m blocking you on my email.

    1. wyofile is a free news service. You get notifications when a new article is posted.

      There is no “subscription” that you speak of. Take personal responsibility and quit posting if you’re that offended.

    2. AMEN..CHECK OUT WHO SUSAN ROSENBERG IS.. SHES A DOMESTIC TERRORIST CONVICTED OF MURDER BANK ROBBERY. BOMBINGS.CONVICTED AND SENTENCED TO 45 YEARS IN PRISON..BUT SHE DID SAY SHE WAS SORRY SO GUESS WHO PARDONED HER??ON HIS LAST DAY OF OFFICE??? CLINTON. ..THESE PEOPLE ARE BEHIND THE antifa AND blm. IF THEIR NOT ABOUT DESTRUCTION THEN TELL ME WHO R THESE MARAUDERS WHO HAVE DESTROYED SEVERAL CITIES??WHO PILLAGE BURN DESTROY?? . BULL CRAP. THERE THUGS. LED BY ANTI AMERICAN GROUPS .

      1. Let’s put aside all the obnoxious capital letters (caps lock means serious business) and the obvious spelling mistakes.

        I’m failing to see where your comment makes any point to the topic at hand Cheryl. Perhaps you should keep your semi cogent responses contained to your Facebook feed. Your echo chamber will probably be more receptive to your ramblings.

        Cheers

  14. Wow how absurd of DCI’s thinking poor little bikers having to fear antifa. As a Wyoming native SMH

  15. THis is BS as antifa is anti fascist therefore anti Trump and everything he represents which is contrary to what our country is all about. Hitler got away with this crap in Germany, Stalin in Russia, etc. and now fascism is here with the McConnell – Trump government . Fascism is the ownership of government by the corporate class, the moneyed class. All it’s policies ;enrich that class to the demise of the environment and every other living thing.
    Of course the right wing hates antifa, but they are not anything to do with terrorism as is the rightwing hate establishment.

    1. First off, there is video of antifa folks being hauled off at Sturgis on Sunday…they were not welcome. The definition of fascism is not what the New Yorker wrote. i.e. the moneyed class running the country. His understanding of what happened in Germany is interesting–guess he didn’t realize that it was the democratic socialists who were the Nazis. It actually the wealthy democrats who are the moneyed class he derides. Fascism is censoring and blocking free speech which antifa and many leftist sites do daily; it is anarchy; and attempts to take over government by violence. You can be an ostrich and pretend the violence isn’t happening I guess. But your reference to right wing hate establishment is laughable, because it is the leftists who are looting and setting fire to businesses and beating up people on the streets of democratic run cities. This info is suppressed and outright lied about by the right wing media on a daily basis. Just looking at these dem run cities gives one insight as to what you could expect nationwide under a dem administration.

      1. Gee – did you read the entire article? This is what the Sturgis police said about the small protest, ““There was approximately 7 [protesters] who as far as we know were just local citizens from Rapid City [South Dakota] and NOT affiliated with ANTIFA,” VanDewater wrote. The one man arrested was from Rapid City — less than 30 miles from Sturgis.” Apparently they were protesting the fact that social distancing and mask wearing were not being practiced by those attending the rally.

        1. THEN THE ONE MAN SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME. DO U THINK THE THOUSANDS OF blm AND ANTIFA..R REALLY CONCERNED ABOUT MASKS?? WHAT CRAP. BY THE WAY THERE HAVE BEEN MANY BLACK CHILDREN MURDERED IN RECENT WEEKS…DID U SEE SHARPTON SHOW UP TO PROTEST black on black murder/? wheres their protesters? wheres their million$ funerals.?the young of today r being played. this has been in the works for many years..the destruction of our country …our police force? the call to dismantle sad sad sad. sorry about yelling eyes bad today.

        1. Deflecting? Really?

          Angie’s attempt at a response to the article made no sense. It’s obvious she didn’t read (or understand) the facts of the story before she turned her fingers loose typing her response.

          I hope you can recognize and understand the difference. However, I’m not optimistic. 🙁