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Why We must always confront Hate Groups when they come to town

July 7, 2021

In our recent post on the KKK rally that was held in Grand Rapids in 1995, it was clear that there were lots of people who resisted their presence.

We have all heard it before, that when groups like the Klan, neo-nazis, the Christian Right, or any other hate group comes to town, that the best response is to ignore them. What this means is that some people want us to ignore those who think that Black people are animals, that immigrants are rapists, that the LGBTQ people are sexual predators, etc. Such council to ignore them, often comes from people who carry tremendous privilege and are not at risk of being harmed by the ideology that these groups bring to any community.

Ignoring hate groups is not an option. We must resist their attempts to spread hate and we must be in solidarity with communities who are at the greatest risk when these hate groups come to town. 

What follows are just a few examples of when people in the Grand Rapids area took action to resist hate groups, especially those that came to the area to promote their ideology of White Supremacy, xenophobia, anti-gay and anti-trans, all of which leads to real harm.

In May of 2006, about 40 people gathered in Calder Plaza to rally against undocumented immigrants, calling them “illegal immigrants.” The rally was organized by the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a national hate group, with ties to West Michigan.

Roughly a dozen activists in Grand Rapids showed up to confront the CCC rally, shouting them down and engaging in arguments, which prevented them from doing what they intended to do at the rally.

The GRPD showed up and said that since the group didn’t have a permit, they would have to leave. Maybe half of the anti-immigrant crowd decided to march around downtown Grand Rapids, but they did not expect that the dozen anti-racists activists would follow them the entire time, yelling who they were and what they believed, so that those who were out and about in the downtown area would know what this hate group was all about.

A second example was from October of 2007, when the racist, homophobe and Holocaust denier, Nick Griffin, was scheduled to speak at MSU in East Lansing.  

Again, a group from Grand Rapids met up with activists in the Lansing area, to show up and confront Griffin when he got up to speak. As soon as Griffin got up, people began yelling things like racist, homophobe, or pointing out in more detail Griffin’s history of promoting hate in the UK and in the US. 

This went on for about 30 minutes, when Griffin decided that it was not productive for him to continue speaking.

As we were leaving, some students followed us out, making threats against us. Those of us who came didn’t back down and when we challenged them, they ran off.

A third example, was when White Supremacists had organized a rally in Kalamazoo in the summer of 2007. Hal Turner, a racist talk show host, was making the claim that African Americans were killing white people in Kalamazoo and that white people should come to Kalamazoo to denounce this.

Anti-racists in the West Michigan area, put out a call for people to come to Kalamazoo and confront the White Supremacist groups that were organized through Hal Turner’s radio show.

In addition to the call the action, there were numerous meetings to plan what to do, involving people from Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Lansing and Grand Rapids. We even put together a packet of information to hand out to all the hotels in the area, since the White Supremacists were all coming from out of town and out of state. The packets provided people with information on the groups who said they were sending people and with ways to identify groups, particularly through symbols and tattoos. I remember sharing these packets with hotel staff, many of which were grateful that we had let them know that these people might be booking rooms.

Here is an excerpt from the packet, which provides reasons why hate groups should not be tolerated:

Racist groups must be challenged publicly in order to prevent them from gaining a foothold in communities. Many of these groups are able to have success in taking what are in many cases legitimate fears such as concern over economic uncertainty and direct them in racist directions, for example targeting immigrants rather than focusing on neoliberal trade policies. Racists are emboldened in areas where they are allowed to organized unopposed, when they are challenged they often back off entirely or are forced to resort to “underground” tactics such as graffiti or random literature drops. It is not enough to “ignore” organized racists while hoping that they simply go away.

The White Supremacist rally was held in early August of 2007. Here is part of what Media Mouse had posted about what happened that day:

Racist Internet radio show host Hal Turner’s Kalamazoo, Michigan “Rally Against Black Gang Terrorism” on Saturday was overshadowed by protestors, with Turner’s small rally of out-of-town racists and a small group of supporters–numbering around 25–easily outnumbered by the approximately 200 protestors who (un)welcomed them to Kalamazoo. During the rally, Turner and other speakers spoke to each other and a handful of supporters while facing an empty parking lot in 90 degree heat. Reflecting the fact that they have no base in Kalamazoo and were largely ignored by the media, Hal Turner failed to turn out any supporters outside of the racist movement and his calls to “Take Back Kalamazoo” went unanswered as he and his racist friends spoke behind lines of police and multiple layers of fencing.

Protestors began the day meeting at Bronson Park in downtown Kalamazoo at noon. The group waited to gauge the energy of the crowd before deciding to move to the rally site several blocks away at the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety building on Crosstown Parkway. The protestors held a spirited march on the sidewalk down Burdick Street, loudly chanting, making noise, and handing out flyers exposing the racists behind the rally. The energy was high and the reaction from community members was overwhelmingly positive.

The protestors maintained a presence outside of the security perimeter for the duration of the racists’ rally, attempting to drown out the speeches with noise and chants. The crowd remained energetic throughout, waving signs that read “K-Zoo Not K-K-K-Zoo” and “Racists Go Home” along with banners reading “Hate Speech = Terrorism,” “No Nazis, No KKK, No Racist USA,” and “Racists Here w/Gov’t. Help.” The crowd banged on bucket drums, used air horns, and chanted while making it clear that the racists were not welcome in Kalamazoo.

After the rally concluded, protestors attempted to confront the white supremacists, but the racists were quickly led by police onto Kalamazoo city buses and escorted out of the area. Realizing that they were not going to be able to confront the racists, the protestors staged an unpermited march back to Bronson Park. The march was initially led by chants of “Whose Streets? Our Streets” and “Nazi Crew Out of K-Zoo,” although “Cops and Klan Go Hand in Hand” became a prominent chant when police began to force the march onto the sidewalk by pushing protestors with horses. Police repeatedly told protestors that “your protest is over” and appeared to be looking to make arrests, although none were made during the march despite a tense stand-off when the group of 75 protestors was split in two in front of the Kalamazoo Gazette building at 401 S. Burdick. Following this stand-off, the march continued from the Gazette building to Bronson Park on the sidewalk. Upon arriving at the park, the police arrested two people who went on the amphitheater stage, an area that was for some reason determined to be “off limits” by the police.

This example from 2007 in Kalamazoo, is probably the best organized  and most effective anti-racist action I have ever participated in.

The last example took place last year, with community members standing up to the Proud Boys in Kalamazoo. One commentator on social media, who was part of the anti-racist action to confront the Proud Boys stated, “The police SPECIFICALLY PROTECTED the proud boys, CLEARED SPACE for them to leave, and then began ARRESTING Black counter protestor.”

This comment, once again demonstrates that the police will not protect people from racist hate groups, which is exactly why we need to show up to confront these groups and run them out of town.

In fact, the Proud Boys are planning a rally in Grand Rapids, Saturday, July 10th at noon. There is a counter protest scheduled for 10am. If you are in Grand Rapids, show up and say No to Hate Groups and No to Hate Speech!

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