Despite left-wing efforts to revoke the permit for Saturday’s “We the People” rally, the late morning demonstration occurred at Independence National Historical Park, a landmark in Philadelphia’s historic district.
The rally, which has ties to the white supremacist groups the Proud Boys (recently deemed a white nationalist group by the FBI) and the Three Percent movement, drew attendance that varied from 20 to 40 participants throughout the afternoon. They were accompanied by four American flags, one Gadsden (“don’t tread on me”) flag, and two different Trump flags.
One flag bore a navy blue Trump campaign logo. The other had the same logo on one side, and a slight modification of the Thin Blue Line/Thin Red Line flag, which represents support for police and firefighters, on the other. The latter is a variation of the Blue Lives Matter flag, which represents a reactionary movement to defend Officer Darren Wilson, the cop who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
But the Blue Lives Matter flag wasn’t the cause for alarm at the rally.
Initially, Philly.com reported there was “no indication of attendance by neo-Nazis, white supremacists, or members of hate groups such as the Proud Boys or Three Percenters.” Despite having three reporters assigned on the story, the news outlet failed to recognize several Proud Boys and people wearing the Three Percenter logo on their sweatshirts.
Alan Swinney was there, dressed in his typical riot gear garb, as were David Kuriakose and Simon Greenwood, who were both present when Proud Boys attacked protesters in Manhattan on October 12. (Kuriakose was charged for rioting and assault from that incident, according to the New York Post.)
“The Three Percenters [were] definitely there,” said Daryle Lamont Jenkins, founder of One People’s Project. “You can tell because they’re wearing the Three Percenters shirt and hoodies.”
Low turnout may have been the result of discouragement by other right-wing groups, he stressed.
“The militia guys who went to Charlottesville were warning people against coming,” Jenkins added. “They said, bottom line, you’re in their element, you’re not in yours. You should stay in the middle of Pennsylvania, where a lot of them are from, and try to mobilize people your people there.”
The rally was scheduled to start at 11 a.m., by which time hundreds of left-wing counter-protesters had assembled. However, these counter-protesters were separated from rally participants by cops before it began.
At 10 a.m., counter-protesters gathered steps away from the metal crowd-control barricades as bike cops bordered the designated area for the permitted event.
Anyone could cross the street to the Independence Visitors Center. Traffic continued unaffected by the demonstrations. However, 15 minutes later, cops ordered protesters to step back from the barricades, using their bikes to create a physical blockade, as captured in video footage taken by independent reporter Ashoka Jegroo.
“One step forward, march!” cried an officer, who commanded the line of bike police to physically separate counter-protesters from the rally, displacing them to the other side of Market Street.
The first counter-protester was arrested during this escalation.
Eventually, the cops cordoned off an entire block of Market Street between 5th and 6th Streets. Philadelphia Police, National Park Service Rangers, and Pennsylvania State Troopers patrolled the surrounding blocks of Independence Visitors Center.
The entrance to the “We the People” rally was nearly impossible to get through, depending on who you were. Some journalists, including those from News2Share and WHYY, were granted access into the permitted area. Journalists who entered were “credentialed,” either informally or formally, by the white supremacist groups. Counter-protesters were kept across the street, forbidden from entering or approaching the permitted area.
The counter-protest did not receive the same protection from law enforcement as the rally participants.
After One People’s Project photographer Laura Sennett spotted Proud Boys Kuriakose and Greenwood at the permitted rally, the pair were seen on the counter-protest side at approximately 12:15 p.m. They were quickly named and shamed by counter-protesters, who recognized them both from the October incident. This infiltration by Proud Boys caused counter-protesters to be hyper vigilant about who was and wasn’t a fascist in the crowd. The cops remained uninvolved.
The man was briefly detained by police while his bag was confiscated and inspected. An officer did a minor pat-down when inspecting the bag without actually opening it, while another officer threatened to arrest the man for inciting a riot.
The man was later escorted away from the scene by police. His bag wasn’t confiscated.
About 40 minutes later, as Billy Penn reported, a Jewish man was mistakenly identified as a nazi on the counter-protest side. This altercation occurred at approximately 1:40 and led to the arrest of an anti-fascist protester, who assaulted the Jewish man.
Police attempted to forcibly push counter-protesters away from the arresting officers.
At this point, I was first touched inappropriately by an officer, who swiped his arm across my chest and touched my breast. Immediately after, as we attempted to follow law enforcement’s instructions to step back from the area, police in formation advanced on the crowd more forcibly and violently. Another officer shoved his hands against both of my breasts as he pushed the crowd away. I ran across 5th street as an officer approached me with a baton.
These batons were seen in a video tweeted by independent reporter Joshua Albert, in which an officer swings one into a counter-protester, who was backed into a tree.
Does this still look like non-violence? Take note of the cops cornering a guy into a tree while hitting a civilian with a baton.
— Adryan Corcione (@mxthemme) November 18, 2018
Around 2:00 p.m., the rally began to disperse. Police escorted Sports, Beer, and Politics organizer Zach Rehl—a person who played a critical role in this demonstration—outside Independence National Historical Park to the parking lot of the former Philadelphia Police Department Headquarters. There, Rehl and his crew struggled—and failed many times—to hail a cab after drivers were notified of their white supremacist backgrounds by a legal observer with Up Against the Law.
While fewer arrests were made this weekend than last August’s Blue Lives Matter rally, the “We the People” rally was a violent demonstration.
There were white supremacists associated with the Proud Boys and Three Percenters, including those with violent criminal records, present. Police protected them from counter-protesters without monitoring the counter-protest for infiltration from Proud Boys—leading to the escalation that ended with a Jewish man being punched.
White supremacist organizers, such as Holly Delcampo, were quoted and broadcasted in the press, claiming the rally was successful despite low attendance. In a way, it was successful because the white supremacists had a platform to speak and will likely have the opportunity to speak again.
The demonstration was as openly racist as Charlottesville, in that white supremacists were free to roam in Center City with the protection of the police. Still, some reporters don’t seem to have learned a lesson and gave white supremacists a venue to recruit new members through press coverage.