By: Jess Ward, Staff Writer
Saturday, Sept. 30 in Augusta Maine, two opposing political forces met in the form of rallies: one called the “Rally to Denounce Political Violence” and the other “Counter Rally against the Alt-Right”. In name, these two don’t seem to be in conflict at all; both are titled to appear as though each group wants to put an end to hatred and political violence. However, when looking at the names and organizations behind these events, as well as the supporters behind each one, it becomes clear where the clash in ideology occurs.
The “Rally to Denounce Political Violence” organized in front of the Augusta State Building, with a small crowd of organizers slowly growing to a small group of around thirty supporters. Across the street, in a small park, the counter rally was slightly larger, with an audience of around fifty protestors to begin the day. The two events both had a heavy police presence; patrol vehicles were in abundance in the area, with ten to fifteen officers surrounding each event.
The counter rally kicked off with speakers from the organizations represented. Ryan, a representative of the Maine John Brown Gun Club, spoke on the recent incidents in which the “KKK [was] actively organizing in our state… [and] Neo-Fascists in Brunswick [were] targeting LGBTQ+ rights.” These statements were met with boos and hisses from the crowd, as they chanted “Free speech, that’s a lie, they don’t care that Heather died!”
The “Heather” they’re referring to is Heather Heyer, victim of the Charlottesville car attack this past August. Heyer was a counter protester at a white supremacist event held in Charlottesville, who was killed by an Ohio man driving a car into a crowd of protesters, according to the New York Times. It is clear that the members of the counter rally resent the notion that free speech can be equivocated with the often violent and hateful rhetoric proposed by the so called “alt-right,” white nationalist movement.s Ryan proclaimed to the crowd “if this [Rally to Denounce Political Violence] isn’t political violence, I don’t know what is.”
Another one of the groups standing with the counter rally is the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which is centered around the idea of “building a culture of solidarity with all working class people.” The IWW wants to ensure that anyone interested in victimizing the working class based on “race, immigration status, or anything else” is stopped immediately, which motivated them to get involved in the counter rally.
Ben Clark, a representative of the IWW said that he doesn’t think anyone speaking at the “Rally to Denounce Political Violence” are white supremacists, but that they are sympathizers. Clark said that the goal of the counter rally is to call attention to white supremacy while offering oppressed peoples comfort in knowing they have allies.
“We view the ‘denounce political violence’ event as being a cynical effort to legitimize white nationalism and other extreme right wing points of view,” Clark said. “While painting antifascist and civil rights activists as violent enemies of free speech. We do not believe we can allow this to pass without calling them out on it.”
On the other side of the political fence, going by only one name, Jarody played a major role in organizing the “Rally to Denounce Political Violence.” Jarody doesn’t really fit into any one description politically; he’s run as both a Democrat and a Republican in the past, participated in Occupy Augusta, and now works with Libertarians. He says that this was supposed to be a “run-of-the-mill rally,” but that the counter protesters are using the label “alt-right” to detract from their movement and invalidate their position.
“It’s tossed around like it’s a slur,” Jarody said., “Other labels are old and tired, so this is the new thing.” By other labels, Jarody is referring to words like Nazi, white supremacist, and fascist, all of which he claims to denounce.
While adamantly condemning violence, Jarody himself has been accused of violent action in the past. According to the Bangor Daily News, Jarody faced charges in 2011 for threatening someone with a sledgehammer in front of the Augusta State Building, where their rally was held on Saturday. Jarody insists that this accusation is false, and made by a “faction of Occupiers” who sought to eliminate him from their cause. Jarody insists this rally was meant simply to promote free speech and disapprove of political violence, and appears confused and frustrated by the amount of opposition.
It is important to know that a few of Jarody’s fellow speakers, John Rasmussen and Garret Kirklandhave both been involved in “Free Speech” rallies in Boston. Jarody describes Kirkland as “a good buddy of mine.” Those rallies were met with thousands of protesters, who effectively prevented the original rallies’ success. One can’t help but wonder why a “run-of-the-mill rally” would involve such controversial figures, who have faced adamant opposition by leftist groups in the past.
Rasmussen is a self-described centrist, who believes if moderates don’t stand together “the second Civil War will happen.” Kirkland believes that “all extremists have a right to free speech,” however; when asked about groups such as ANTIFA and Black Lives Matter, Kirkland says that he believes their rhetoric is “more violent” than that of the fascists they stand against. Kirkland also comments that he views himself as a victim of political violence, after the second Free Speech Rally in Boston was shut down.
“I was concerned we would be fire-bombed,” said Kirkland, claiming that he felt physically threatened by the counter protesters.
As the “Rally to Denounce Political Violence” continued, it became clear that there was a lack of direction amongst speakers and organizers. Jarody, Rasmussen, and Kirkland all stated that hate speech is not inherently violent, and that violent speech can only be qualified as direct calls for harm. Pne of their speakers, Richard Light, said thatt some of the speakers’ employers had threatened termination for participation in the rally, and that this threat was “violent speech.” It is unclear as to why these so-called moderates refuse to condemn hate speech, and even more telling, they refuse to condemn the white supremacist movements they have been accused of affiliating with.
While everyone speaking was clear in stating that they were not Neo-Nazis or white supremacists, when asked whether or not they condemn these movements, both Kirkland and Rasmussen stated that they “condemn violence on all sides,” a line that may seem familiar to those who watched President Trump’s response to the Charlottesville rally. This refusal to take a stand against fascist organizations is often viewed as compliance, something that the counter-protesters were in adamant disapproval of.
The organizers of the “Rally to Denounce Political Violence” also refused to classify the death of Heather Heyer as political violence, according to Michael Ghath, a participant in the counter rally. Ghath said this speaks to the fact that, despite their call for peace and nonviolence from all, the participants of this rally were clearly focused on defending hate speech and those who perpetuate it from prosecution, while ignoring the violent actions of the Alt-right.”
Tom MacMillan, Co-chair of the Socialist Party of Maine, one of the groups behind the counter protest, said that their organization felt compelled to intervene and protest as to ensure that “the only voice heard is not that of Nazis.” He went on to say that many of the speakers and supporters of the “Rally to Denounce Political Violence” aren’t really Nazis, and that he believes that many of them truly are against “political violence”, as is the Socialist Party. However, MacMillan states that one of the tactics used by the “alt-right” is to “incorporate Libertarians,” to hide their extremist views behind the idea of free speech. He says the goal of the Socialist Party of Maine is to help citizens “realize that people of all backgrounds can stand together to oppose white supremacy.”
To believe that the “Rally to Denounce Political Violence” was a truly “moderate” and peaceful event would be to ignore the histories and views of its speakers and organizers. According to the counter-protestors, if one is not willing to condemn the acts of the violent “alt-right,” then that suggests a level of complicit participation and support. The counter rally’s participants were able to gather twice the support, and organize their message clearly and passionately.