Mainstream Trump supporters, alt-left counter protesters and alt-right rabble rousers all converged on the Minnesota State Capitol Building in St. Paul this past Saturday.
Antifa members originally disseminated fliers and an article online that said the pro-Trump rally to celebrate President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office was created by Alexander Rowson, an alt-right figurehead in Minneapolis, and would feature Simon Roche, a leader of a white separatist group in South Africa called Suidlanders.
Alley Waterbury, the event’s organizers denied Rowson or Roche were ever a part of the event and that this event was not about neo-nazis or white supremacists saying,
“This is about supporting our President. When Obama was elected, I shut my mouth,” Waterbury said.
Eric, an organizer and speaker for the alt-left side (who refused to give his last name due to prior threats and harassment that he claimed came from the alt-right) said,
“Our goal today was to keep [the alt-right] from organizing with [Trump supporters]. Right now it’s a real scary mix where the fascists are in with Trump supporters and they’re organizing and radicalizing the Trump supporters.,” Eric said.
Though, he said, many Trump supporters made the distinction that they weren’t with the alt-right.
This confusion over who was aligned with who led to outbursts of violence with alt-left members attacking multiple people trying to enter the State Capitol Building.
Jon Ockuly and Jim Jolly, two Trump supporters who attended the rally, described a situation where Ockuly was having a conversation with a woman in front of the Capitol step that ended up with Ockuly being maced and on the ground being hit by alt-left members after he tried to stop another woman from spraying what Ockuly said “appeared to be mace.” Jolly ended up trying to stop the assault and the police officers present broke up the scuffle and escorted both Jolly and Ockuly into a side entrance.
Mike Swafford, another Trump supporter who attended the rally and was assaulted when he tried to enter the capitol building and described his interaction with the counter protest.
“We were on the stairs and one of our older gentlemen, like four guys, were hitting him, pushing him down, tackling him down, so I went over there to help him up,” said Swafford. “A guy tackled me, we went rolling down the stairs. We got to the bottom of the stairs and about ten of them were kicking me and pulling my shirt off.”
Video of Swafford being assaulted shows him being kicked in the head by an unidentified female while Swafford was lying on the ground.
DeeDee Buckley, yet another Trump supporter who attended the rally and was assaulted, said she was prevented from entering through the Capitol steps by the Antifa crowd that had gathered and was spit on while being escorted into a side entrance by a police officer.
When Buckley told the police officer what happened, they did “nothing” according to Buckley.
“We were promised there was going to be a police presence and the highway patrol’s going to be here and capitol security was going to be here,” Buckley said. “We were promised all this and we were promised that [protesters] were gonna be 1,000 feet away from us and none of that happened.”
According to a Minnesota State Patrol spokesperson, approximately 25-30 state patrol members were present. Capitol security was also present and locked the front doors to prevent anyone besides tours, media and those attending the rally to enter.
The alt-right group was comprised of a hodgepodge of differing ideologies, including members of the Proud Boys and their self-proclaimed “military wing” Alt-Knights, a group created by Gavin McInnes who was the co-founder of Vice. The group claims to be western chauvinists and have vowed to fight the suppression of free speech. Members of Identity Evropa, a white supremacists group, were also present.
Jimmy Cosgrove, a Proud Boy member, who wore a shirt that read “Socialism is for fags”, tried to appeal to the alt-left group via microphone across a line of Minnesota State Troopers. The exchange, like every other exchange between the two groups, compromised of middle school taunts and overly simplistic chants.
Cosgrove said he was there because he was “…frustrated with [the alt-left] shutting down free speech.”
Cosgrove also said he doesn’t like Trump and that Trump should delete his Twitter account. Cosgrove indicated that he wants the Proud Boys and Antifa to start a dialog because they agree on a lot of things, specifically spiking out the issue of the militarization of police forces.
Towards the end of the rally, an exasperated Cosgrove continued seeking common ground or trying to create a dialogue with the Antifa group, saying things like “once [the government] repeal[s] the 13th and 14th Amendments, I’ll be on your side” and “name a country that’s better for everybody.” He was met with middle fingers and chants of “you shame the flag” and “shut the fuck up.” When called a white supremacist, he said: “I’m just here for free speech.” Cosgrove admitted that he didn’t agree with a lot of his cohorts, but that he believes in their right to say what they have to say.
Two other Proud Boy members claimed that they were anti-Antifa and were there to show their support for free speech and anti-communism “They sort of banded these groups together on the right because they [Antifa] are so unlikeable… In their world, we wouldn’t exist, in our world, everybody would exist,” they said.
Jeff Shoemaker, who is a Trump supporter but not with any of the groups on Saturday, said he was there because he saw the event on Facebook. He accused Antifa of being fascists because they’re shutting down free speech.
“We’re going to keep having arguments like these until we come together,” said Shoemaker. Adding that Hillary Clinton lost the election due to her “basket of deplorables” comment and that she should, “attack the candidate, not the supporters.”
The event featured boilerplate Republican ideas from lower taxes to freedom of religion and celebrated Trump’s first 100 days in office. Multiple Minnesota State Representatives spoke at the event, along with former members of the military and some local business owners who were involved in Republican politics.
One of those business owners was Jonathan Aanestad, CEO of J. Aanstad LLC, a PR firm and a prominent figure in the conservative movement in Minnesota, who described what was happening outside to the crowd gathered in the capitol rotunda
“They’re all very armed, I mean really well armed. Obviously. There’s the Nazis and the anti-Nazis which are a lot of them are Antifa, which are technically against us,” said Aanestad.
Both sides were observed to have flagpoles, sticks and shields.
Close to the conclusion of the event, Waterbury announced that “We’re now friends with Antifa,” and that they would let the people attending the event leave peacefully.
After the event concluded, both the alt-left and alt-right groups continued their cross shouting with neither side daring to cross the line of state troopers that had assembled to keep the peace.
Eventually, the alt-right group decided to vacate the capitol steps and haphazardly attempted a military style march away while the alt-left shouted at them as they celebrated “winning” the fight.