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Published March 03, 2012, 06:49 PM

VIDEO: White Supremacists Clash With Counter-protesters at Duluth Rally

DULUTH - A white supremacist rally on the steps of Duluth City Hall turned into a raucous confrontation on Saturday, with dozens of counter-protesters shouting, chanting and pelting the white-pride group with snowballs.

By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH - A white supremacist rally on the steps of Duluth City Hall turned into a raucous confrontation on Saturday, with dozens of counter-protesters shouting, chanting and pelting the white-pride group with snowballs.

For 30 minutes, the two groups stood face-to-face as a steady snow fell, watched by a line of Duluth police, wearing safety helmets, who stood against the building. Aside from some pushing and shoving and the snowballs, the confrontation was verbal.

Four people were arrested on disorderly conduct charges, Duluth police said in a news release. Three of the four were released; the other was held on an unrelated warrant. Two of the four were from Minneapolis; the others were from Iron River and Duluth. It appeared that all who were arrested were part of the counter-protest group.

The white supremacists organized the rally in response to the Un-Fair anti-racism campaign to draw attention to racial inequalities in the Twin Ports. The campaign, launches in January, has featured billboards and ads that picture a white person’s face and the slogan: “It’s hard to see racism when you’re white.”

Saturday’s clash started at about 10:30 a.m., as 11 members of the Supreme White Alliance group walking west on a blockaded First Street toward the Civic Center and were met by a group carrying a large banner with the words: “No Nazis. No KKK. Smash White Supremacy.” The groups met on the street in front of the Duluth News Tribune building, as the white supremacists turned to go up the steps to the west side of City Hall. Some of the counter-protesters began throwing snowballs at the white supremacists, and members of the two groups jostled one another as they jockeyed for position on the steps.

Various counter-protesters shouted: “Nazis out!” “Get out of Duluth!” “You’re not wanted!” and “Get out of here!” Then they erupted in a chant of “Go home!”

Robert Hester of Superior, a member of the Supreme White Alliance who organized the rally, said later that he was able to give the entire speech he had planned, but he couldn’t be heard. Duluth police banned use of amplifiers, and earlier had told an American Indian Council group staging a counter-rally of its own in the Civic Center that it had to turn off its microphones.

Even if his voice had been amplified, Hester might not have been heard over the vigor of the chanting protesters, many of whom were from the Occupy Duluth group. A second member of the supremacist group held a revolving set of signs printed with words such as “Whites can be victims too” and “No more white guilt.” The man declined to identify himself.

A woman with the group who gave her name as Laurie said she had driven eight hours from Wisconsin to participate because she was offended by what she had heard about the billboards used in the Un-Fair campaign.

“I work two jobs to support my kids,” the woman said. “I don’t get a bonus because I’m white.”

She declined to give her last name. “I’m in the phone book,” she said. “I don’t want to get 75 phone calls from these people. That’s what they would do.”

By 11 a.m., it was over. Police escorted the white supremacist group into City Hall as counter-protesters chanted: “Run and hide. Go inside.” Hester later said they walked through City Hall and then outside to where they had parked their cars at Michigan Street and Fourth Avenue West, and that they neither sought nor had confrontations along the way.

Occupy Duluth member Jesse Peterson led a chant accusing police of sympathizing with the white supremacists, and then started an impromptu speech. These white supremacists were easy to see, Peterson said, but others are among us every day, some wearing suits.

He was interrupted by Bob Cayman of Cloquet, who shouted that the issue was the billboards. When protesters tried to shout him down, he yelled, “I have a right to speak, too.”

Someone shouted back: “You’re spewing hatred and ignorance. We’re not listening.”

Again, a few pushes were exchanged, but what started as a confrontation evolved into a calm discussion between Cayman and about five or six other people.

Cayman said he wasn’t part of the white supremacist group but had come to Duluth because he wanted to hear both sides of the issue.

Ben Painter, 25, one of those who talked with Cayman, said he came to the rally because “a bunch of my friends down in Minneapolis decided we couldn’t stand for this. I believe racism is a form of abuse and to have them come up here and spew abuse all over, that’s not right.”

Many of the 150 or so people who arrived at the Civic Center well before the white supremacists gave similar reasons. It started at 9 a.m. with a peaceful gathering led by the Anishinaabe community. Among the speakers was Clyde Bellecourt, 75, of Minneapolis, a founder of the American Indian Movement.

“All we can do today is pray for those people that are ignorant,” Bellecourt told the group. “They know absolutely nothing about the people who live next door to them because they refuse to talk to them because of the color of their skin. So what does that turn in to? Ignorance. Ignorance is what breeds racism. Ignorance is what forms these white supremacist groups.”

But the majority of the counter-protesters seemed to be in a more confrontational mood. Bronson Myers, 21, of Mankato, Minn., carried a flag diagonally split between red and black fields. He described it as an anarchist and anti-fascist flag and himself as an anarchist.

“By being here we’re showing that we’re not going to run from you,” Myers said of the white supremacists. “We’re going to stand up against you. It shows that we don’t want them in this community.”

He was ready to defend himself if the situation became violent, Myers said.

The Civic Center protesters discounted the wishes of another protest group that met during the same time at Canal Park to deliberately ignore the white supremacists while taking a stand against racism.

Joel Kilgour, who organized the Canal Park rally, said about 300 people showed up for what he called “a beautiful party. It was really a broad cross-section of the community.”

The group listened to a couple of speeches, enjoyed music, rededicated themselves to confront racism in everyday life, and even posed for a group picture as the snow fell around them, Kilgour said.

Kilgour said he wasn’t surprised that other protesters chose to go to the Civic Center, but said he was disappointed to learn the protest “got a little out of hand.”

“That’s not the image I want of our community,” Kilgour said. “I think we can really rise above the hate and work proactively to achieve racial justice.”

Hester, on the other hand, said things went as he expected.

“We got there, we said our piece,” said Hester, who has been part of about a dozen rallies. “It went exactly like all the other rallies go. We get there, they start attacking us. We get up there to do our thing, they’re in our face. They start screwing around and throwing stuff. They get arrested, and then they turn on the police. It is just a classic example of every single rally that happens.”

But Hester said he was surprised that police didn’t stand between the two groups instead of behind his group.

Jim Hansen, public information officer for Duluth police, said the department handled the situation effectively.

“Police did what was safest for everyone involved,” Hansen said. “The situation was de-escalated.”

Hester said he wasn’t disappointed in the turnout, even though he had predicted 20 to 100 members of the Supreme White Alliance would come to the rally. Some in the crowd may have been on their side without revealing themselves, he said.

“I’m sure I’ll get e-mails and g-mails and phone calls from people saying, ‘Yeah, I was there.’ ”