When two loud explosions sounded on the streets of Lafayette, Louisiana, no one knew where the shots were coming from as protesters gathered to demand justice for another black man killed by police.
Among the crowd was a group of armed black men and women who call themselves the Not F *** ing Around Coalition or NFAC (something like "Coalición esto es J ** a", in Spanish).
The group did not run into the shots or break formation.
Instead, they knelt on the ground amidst the confusion, then walked away after their leader yelled, "Back off!
The Atlanta-based group of black people has grown in size due to frustration during a summer of protests against questionable policing and the deaths of countless black people at the hands of the police, said its founder, John Fitzgerald Johnson.
Their presence has caused a stir in the cities they have visited and the group has drawn some criticism after people accidentally fired a gun during two of their rallies, including the one in Lafayette.
Started in 2017, the group marched on Stone Mountain, Georgia, calling for the removal of the largest Confederate monument in the country;
in Brunswick, Georgia, for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery;
in Louisville, Kentucky, demanding more transparency in the Breonna Taylor case;
and most recently in Lafayette, Louisiana, on behalf of Trayford Pellerin.
Along with protesters mobilizing in various US cities, predominantly white groups have also come forward and asserted their Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Unlike many of those groups, Johnson says his group emerged as a response to enduring racial inequality and police brutality.
"We are no longer 'screwed' about the continuing abuse within our community and the lack of respect for our men, women and children," Johnson told CNN.
The group of blacks, Johnson said, intends to protect, police and educate black communities about firearms and their constitutional rights.
"We are not against anyone," said Johnson, also known as Grandmaster Jay.
The group is exercising its constitutional rights, says founder
Large black armed groups are not something you see often in the US The best known was the Black Panther Party established in 1966, after the shooting of Matthew Johnson, a black teenager killed by the police.
Since then, the group has mostly disappeared.
The NFAC already sets itself apart from other groups across the country, Thomas Mockaitis, a history professor at DePaul University and author of "Violent Extremists: Understanding the National and International Terrorist Threat," told CNN.
"In a sense, the NFAC echoes the Black Panthers, but they are more heavily armed and more disciplined ... Until now, they have coordinated with the police and avoided engaging in violence," he said.
Johnson said the group is made up of "American citizens exercising our constitutional rights and the color of our skin should make no difference."
“Nobody says anything when other demographic groups take up arms, decide to arm themselves and confront the government for anything from wearing a mask to being locked in the house.
But when certain demographic groups are suddenly armed, people tend to act as if the Constitution doesn't matter, ”Johnson said.
There is no moral equivalence when comparing the NFAC to white armed groups, Mockaitis said.
"The white militia movement is older, larger, probably more armed, certainly more generalized, has many more people and has been violent."
And while Mockaitis said the NFAC has made some questionable comments, including challenging white armed groups during a rally in Georgia, he doesn't think the NFAC has an overtly racist ideology.
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Blacks and Guns in Kentucky, Georgia and Louisiana
Members of the NFAC dressed in black raised their fists and shouted "black power" in at least three cities, without major incidents.
But days of tensions have preceded their demonstrations.
"Black boots, black pants, black button-down shirt, black mask, shotgun, semiautomatic, or rifle," Johnson said in a video, on social media, announcing the group's plans to "descend" to Louisville for a rally, the July 25, CNN affiliate WDRB reported.
The arrival of the NFAC quickly became a concern among city officials.
At the time, the city had seen more than a month of protests centered on the death of Breonna Taylor and some had turned violent.
David James, president of the Louisville Metropolitan Council, said officials simply did not want people to march through city streets with guns.
Under state law, no one other than the Kentucky National Guard or the active Kentucky militia "shall associate as an armed company or exercise or parade with weapons" without the permission of the governor.
City officials still decided not to invoke that rule, James said.
A spokeswoman for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in a statement that city officials have worked hard to reach out to all groups, including the NFAC, and have seen mostly peaceful protests.
"Balancing the First Amendment rights of protesters with our duty - and our practical ability - to protect public safety requires flexibility and communication," said Jean Porter, the Mayor's Deputy Communications Director.
The NFAC has held at least two demonstrations in Louisville to demand justice for Breonna Taylor.
The possibility of an armed black group clashing with an armed white group was also a factor.
A few weeks earlier, the NFAC had marched to the Confederate monument in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and one of its members called for a showdown with white militia groups.
When asked by CNN about that incident, Johnson said the NFAC was exercising the right to free speech.
They knew that white armed groups generally gathered there, Johnson said, and the NFAC was responding to "that threat."
Police told the Louisville Courier-Journal in July that they were investigating the incident as a negligent shooting and could result in criminal charges.
The outcome of the investigation is unclear.
CNN has reached out to the Louisville Police Department for comment.
