George Floyd

The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of the 'Outside Agitator' Story

The perpetual scapegoat for unrest

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Feeling uneasy about the disorder erupting at recent protests against police brutality? Don't worry, the authorities have an explanation: It was the outside agitators what done it.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter claimed Saturday morning that "every single person" arrested in his city the night before had been from out of state. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz reiterated the idea that the troublemakers were outsiders: His "best estimate," he said, was that "about 80 percent" of the rioters were from elsewhere. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey warned that "white supremacists, members of organized crime, out of state instigators, and possibly even foreign actors" were trying "to destroy and destabilize our city and our region." President Donald Trump didn't agree with Frey's list of culprits—"It's ANTIFA and the Radical Left," he proclaimed—but he grabbed hold of the governor's number, tweeting as a settled fact that "80% of the RIOTERS in Minneapolis last night were from OUT OF STATE."

By the end of the day, those figures had fallen apart. KSTP-TV reported that St. Paul had seen 18 civil unrest arrests from Thursday through Saturday morning; just four of the arrestees were clearly from out of state, with two more of uncertain origins. In Minneapolis too, the vast majority of the people arrested were in-state. St. Paul's mayor soon conceded that he had given out bad information, and by Saturday evening KARE-TV was reporting that the governor "declined to repeat" his 80 percent claim. (KARE also pushed back, less conclusively, against Frey's list of villains: "Of those arrested from out of state, only one had a Facebook page [with] clearly identifiable support of white supremacy.")

Now, that still leaves enough gaps in the evidence to keep the outside-agitator story alive if you really like it. After all, you can project pretty much anything you want onto the masked rioters who weren't arrested. Some of those projections may even turn out to be true, or half-true, or related in some familial way to truth.

But mostly they'll be wishful thinking.

Activists do travel to protests in other parts of the country, of course. Leninist grouplets drove down to Ferguson; Oath Keepers headed out to the Bundy ranch. And yes, people with their own agendas sometimes try to escalate violence—though they don't necessarily come from out of town to do it. Visitors are often peaceful, and hotheads can be homegrown. Sometimes they almost have to be homegrown: Given how many places are boiling over right now, it's hard to believe that they're all in thrall to outsiders sweeping in from someplace else.

Hard to believe, but convenient to believe. Whether you're a civic leader trying to preserve your town's reputation, a cop unhappy at the thought that so many citizens resent your department, or an activist who wants to wave away elements of your movement that you don't like, it can be comforting to displace everything onto a stock villain, be it Soros or Putin or anarchists or fascists or all of them working in concert in a Prague graveyard. Gov. Walz insisted that he "wasn't trying to deflect" when he raised the specter of out-of-state rioters. But even if that's true of Walz, it certainly isn't true of every person who took his comments and ran with them.

Such beliefs are so convenient, in fact, that they've cropped up many times before. There's a long history of dubious rumors about outside agitators—some of them "possibly even foreign," as Mayor Frey might say. The most infamous cases were in the Jim Crow South, when segregationists regularly claimed that most blacks were satisfied with their lot and that any conflict was the creation of the national civil rights movement. But there are plenty of other examples. Antebellum southerners convinced themselves that white abolitionists were stirring up slave revolts. 20th century politicians blamed race riots on Bolsheviks right after the Russian revolution, on the Japanese during World War II, on the Soviet bloc in the '60s. After the first flareup of the 2015 Baltimore riots, city leaders tried to attribute the violence to "isolated pockets of people from out of town." That tale fell apart the same way the similar storyline did in Minnesota: Nearly all the rowdies arrested that night turned out to be locals.

With the outside agitator as your scapegoat, it becomes easier to ignore some significant distinctions. The word "antifa" starts to get used as a synonym for "any radicals who smash things," whether or not they're involved with the antifa movement. Bernie Kerik, a former New York police commissioner who wound up serving time, tried to rope in Black Lives Matter too, declaring Friday that "paid left wing radical groups like Antifa, Black Lives Matter and others" were "responsible for extreme violence against innocent civilians, looting and arson"—even as reports from the ground had Black Lives Matter activists trying to rein in looters and vandals. You hear similar confusions when people on the left worry about far-right infiltration of the protests. Much of the gun-toting boogaloo subculture is sympathetic to the protesters, since it shares their complaints about police abuses, yet it gets constantly conflated with right-wing accelerationists who hope to start a race war. People apparently find it pleasing to treat their enemies as one big ball of alien influence.

