Feds use internet sleuthing to charge Philly woman with arson during protests

Police cars burn in front of City Hall

Police cars burn in front of City Hall on May 30, 2020. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

United States Attorney William McSwain announced charges Wednesday against a woman for allegedly torching two police cruisers during protests in center city on May 30.

Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal, 33, a white resident of Germantown, is in federal custody. She’s charged with criminal arson and faces up to ten years in prison.

“We at the U.S. Attorney’s Office fully support the First Amendment right of the people to assemble peaceably and to petition their government,” McSwain said in a statement. “ But torching a police car has nothing to do with peaceful protest or any legitimate message. It is a violent and despicable act that will be prosecuted in this District to the fullest extent of the law.”

In the complaint, the Federal Bureau of Investigation lays out how it came to detain Blumenthal in granular detail.

Helicopter cameras covering the protests that Saturday captured a white woman in a blue shirt using a piece of a wooden barricade to light a PPD vehicle on fire. Photos posted on social media and provided to the FBI by an amateur photographer provide a clearer picture of the woman, including a distinctive tattoo and t-shirt.

The shirt read: “Keep the immigrants. Deport the racists.”

The FBI traced that shirt to a particular merchant operating on the online marketplace ‘Etsy.’ Last March, a user who listed their location as Philadelphia left a comment about buying the shirt. The FBI was able to connect the buyer’s account to Poshmark, another online marketplace, and then to Blumenthal’s Linkedin profile, where she was listed as working as a massage therapist.

From there, law enforcement found a massage demonstration video posted online, where Blumenthal is shown with a tattoo of a peace sign that matches with one on the forearm of the woman photographed at the protest.

The FBI also believes the gloves she was wearing were “flame retardant,” showing intent to engage in activities such as arson.

The FBI has been urging the public to share photos or videos of acts of violence or property destruction during protests in the Philadelphia area, but this is reportedly the first person to be arrested based on footage taken during those protests.

Blumenthal’s attorney did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

19th day of protests in the Philly region

On the 19th day of protests in the Philadelphia region following the police killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day, demonstrations continued in the region.

About 30 Philadelphia sanitation workers and their supporters gathered at LOVE park Wednesday afternoon to demand hazard pay, personal protective equipment, and the rescinding of disciplinary actions taken against some sanitation workers after a rally held last week.

“When city workers are under attack, what do we do? Stand up and fight back!” the crowd chanted.

Before a similar rally held June 9th, Streets Department Commissioner Carlton Williams said any workers who took an “unauthorized absence” to attend the rally could face termination. 

Seven workers who attended that rally have been told they will be suspended, according to Omar Salaam, Business Manager of AFSCME Local 427, which represents the city’s sanitation workers.

“A lot of these guys have worked the last three months straight,” Salaam said. “[The city] is not taking any consideration of their family, their health, anything.”

A request for comment to the Streets Department was not immediately returned.

Other protests planned Wednesday include ones in Northwest Philadelphia and suburban Delaware County.

Crew covers Columbus monument at Penn’s Landing; a quiet afternoon at Marconi Plaza

A crew covered the base of a monument to Christopher Columbus at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia on Wednesday, a day after the city erected a protective box around a Columbus statue in South Philadelphia.

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, which maintains the statue said in a statement Tuesday that it is considering whether to remove the monument.

“Until the process is resolved, the base of the monument will be covered in an effort to protect public safety, reduce continued pain, and to act as a platform for meaningful engagement.”

The monument was erected in 1992 with the support of influential Italian-American officials. It was the same year a section of Delaware Avenue was renamed Columbus Boulevard.

Meanwhile, after days of chaotic protests and tension over whether a statue of Christopher Columbus should remain in South Philadelphia’s Marconi Plaza, the area was mostly deserted Wednesday afternoon.

Beginning Saturday, a crowd of up to several-hundred white people, some carrying bats and other weapons, have been gathering to “protect” the statue — both from what was rumored to be impending removal by the city, and from protestors who see it as a symbol of oppression.

The statue’s defenders and detractors have been clashing in the days since, with the confrontation occasionally becoming violent. A longtime Philadelphia Police Captain assigned to the area was transferred in the wake of the uproar. On Tuesday the city erected a ‘protective box’ around the statue, masking it from view. Mayor Kim Kenney has asked the city’s Art Commission to begin a public process to “consider the future” of the statue.

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