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Federal officials are flying a Predator drone over the Minnesota protests

Published May 29th, 2020 10:07PM EDT
Minnesota protest
Image: Julio Cortez/AP/Shutterstock

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  • Federal officials have been flying a Predator drone over Minneapolis on Friday, presumably to surveil Minneapolis protestors angry over the killing of George Floyd by police.
  • The drone appears to be a Predator drone operated by US Customs and Border Protection, according to news accounts.
  • This news comes as rioting and protests continued to intensify in Minneapolis heading into the weekend.

Officials with US Customs and Border Protection have been flying a Predator drone over protestors in Minneapolis as the situation there has spiraled out of control following the death of George Floyd — the drone being one more commonly used on the battlefield to surveil and kill terrorists.

That’s according to a Motherboard investigation, which used flight data to determine that an unarmed version of the drone was being flown over the protestors who’ve been marching against police brutality and excessive use of force. Hobbyist flight-watchers use open-source data to monitor skies around the US, and it was members of that community who first identified the drone, about which CBP has not released a statement yet though it’s assumed the drone is monitoring protestors.

According to investigative reporter Jason Paladino, the drone took off from Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. It proceeded to Minneapolis, where, as of mid-day Friday, it was still flying hexagon flight patterns above the city.

This particular type of drone has a well-documented history. In 2012, for example, it was described in daily drone flight logs published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the activities of which were said to include “collecting synthetic-aperture radar imagery and full-motion video to aid in actions such as surveilling the border, as well as surveilling and busting cannabis grow ops and methamphetamine labs. In one instance, the logs note that the drone continued to circle and feed video to officers until every suspect in a lab raid was arrested.”

As a testament to the extraordinary day of bad and ominous news headlines that unfolded on Friday, meanwhile, the fact that federal officials were using a drone to monitor a major American city — and, specifically, to monitor people protesting the killing of a black man by police — was overshadowed by several other items that easily eclipsed this turn of events.

For starters, the officer seen in videos holding his knee against the neck of George Floyd, which seems to have ultimately killed him (and sparked the subsequent protests), was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder as well as manslaughter. Twitter also took the extraordinary step of “hiding” a tweet from President Trump that could be construed as stoking violence against the protestors, and at a press briefing Friday afternoon the president announced the US is severing ties with the World Health Organization, without addressing the situation in Minneapolis at all.

Use of the drone over Minneapolis also recalls the FBI aircraft-based surveillance of Black Lives Matter protestors in Baltimore back in 2015, after police there killed Freddie Gray.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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