And yes: It's entirely possible that some acts of vandalism were carried out by people pretending to be things they're not. But you're fooling yourself if you think they all were. There really are activists who think property destruction is a valuable form of protest, and it doesn't take much effort to find them. I've known some of them for decades; if they're agents provocateurs, they sure are playing a long game.

Sometimes complaints about outsiders are just a way to informally excommunicate people you'd rather not have on your side. Protesters have sharp disagreements about both tactics and long-term goals, and it's not surprising to see reluctant comrades trying to read each other out of the movement. At times those divisions even fall along an insider/outsider line. When, say, black activists object to white marchers vandalizing businesses in their neighborhood, the vandals might not be from out of state but they still aren't from around here. But there's a clear difference between those sorts of messy fissures and a narrative that tries to reduce those complications to an external conspiratorial force.

Urban legends are resilient, and I don't expect this one to disappear anytime soon. On Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) reenacted the Minnesota show, tweeting that "Only 13 of the 57 people arrested" at a Miami protest "live in the City. Some of the others came from as far away as New York & Minnesota." He refrained from mentioning that the clear majority were from South Florida, even if they don't live in the city limits. Meanwhile, former National Security Advisor Susan Rice pointed her finger at #Resistance liberals' favorite outside agitator, speculating on CNN that all this "is right out of the Russian playbook."

That sure would be tidy, wouldn't it? But riots are never tidy. That's why they call them riots.

NEXT: Trump Can't Designate Antifa a Domestic Terrorist Group, and It's a Bad Idea Anyway

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  1. “Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey warned that “white supremacists, members of organized crime, out of state instigators, and possibly even foreign actors” were trying “to destroy and destabilize our city and our region.”

    The first rule of progressive club is that the people want what the progressives want.

    If the people don’t want what the progressives want, see the first rule of progressive club.

    The plain truth is that the cities where the abuses and the worst of the riots are happening are the cities where the progressives are in control of the government, and the policies and contracts that make the police unaccountable have all been negotiated and overseen by progressive Democrats in office.

    The plain truth is that the politicians who claim (and may actually believe themselves to be) the mantle of the champions of the minorities and the poor have miserably failed to deliver the kinds of outcomes they want through progressive policy, and regardless of whether they understand or believe that fact, they can’t admit the truth: that the people they claim to serve are actually being treated like shit by no one else but the progressives themselves.

    1. You really have no idea what the term progressive means, but hey, keep going. I hear Obama is giving herion to Medicaid recipients.

      1. You really have no idea what the term progressive means

        Sure I do. It’s English for “Backpfeifengesicht”.

        1. Great German vocabulary!

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        2. Or a catch all for what I don’t like

          1. Progressivism represents everything dark and evil in the world. A vile and oppressive collectivist mentality that leads to riots and looting. Evolving into mass murder and genocide once their kind attain power.

            Maybe things have gone far enough that we finally deal with our progressive once and for all.

      2. Would you care to enlighten us on the true meaning of “progreessive”?

      3. No, but he did stiffen prescription drug regulations which drove more people from legal drugs to “herion” (sic).

        1. Lol, you missed the point. Ken here was mad folks had access to healthcare coverage, and likened it to the increase in herion use.

          1. Lol You’re a lying, hypocritical socialist shitstain who can’t argue in good faith or so much as stumble over a true fact.

      4. ohlookMarketthugs
        June.1.2020 at 9:33 am
        “You really have no idea what the term progressive means…”

        A fucking lefty ignoramus is here to tell us what words mean!
        We got your number, scumbag: Up = down, left = right, front = back, etc.

      5. “Progressive is what communists call themselves, when they don’t want to admit they are communists.”

    2. Please! The only people I saw burning minority owned stores were white racists. These MAGA supporting alt-right incel terrorists need to be prosecuted to the fullest extend of the law. Quite a few deserve a needle in the arm…

      1. “Please! The only people I saw burning minority owned stores were white racists.”

        Because they’re white doesn’t mean they aren’t progressives.

