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Social Media, Websites Escalate Tension in Ferguson

A car parked outside police headquarters in Ferguson, Missouri, carries its own messaging, conveyed via a reporter's tweet, on Nov. 21, 2014.

In news accounts and on social media, it looks as if demonstrators are clashing daily with law enforcement officers in Ferguson, Missouri. In reality, demonstrations have been mostly peaceful since the violence immediately following the August 9 shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer.

Some local demonstrators have been attending classes in nonviolent action. Leaders have asked their groups to call out anyone they see causing trouble.

But some organizations, such as RbG Black Rebels, are inflaming matters. The self-described urban militia has offered a reward on Twitter for the location of Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

At the other end of the spectrum, the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, has been distributing fliers warning protesters that they have awakened a "sleeping giant."

List of targets?

Some conservative websites have published stories accusing protest groups of issuing a list of "potential targets."

Gateway Pundit, a political website run by Tea Party activist Jim Hoft, said the website released such a list. But a visit to that site shows a list of "possible protest spaces." "Remember, we actively advocate and profess the importance of peaceful protest," the NoIndictment website says. "We do not support, condone or encourage violence."

The Conservative Tribune said a target list was published by Justice for Mike Brown Facebook page.

But Derk Brown, who administers the Justice page, told VOA he never posted such a list. "I saw the list," he said, adding he "never mentioned it on my page. Not one time."

Neither the Gateway Pundit nor the Conservative Tribune responded to VOA ‘s Facebook requests for interviews.

Tense community

Social media content and violent images in the news from August have put the community on edge — so much so that Missouri’s governor, Jay Nixon, declared a state of emergency last Monday.

“We’re certainly concerned about folks that are not coming to speak but instead are coming to instigate or cause harm to their fellow citizens or to the property,” Nixon said in explaining the declaration. The move activated the National Guard, making its members available to assist law enforcement.

Some Ferguson businesses are boarding up their storefronts. Business owners told VOA they’re taking that measure not because they feel threatened but because their insurance companies have insisted on it.

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