A Philadelphia woman has been charged by federal authorities with setting fire to two police cars during protests over the death of George Floyd.
Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal, 33, faces two counts of felony arson, U.S. Attorney William McSwain’s office said in a news release. She is accused of setting the police cars alight during the first day of protests in Philadelphia, which began peacefully but gave way to mass looting and destruction as the day wore on.
“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. 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,” McSwain said in a statement.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw also commended peaceful protesters while decrying the actions of people who she said used the opportunity to engage in “malicious, destructive” crimes that could have left people hurt.
A criminal complaint against Blumenthal shows federal agents tracking her down through social media, a t-shirt sale and her tattoos.
Paul Hetznecker, an attorney representing Blumenthal, described the decision to charge his client federally as “political.” “This case should have remained in state court like the other 650 cases charged locally,” he said.
FBI Special Agent Joseph Carpenter said in an affidavit of probable cause that he first saw Blumenthal holding a burning piece of a police barricade and shoving it into a Philadelphia Police Department SUV while watching aerial footage of the protests on the news. A video posted to Vimeo and sent to the FBI by the Department of Homeland Security also allegedly captured the moment.
Carpenter said he saw a picture of the torching posted to Instagram and asked the account-holder to provide more photos, through which he was able to make out a tattoo of a “peace” sign on Blumenthal’s forearm.
An amateur photographer later gave the FBI about 500 photos of the protest, the special agent said, through which they saw Blumenthal without a face covering and wearing a t-shirt that read “Keep the immigrants, deport the racists.”
The FBI then tracked the t-shirt to a seller on Etsy and saw a five-star review of it from someone with a public account who had a Philadelphia location. From the Etsy URL they determined the username as being “alleycatlore.”
After searching for the username online, the FBI found a Poshmaker user with the display name “lore-elisabeth.” They then found a website and a LinkedIn profile for someone with the name “Lore Elisabeth” who worked as a massage therapist. The website for the massage therapy company had videos, about four years old, showing a woman with the same “peace” sign tattoo on her forearm as the woman seen torching police cars.
The website also had a phone number for “Lore Elisabeth,” Carpenter said, which the FBI cross-checked with the Pennsylvania DMV to find a photo of Blumenthal and pinpoint her address.
Authorities followed up by issuing a grand jury subpoena to the Etsy seller. The subpoena showed “Keep the immigrants, deport the racists,” t-shirts shipped to Blumenthal’s address, according to Carpenter. The next day, a PennDOT search turned up a car registered to Blumenthal at the same address, the special agent said.
Blumenthal is currently being held in federal custody. If convicted, she faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.