        1. Keep trying racist. Simple minds authoritarian markets.

          1. It’s kinda sad that you’re not intelligent enough to provide a definition of progressivism.
            Oh well

            1. Ahhhh, is that all you could think of?

              1. No, I can actually define progressivism. You, evidently, are incapable of doing so.

                  1. The attempt to create New Man through top down central planning and totalitarian collectivist control of goods, resources, and beliefs

                    1. Also, in its current stage, munchausen-by-proxy as political philosophy/policy

                    2. Not bad.

    3. Which follows from Rousseau’s absurd reasoning that an individual is free when he realizes his true desires conform to the general will of society. That is a feature at the foundation of that ideological family.

      1. Is there a chapter on market thuggery? You might want to check that.

        1. “Thuggery” is a racial epithet used by right-wing bigots to excuse the pigs cracking down on activists of color who finally decide to fight back against generations of systemic oppression and white capitalist violence and take back what’s theirs. Check your privilege.

          1. Uh huh. So what about all the white faces seen looting, which was most of the looters in pretty much every city where there was looting? Did those white progressive need to assuage their pain by bashing in store fronts and stealing designer sneakers?

            1. White allies atoning for their privilege.

            2. Were you there, witnessing the looters and the races, thereof?
              Or were you just watching TV “news”, where they would only show where looters were white and not the times the looters were of other races?
              The narrative must be maintained, and you’re following like a good sheep.

        2. “Is there a chapter on market thuggery?”

          Nope.
          Nor one on purple unicorns.

    4. “Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey warned that “white supremacists, members of organized crime, out of state instigators

      Oddly enough quite descriptive of Frey himself.

    5. The media is trying to push the fact that ~86% arrested are from in state. You think 1 out of nearly every 7 committing crimes is not a significant number of outside influences? In a crowd of more than 2500 that would be in excess of 350 outside agitators. NOT an insignificant number. I find that very significant, don’t you?

  2. Jesse,

    You don’t understand how this works. No one is in thrall or following the lead of anyone. What an agitator does is throw the first brick. It is very hard to actually start a riot. Who wants to be the first guy to break a window or start something with no assurance chaos is going to break out and you won’t just end up another dumb ass who get’s arrested? No one.

    So, what you do is send people into a protest where things are tense but it is otherwise peaceful because even the people who would like to be violent don’t feel emboldened to do so. Your agitators go in and become that person. You get four or five or a dozen who all act in concert to basically light the match for the rest to follow.

    And that is what Antifa is doing here. Would there be riots without them showing up to start things? A few probably. But there wouldn’t be the number that we are having. In most places things would never start.

    1. This is how John works, take a right wing boogie man, and let your imagination go wild. Use key words to make yourself sound smart, progressive, Antifa, etc. hey, is it true you take my tax dollars?

      1. You are a racist so you think only black people riot and are criminals. Yes, the truth is going to offend your white supremacist sensibilities. So, when we get to the part about superior white people rioting instead of the Negros, just plug your ears and hum “Dixie”.

        1. Wow, that’s a lot of word garbage. Did you copy and paste that to feel better? Keep looking for Antifa in your closet. Ken can help you. He found herion in Obama’s

          1. And it clearly hit a nerve. The truth always does.

      2. Use key words to make yourself sound smart, progressive, Antifa, etc.

        Lol. Et cetera was the most original and cerebral part of what you said. Everything else was John replying to what was originally stated in the article, practically in their own words.

    2. Antifa is the classic bogeyman of the reactionary right. Next, you will be blaming “Jewish financiers” and the “Jewish media” for reporting that the only people who started these riots were alt-right white supremacists.

      1. So what you’re saying is the Nazis invent a flag for “Jewish financiers”?

    3. “And that is what Antifa is doing here. ”

      Have the FBI infiltrated the leadership of Antifa? Is that how you know they are sending people in to initiate violence?

      “A few probably. But there wouldn’t be the number that we are having. ”

      What is the number of riots we’d be having if it weren’t for people following Antfa’s orders? What cities would riot without Antifa’s say so?

      1. What is the number of riots we’d be having if it weren’t for people following Antfa’s orders? What cities would riot without Antifa’s say so?