When the NFAC marched on Louisville, they encountered an armed extremist group, mostly white, called the "Three Percenters" ("Three Percent").
The two groups yelled at each other, but the riot police kept them apart.
Shots were fired at the event when an NFAC member dropped his weapon and wounded three other NFAC members with pellets.
Johnson has said it was an accident.
The group returned to Louisville on September 5, the day of the Kentucky Derby, and marched to Churchill Downs.
But they dispersed earlier than planned when another group appeared.
Johnson said he did not want the NFAC to be blamed if there were any confrontations, CNN affiliate WLKY reported.
Earlier this month, the NFAC headed to southern Louisiana after seeing a Facebook post from U.S. Representative Clay Higgins of the Third District.
The Sept. 1 post on Higgins' campaign page, which has since been removed, included photos of armed black protesters and warned that if those protesters made it to Lafayette, he would "drop 10 of you where you stand." according to CNN affiliate KATC.
A Facebook spokesperson told CNN that the post was removed because it violated the platform's policies against incitement to violence.
CNN's attempts to contact Higgins's campaign have been unsuccessful.
A spokesman for his campaign told Fox News at the time that Higgins has a "history of speaking his mind" and that he is "very sincere and straightforward."
Higgins earlier this month said in a statement to KATC that he recognizes the right of the NFAC to assemble peacefully and does not believe that the group "has violent intentions."
Members raised their weapons in Sans Souci Park in Lafayette, Louisiana, on October 3.
Local officials granted the NFAC a permit to hold their event on October 3.
The group gathered there to protest the murder of Trayford Pellerin, a 31-year-old black man, who was shot by police in August.
They are our visitors.
They are our guests and, nevertheless, we have laid the red carpet for them, "said Carlos Harvin, head of Minority Affairs for the Lafayette government, about the group.
"They want the same thing we want: a safe community," Harvin said.
The protest ended peacefully despite the arrest of a person who, according to police, accidentally fired a gun at the event.
The NFAC said the person was not part of their group.
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A counterpoint to other groups, say some experts
There is no way to monitor armed groups because each state and city has its own rules.
But authorities tend to take a "very cautious, almost kid's glove approach" with them, said Carolyn Gallaher, a professor and associate dean of the American University School of International Service.
They walk a fine line between avoiding a shooting in the streets and not looking like they are sanctioning armed groups, said Gallaher, author of "On the Fault Line: Race, Class, and the American Patriot Movement." Failure: Race, Class, and the American Patriotic Movement ').
John Fitzgerald Johnson or Grand Master Jay has studied the work of Malcom X and other black leaders.
For Judson L. Jeffries, professor of African American and African Studies at Ohio State University, the NFAC's priority thus far has been to stop police brutality.
And it would be interesting to see how the behavior and ideology of the group evolves in the future.
The group could follow Martin Luther King Jr.'s line of thought, he says, showing "great patience and love for those who oppressed him."
Or align more with Malcolm X, who favored self-defense against white violence.
"I hope we don't get to the point where we witness shootings, open warfare between Police Departments and these (armed) groups," Jeffries said.
"I can't help wondering if we are getting close to that point because there is limited punishment, which can be applied to a group of people before they respond in the same way."
Johnson has said on multiple occasions that the NFAC is a peaceful group with no history of violent incidents.
Louisville and Lafayette authorities told CNN that no major incidents were reported during NFAC events in their cities.
Several militia experts also described the group as a counterpoint to some of the mostly white armed groups in the United States.
Especially those who have been associated with white supremacist and neo-Confederate ideologies.
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What we know about the founder
Years before Johnson ran the NFAC and called on his social media followers to advocate for the black community, he served in the military and was known by some as a DJ and hiphop producer.
Johnson declined to discuss his life outside of the NFAC.
But records show that he served in the Virginia National Guard and the Army from 1989 to 2006. He was a private when he left the military, according to the Army.
Most recently, Johnson unsuccessfully campaigned for the 2016 presidential election as an independent, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Although the NFAC has clearly drawn several hundred people to its rallies, the size of the membership is unknown, as is much of Johnson's life.
Johnson would not reveal the membership, but said his group grew "exponentially" after the Louisville march and after the age limit was lowered from 21 to 18.
And for some people like Kristen "KC" Colemon and her 9-year-old daughter, the group is seen as a symbol of empowerment rather than fear.
"It was beautiful to have a group that showed America and white groups that we are not going to back down," Colemon, a Knoxville hairstylist, told CNN.
The 31-year-old and her daughter attended the NFAC rally on October 3, in Lafayette.
"She knew those weapons were there to protect her and not to hurt her," Colemon said.
Her daughter was nervous with so many guns, the mother said, but she went home feeling even more proud to be black.