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How a 21-year-old influencer incited a riot in Manhattan by promising to give away loads of video gaming equipment

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You’ve probably never heard of Kai Cenat. But to his millions of young followers, the social media influencer is a big deal. And after yesterday, many more people now know about him—thanks to a riot in Manhattan that resulted in snarled traffic, suspended subway service, and more than 60 arrests. 

The 21-year-old announced earlier this week on Twitch a “huge giveaway” of video game consoles and other gaming gear—headphones, webcams, gift cards—to be held from a truck at New York’s Union Square on Friday, with prizes given to those who answered random questions pertaining to YouTube and streaming, as CNN reported. On the given day, hundreds and then thousands of people showed up—and the situation quickly got out of hand.

“We went from 300 kids to a couple thousand kids in minutes,” NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey said Friday evening, adding, “This shows the power of social media and the danger of social media.” 

Cenat’s ability to mobilize a large crowd comes as little surprise. He has more than 4 million followers on YouTube, over 5 million on Instagram, and some 6.5 million on Twitch. Yet he neither alerted police about the event nor obtained a city permit, Maddrey noted.

On Saturday, the NYPD said Cenat had been charged with inciting a riot and unlawful assembly, among other charges.

The chaos was undeniable. Maddrey said members of the crowd began to “commit acts of violence against the police and the public.” That included throwing rocks and bottles, pushing back against police carrying riot shields, jumping onto cars, storming a CVS store and handing things out, and “taking plates off of people who were outside dining,” said Maddrey, noting that he himself had been struck with “multiple objects.” A bus holding those detained by police also fell under attack as others sought to free them.

Mayor Eric Adams commented on the gathering on Saturday during a news conference. “This is a parenting issue,” he said, adding, “Our children cannot be raised by social media.” He added that the event “could have turned really ugly.”

As for Cenat, he later shared news coverage of the event with his followers, adding “stay safe” and “I love you guys to the fullest you guys are amazing,” as CNN reported.

During the chaos, he streamed to his followers from seemingly from inside the truck, noting the large police presence and declaring, “It’s everybody for themselves. It’s a war out there.”

When he eventually emerged outside, he was surrounded and cheered by fans before police took him into custody.

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