        I understand you are retarded and have very poor reading comprehension. But when there is an entire post explaining how starting a riot doesn’t involve anyone following orders of the instigators, even if you want to troll, you have to do better than that.

        You are never going to understand what is going on or say anything intelligent. I get that. I know what I am working with here. But you surely can do a little better than this.

        1. The question is whose orders are the instigators following. If there are police agents infiltrated in Antifa, and history shows us this is almost certain, the instigators, are there to escalate the violence, where the state can afford to escalate all it wants, and has the advantage.

          There are genuine Antifa followers and they can be violent towards property, and their enemies which includes police. They are anarchists, probably they wouldn’t call themselves progressives or even leftists. Fascists are their enemy. Attacking the state is their tactic. Like the police, they also want to escalate the situation.

          1. “…If there are police agents infiltrated in Antifa, and history shows us this is almost certain,..”

            Cite or STFU.

            1. I’m speculating. It’s John who seems to be certain of his facts. Do you believe government agents have or would not infiltrate or attempt to infiltrate Antifa?

      2. Well, the far left is bailing the rioters out of jail…so you can safely say they sure as hell aren’t conservative.

        1. They’re anarchist if anything, Antifa is from what I know of it. Anarchists believe in direct action. Marxists, like the outfit behind ANSWER, believes in mass mobilization, hence their key role in the huge demos leading up to the war in Iraq.

          Anarchists come in many stripes. They have no party line and a ‘conservative anarchist’ is not out of the realm of possibility, though it’s hard to picture them trashing a bank window.

    4. Does it matter though? Just because someone from out of town threw the first brick, doesn’t get the locals off the hook for all the bricks they themselves threw afterwards. Once your protest turns into a violent riot, things don’t magically become better just because maybe someone from one town over started being violent first.

      1. No it doesn’t get them off the hook. But it doesn’t change what happened either or make the instigators less guilty of a large number of federal crimes.

      2. “Once your protest turns into a violent riot, things don’t magically become better”

        If you are an agent provocateur employed by the government or deep state having a peaceful protest turn into a riot could be a desirable outcome.

    5. there is video of white people, antifa? paying black people to break things and directing them in how to do it. there is video where where a palate of bricks ends up in the middle of the city where no construction is going on and even the black kids are saying something isn’t right here this is being prepared and instigated..
      there clearly is outside instigaters but Reason is blind and in their reason roundup Reason apparently wants the police to nothing and let the rioter destroy cities. Maybe Reason is the instigator

      1. Reason is a useful idiot

        1. Look in the mirror.

          1. Is that all you can come up with?

            You’re desperate and way out of your league. But I invite you to continue trying and failing to avoid revealing your dimwittedness

            1. I know you are but what am I?

              1. …a convicted rapist?

    6. Keep trying, John. Eventually you’ll work up your courage to actually shoot at someone. It works better in a group, and have a beer or two.

      1. Is that sort of projection an inherent skill, or did you have to work long hours to become such an asshole?

  3. Ken will be along shortly to tell us how Trump is right, and racism is good.

    1. Those are two opposing statements.

  4. Oops, guess I was late

    1. Early bird catches the worm.

    2. “Oops, guess I was late”

      About a century for your brand of bullshit.

  5. Do not underestimate the effect that a very determined small group dedicated to mayhem can have on the outcome of what would possibly otherwise be a peaceful protest/demonstration. When there is a lot of anger in a group, that anger can quite easily be turned towards violent purposes by just a few people without dedicated and sustained antiviolence leadership.

    1. That is one of my concerns. Even though America will eventually be a majority minority country, there are enough white race terrorists still around to threaten our peaceful multi-cultural, multi-racial society.

      1. Funny though, a couple of lefty white college kids wearing black and inciting violence and destruction, end up doing more damage to black lives than the KKK can even imagine. White race terrorists indeed.

  6. The outsider agitators are smart enough to not get arrested. Duh

  7. Susan Rice just assured us that the rioters were actually organized by …. you guessed it …. the Russians! Which is a roundabout way of saying that the Colluder-In-Chief should be held responsible for the riots.

    Thess fucking people are not even pretending to be rational.

    1. The driver of the oil truck that drove into the crowd in Minneapolis has a Russian-sounding name. Just sayin’

      1. Russia isn’t sending us their best people. Real Americans need to be aware of corrupting foreign influence from Russia.

