Neo-Nazis from a local branch of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) attempted to protest an anti-racism workshop held Saturday at the Midtown YWCA in Minneapolis, but were turned back by a counter-protest organized by neighborhood members and community groups.
Four men brandishing American flags and signs that read “Help the White Race” and “Fight for the Right to be White” stood along a sidewalk facing the YWCA.
The men, shielded by Minneapolis police, were met by a counter-protest of close to 200 people from the neighborhood and from organizations including the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Coalition.
The workshop, called “More Than Skin Deep: Uprooting White Privilege and White Supremacy One Cell at a Time” continued uninterrupted inside the YWCA building Saturday afternoon. All 40 seats for the workshop were filled.
Security was increased Saturday morning at the YWCA facility. Employees stood guard outside the parking lot, allowing only people associated with the counter-protest and YWCA members in.
Before the white supremacist demonstrators could reach their intended destination at East Lake Street and 22nd Street, a member of the counter-protest camp spotted the members of the NSM and the group confronted them immediately.
Words and shoves quickly turned into eggs and tomatoes and a police barricade was created around the NSM members, which resulted in the closure of a block of 31st Street.
J Victor Johnson, a resident in the neighborhood, was one of the first protestors to confront the NSM group. In the initial clash, a member of the neo-Nazi group swung a flagstaff at Johnson, striking him.
“I’ve never been particularly inclined to let fascism prevail,” Johnson, an 18-year resident of the neighborhood said. “They can’t be allowed to get a foothold in our neighborhood.”
By 10 a.m., the planned start time of the initial demonstration, the NSM group requested police assistance in escorting them back to their car.
For several blocks, counter-protesters followed the group back to their car, chanting “Nazis out, don’t come back” and “no hate to our state.”
Protestor Jeff Hargarten said he found out about the protest the day before through a Facebook invitation he received. Sporting a Guy Fawkes mask and a black cloak, protester Hargarten was encouraged by a number of counter-protestors.
“We were able to mobilize quickly,” neighborhood resident Michelle Rochne said.
According to Rochne, a representative from the NSM came to the YWCA this past Tuesday inquiring about the anti-racism workshop. This startled the organization and at a community planning meeting Wednesday night, the community decided to take action.
“It’s a human thing to lash out,” Rochne said of the NSM demonstrators, “that fear button is easy to push.”