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John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune, Published March 03 2012

White supremacists pelted with snowballs in Duluth (with video)

DULUTH, Minn. - 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.

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.

Many of the 200 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.”