      2. And he must have been drunk to stop after he did that. A foreigner also would be less likely to have heard of Reginald Denny.

        I wouldn’t have stopped that truck until I reached Canada. Maybe not even then.

  8. “if they’re agents provocateurs, they sure are playing a long game”
    They don’t call it “the long march through the institutions” for nothing.

    1. Soros has been playing the long game for ever and not for the good of any country or out of some strange idealism but so he can play money games on the market.

    2. You know who else liked “long marches”…

      1. Stephen King?

      2. Anybody who had to pay taxes in the middle of aprils?

  9. As the “white supremicists/Russians” narrative quickly collapsed, and knowing that eventually the reality of the leftists organizations behind the escalating violence coming to light, the new narrative is “no one is in charge”

    I call BS.

    1. Mayor Frey is correct. Tell a big lie and the goyim will believe it.

  10. Something about lying, politicians, and moving lips.

  11. Carter claimed Saturday morning that “every single person” arrested in his city the night before had been from out of state.

    Was Carter then forced to admit all the arrestees were in serious relationships?

  12. “Only 13 of the 57 people arrested”
    13/57 ?

    1. “”13/57 ?””

      It’s a time signature only known to progressive metal drummers.

  13. “But you’re fooling yourself if you think they all were”. The tell in this quote is the word “All”. This is straw-manning at its best. No one is saying “all” the violence is caused by outside agitators.

    That being said, history is full of examples of outsiders using disruption to push communities into chaos. We would be naive to think otherwise. It does not matter they are left Antifa or right oath-keepers or bugawhatevers.

    And about those arrest stats. Why is that metric even convincing? Was umbrella-man arrested? Even if he was born and raised in Minneapolis, what is he? Is he an outsider or not? Most of the peaceful protesters would not consider him part of the movement no matter where he is from. And it is easy to smash windows and burn stores during chaos without getting caught. Lets look at who is getting arrested first. They are usually people in front of the cops. Like reporters. They are the ones with the guts to get in the faces of the cops and not the cowards starting fires in the darkness.

    1. Ya. Perfect comment. I have nothing of value to add, but I’m gonna rant anyways.

      You’ll never, ever convince me that umbrella man was with the protesters. He hated them. That doesn’t say anything about where he was from or why he did it, but it’s clear that provocateurs are a thing.

      At the same time, claiming that ALL instigators are from out of town or aren’t with the protesters is silly. For that matter, there are a few state-sanctioned instigators among the police who were pepper spraying and throwing flashbangs before the looting started. And whatever those dude shooting paintballs at people on their own porch were. Those guys are the worst thing I’ve seen out of Minneapolis since the protests started.

  14. These protests are happening all over, so the idea of the outside agitator is pretty stupid. That there is evidence of some Antifa and Black Flag (what’s the diff?) showing up does not mean they were organized.

    However, outside agitators are not a myth. It’s rare, but it happens. Common enough that when a pallet of bricks shows up to a protest site, it’s probably not because they’re planning to spruce up the corner planters.

    My home town, a tiny place of only 9,000 had a big protest once. A racially motivated protest that tore the town apart. It was over the stupidest thing. We had outside agitators. We saw them come in on buses. None of the locals had seen these people before. But it was enough that it make national news and branded out town a racism central (completely not true).

    That of course was not a riot. But the outsiders came anyway. On buses that someone paid for. I have my guesses as to whom (a certain union) but they were not native to the town, had absolutely no stake on the referendum in question. But they were there.

    1. TV party tonight!

  15. >>Feeling uneasy about the disorder erupting at recent protests against police brutality?

    I dunno I kinda laughed about it all weekend. The 2:00 a.m. sacking of Chanel was cute.

  16. Phila. Mayor Kenney told us yesterday that the looting and riots were done by “anarchists and right wingers.” No, it was done by barbarians and lowlife opportunists who saw on the news that the Target was being looted in another part of town, so why not loot the one up the street.

    1. Come on, creech. Everyone knows that Philly is a republican town! Why, they even had a republican mayor a recently as Bernard Samuel (1948-1952)!

