George Floyd protests

Everything we know about the feds’ case against the Philly protester charged with torching police cars

Lore-Elizabeth Blumenthal is currently being held without bail.

Police cars aflame in Philadelphia on May 30, 2020

Police cars aflame in Philadelphia on May 30, 2020

Emma Lee / WHYY
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An internet search for “Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal” a couple of weeks ago would’ve returned hits for a Philly massage therapist with an unassuming Poshmark profile and a standard Etsy account.

Now, search the name and you’ll get dozens of photos of a woman, allegedly Blumenthal, wearing a sky blue t-shirt and hocking a flaming piece of something into an already trashed police vehicle, a leafy peace symbol tattoo blurry from the dramatic motion.

Federal prosecutors arrested Blumenthal for allegedly setting fire to two PPD vehicles, a sedan and an SUV. She appeared in court on June 16, and has been held without bail ever since.

The case is attracting international attention, in part because of tactics the FBI and Homeland Security used to apprehend their suspect. As first reported by the Inquirer, feds pinpointed Blumenthal using a combo of social media photos, live news video and internet stalking by investigators like FBI Special Agent Joseph Carpenter, which raises issues about online privacy regulations.

The 33-year-old faces two counts of knowingly causing malicious destruction of a federally-owned vehicle. PPD cars can be defined that way because the city’s police department receives federal grants.

This charge carries a mandatory minimum of 7 years, and Blumenthal ultimately faces up to 80 years in prison and a $500k fine if convicted.

Here’s our chronological rundown of everything that’s happened in the case so far.

May 30: First Philly demonstration erupts

The first mass demonstration against the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis came to Philadelphia. Around 3,000 people attended.

The daylong peaceful protest turned rowdy after groups clashed with police north of City Hall. It was there that officials say Blumenthal grabbed a burning piece of wood from one PPD vehicle, which was already on fire, and threw it into another, according to court documents.

Special Agent Carpenter said in an affidavit that he was watching the news live when he saw “a white female, in a blue tee shirt and jeans, wearing a brown/green backpack, grey gloves, multi-colored mask, and black boots,” make the fiery throw.

June 4: News footage obtained

U.S. Attorney William McSwain coordinated an investigation involving the FBI, ATF, PPD, Homeland Security and the local fire marshal’s office

Court documents note that on June 4, they obtained video footage from a live news feed that showed the woman removing the flaming piece of wood from one car and “shoving it” into the window of the next. That footage proved pivotal, allowing investigators to establish the description that would eventually match Blumenthal’s.

June 9: Vimeo and Instagram pics

Five days later, Homeland Security passed the FBI a Vimeo video that more clearly depicts the woman setting fire to the cars.

Social media pictures were also key in identifying Blumenthal. Carpenter saw an Instagram pic of the moment the woman in the sky blue shirt was throwing a flaming piece of something into a graffitied sedan while a few people stood watching.

More photos show a t-shirt slogan

Agents contacted the Instagram account owner and he shared a bunch of photos he took from the protest.

Paul J. Hetznecker, Blumenthal’s attorney, spoke about the double edged sword that is protest-related social media.

“Social media has fueled much of the protests, and has also become a fertile ground for government surveillance,” he told the Inquirer. “I think people have lost awareness of that.”

From the IG photographer’s images, investigators zeroed in on a distinguishable peace symbol tattoo on the woman’s forearm. They also saw that the blue t-shirt read “Keep the immigrants, deport the racists,” and tracked it to an Etsy shop owner.

A photo feds say was taken at the scene of the May 30 protest; a screenshot from the Vimeo video used by authorities to track Blumenthal down

A photo feds say was taken at the scene of the May 30 protest; a screenshot from the Vimeo video used by authorities to track Blumenthal down

Federal court filings

‘Alleycatlore’ and an Etsy subpoena

An Etsy user from Philadelphia named “Xx Mv” left a positive review on that “Keep the immigrants” shirt’s page. The name was cryptic, but not inconspicuous enough. The user’s URL was “alleycatlore.”

With a search using that tag, investigators found a “Lore-Elisabeth” on Poshmark, a new and used clothing sales platform.

Feds subpoenaed the Etsy shop owner, and that person gave investigators details about “alleycatlore’s” purchase. The user was named Lore Elisabeth, she bought a light blue t-shirt and had it shipped to an address in Germantown.

A delicate tattoo, the giveaway

Investigators headed back to Google.

Their search for Lore Elisabeth yielded a LinkedIn profile, which said she worked as a massage therapist at a Philadelphia company. That company had promotional videos on its website. Some of those videos show a woman whose physical appearance matched that of Blumenthal’s driver’s license photo and who had a delicate but sizable peace sign tattoo traced in ivy vines on her forearm.

They already had an address thanks to the Etsy shop owner.

June 16: Arrest in Germantown

Special Agent Carpenter requested an arrest warrant for Blumenthal on June 15. It was granted, and she was arrested the next day. According to court documents, her arrest was eventful.

Feds say they knocked on her Germantown door and she came to the window but didn’t open the door. They forced their way through one entrance before she appeared behind the second, “screaming at agents, asking where the warrant was, but refusing to open the front door,” documents say.

Authorities broke through and Blumenthal allegedly ran into her house to evade arrest. She was captured and continued to struggle, officials say.

Feds allege she struggled through her booking, contorting her body to avoid having her tattoos photographed.

June 19: Hold without bail

The U.S. attorney’s office filed a motion to hold Blumenthal in prison until her trial. They said she was a danger to the community and a flight risk.

Federal Judge Marilyn Heffley agreed and Blumenthal was ordered held on pretrial detention. She’s been at the Federal Detention Center on 7th and Arch ever since.

The burned remains of a police car, as presented by federal authorities

The burned remains of a police car, as presented by federal authorities

Federal court filings

June 22: Lawyer argues for $100k bond

Blumenthal’s attorney Hetznecker, a Philly civil rights attorney who also represents a man who engaged in a shootout with police last summer, appealed the pretrial detention decision.

Hetznecker argued Blumenthal should be released on $100k bond under conditions including house arrest, restricted travel and no passport access. He submitted nearly 40 support letters on her behalf.

“[W]e need more young people like Ms. Blumenthal and we as stewards of our society need to recognize the genuine value that her kindness offers to our nature as a whole,” read one letter. “Lore is not a threat to the public’s health, safety or property as she is being painted by this charge,” said a supporter in another.

The lawyer argued against the flight risk characterization. Authorities confiscated her passport and she showed cooperation during her small past run-ins with the law. Blumenthal was arrested twice as a teen for shoplifting but did no jail time.

June 23: Bail denied

The pretrial detention was upheld on Tuesday by Judge C. Darnell Jones, II.

In court, U.S. Attorneys argued Blumenthal was:

  • A danger because she acted violently toward cars with people around,
  • A flight risk because her sentence carries a mandatory minimum of seven years in prison,
  • A flight risk because she has a boyfriend in Iceland, a non-extradition country.

No further hearings have yet been scheduled yet.

Other protest-related arrests

Blumenthal is believed to be the first person associated with the Philadelphia protests to be apprehended by the federal government, but she’s not the first person to be charged and arrested after events surrounding the protests.

District Attorney Larry Krasner said his office arraigned more than 1,000 felony and misdemeanor cases for commercial and residential burglaries during the period of civil unrest. One thousand more were arrested for curfew violations during the same time period.

One former Philadelphia police officer, Joseph Bologna, was also charged for assaulting a protester.

Want some more? Explore other George Floyd protests stories.

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