  17. former National Security Advisor Susan Rice pointed her finger at #Resistance liberals’ favorite outside agitator, speculating on CNN that all this “is right out of the Russian playbook.”

    Disingenuous cunt. It is right out of the Soviet playbook. Since she wants it associated as far right instead of far left, she would never identify it as the culmination of Marxist ideology.

  18. But riots are never tidy. That’s why they call them riots.

    What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.

    1. Fuck off, you cowardly piece of lefty shit.

      1. Some men you just can’t reach.

  19. Sometimes it’s not quantity but quality that matters. Even if the guy from Festus, Missouri (a suburb about 40 miles South of St. Louis City, about 50 miles from Ferguson, and with a very different demographic profile) is the only out-of-this-zip-code protestor who showed up to Ferguson, he was the one breaking windows on the police precinct. This one outsider’s action is enough to generate the headline “Protestors Break Windows at Ferguson Police Department,” which reflects poorly on the whole lot of protestors.

  20. Jesse makes some good points. On the other hand, it seems like every time Ben Crump is publicly hired, riots follow.

  21. NBC News reports that many police agencies believe that there was significant Antifa involvement in the riots. NBC wouldn’t lie about that, in fact I’m surprised they even mentioned it.

    https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/justice-department/law-enforcement-plays-catch-stop-violence-radical-groups-protests-n1220486?fbclid=IwAR2jAsFWTLjmehw96Poz2HiWaJGauAm18M7nPuof5S_WiFmFVjphp59XXZI

  22. If anyone thinks that demonstrations and riots just ‘spontaneously happened’ in 140 towns and cities around the United States this weekend, I have a bridge to sell you. This was helped and assisted.

    The rioters and looters are attempting to literally destroy our Republic.

    Shoot them.

  23. I appreciate the reasoned position here but, like a lot of riots, the violence seems to go beyond the initial purpose. What does burning a Church or looting a store have to with Floyd? Unless, as argued in the article he’s just symbolic of other or bigger grievances – which I’m not buying.

    I think this is just plain old nihilism.

    I don’t know. It all seems less spontaneous and more orchestrated. For it to be the former, it would mean civil unrest is constantly present with people ready to explode at every perceived injustice. To constantly react in this manner means nihilism prevails and for nihilism to manifest itself like we see with the riots you need critical mass to make it happen. Is this really the case? Are black really so violent and angry to the point of destroying their own neighbourhoods?

    And for it to happen and spread across the country so quick is also surreal to the point it looks like it is indeed coordinated.

    How does law enforcement investigate this? Is there grounds to look into this ‘George Soros’ conspiracy? The other day I saw a black guy in his town filming a pallet full of bricks asking any sane person would ask: Who has pallets of bricks and moves them around so quick?

    It’s, also, funny how pandemics and riots tend to seemingly happen in election years.

    1. Not every injustice, just a particularly bad one that summed up decades of grievances after everyone was already on edge from lockdown orders.

  24. Perhaps “professional agitator” would be a better term.

  25. Sunday morning I was watching This Week with George Stephanopoulos and people were saying the Minneapolis rioters were from out of the area. Then the station cut to a press conference by the local (Albany NY) mayor, where she said the rioters here were from out of the area. So, where are they all coming from? Is Elon Musk bringing them from Mars?

  26. A friend organized outside agitators in Boston. They graffitied walls at night with racist slogans. Locals thought it was locals who painted them. Therefore they believed their neighbors were racists, and hence that racism was acceptable to express in their neighborhood.

    1. In the 1960s the FBI forged Black Panther Party comic books to make them even more extreme and sow disunity among the Panthers and make the group less attractive to blacks. Remember, America’s elites have always benefited from a proletariat fractured and weakened by racial hatred.

  27. Yep, Hire rioters to make the other side look bad. It was well known that Nixon had FBI agents dress up as hippies to turn anti-Vietnam protests into riots, and this kind of stuff has a long history In other countries too. Kind of curious how hardly anyone heard of antifa until Trump’s inauguration.

  28. One thing to keep in mind about folks who are from out of state or out of town is that just because they have ID that says they’re from out of town doesn’t mean they don’t live in Minneapolis. A 23-year-old kid working his first job outside his home town, or a 19-year-old college student could very well have an ID with his parents address in Duluth or Fargo.

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