The Minnesota State Capitol saw a rally and counter protest on Jun. 10. Here are the main things you need to know:
- Date: Saturday June 10, 2017
- Where: Minnesota State Capitol building and surrounding streets.
- Who put on the event: Act for America.
- What was it about: March Against Sharia consisted of multiple rallies across the U.S. that spoke out against the implementation of sharia law and “radical Islam”, MAGA Nationwide, Proud Boys, 3 percenters and the Oathkeepers along with various supporters not affiliated with any one group
- Who counter-protested: The Minnesota chapter of Students for a Democratic Society organized the event, Industrial Workers of the World attended, as did multiple other Twin City leftist groups. These groups can fall under a broad and fluid umbrella of Anti-fascists and other various sympathizers unaffiliated with specific groups
- Seven were arrested, five counter protesters and two rally attendees.
- One journalist claimed they were assaulted by counter-protesters
At first, a peaceful event
March Against Sharia, an event put on by Act for America, started peacefully both inside and outside the Minnesota State Capitol. While the event was billed as being strictly anti-Sharia, protesters outside accused ACT for America and its supports of spreading anti-Islamic hate.
Stephanie Eitel, from MAGA Nationwide, a news outlet that professes a pro-American and anti-corruption platform, attended the rally and said, “[She’s] not anti-Muslim, [she’s] anti-sharia law.” Eitel added that she would have welcomed protesters inside the rotunda to listen to speakers and cultivate civil discussion after the event.
Christopher Chamberlin, who is running for Governer of Minnesota and endorsed by President Donald Trump, spoke of the dangers of sharia law.
“Under Sharia Law, women can be beaten and cannot bear arms … sounds like steps back from the women’s suffrage movement,” said Chamberlin.
One speaker said “there is no separation from Sharia and Islam”.
Outside, about 300 protesters organized by the Minnesota chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) gave speeches against the rally.
Meredith Aby, from the Anti-war Committee, said
“It is disgusting that ACT is publicly expressing their racism at the State Capitol. Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is giving racists the thumbs up for their hate speech and is encouraging hate crimes”
Confrontation and assaults
After an hour of speeches, members of the rally protest, apparently acting as security, noticed a group of about nine people leaving the Capitol.
Jimmy Cosgrove, President of the Proud Boys Minnesota chapter, said that some people wanted to go outside and smoke and do a “lap” to see how the counter protest was doing.
Rally attendees walked along a fence on the west side of the Capitol lawn and eventually stopped on the south side of the grass. Eitel said “We only stopped because we saw them running at us,” because the group worried about being attacked from behind.
“If they want to confront us. We’ll have the confrontation,” said Eitel.
Event organizers, speaking on a PA system that they set up, encouraged the group to “tighten up” and come in closer together once the roving group of ralliers was noticed.
Multiple counter-protesters started to cross the south lawn with the Minnesota State Patrol making an attempt to not allow them to pass by creating a line of officers. One member of the State Patrol was overheard yelling at the group that they would not allow counter-protesters to engage with the passing group.
As each police line was made and then broken by the surging crowd, another group of counter-protesters was able to push further ahead to reach the now stopped rally attendees.
Shouts of “Nazi” and other derogatory insults could be heard as State Patrol kept the two groups separate.
The final line was breached by the crowd, who was now attempting to encircle the small alt-right group, which prompted police to form a second police line on the group’s east side to create an “L” shape.
The State Patrol attempted to escort the beleaguered ralliers down the street with counter-protesters following and shouting along the way.
The group stopped near a wall and State Patrol acted as a shield from the onslaught of insults and intimidation that the crowd spewed forth.
After about 15 minutes the small group, escorted by State Patrol, moved to the north side of a state government building on the corner of Rev. Martin Luther King Blvd and Cedar St.
There, multiple arrests were made after people were assaulted. According to Eitel, who was in the small alt-right group, a counter-protester jumped up and kicked a member of her group. This led to two members of Eitel’s group to scuffle with multiple protesters. The kicker and the two members from the alt-right were arrested.
The State Patrol formed a line in front of the alt-right group, who was now stopped. Insults and retorts transpired with neither group crossing the line of formidable police. Cosgrove gave an impromptu interview to reporters while a counter-protesters shouted to
“Stop normalizing them.”
Eventually, the State Patrol opened a door to the building and let the alt-right group inside. They stayed there for about 40 minutes before leaving.
The crowd, not done with the protest, began to engage in conflicts with State Patrol. Four more members of the protest were arrested while officers created a circle to keep the arresting officers and the crowd separated.
Alpha News journalist Preya Samsundar said that she was confronted by a counter-protesters who broke her recording equipment, stole her cell phone and harassed her until she left because “they didn’t like [her] news organization.”
What are these groups?
ACT for America
ACT for American was founded in 2007 by Brigitte Gabriel, who is a conservative journalist and lecturer. According to their website, they are “committed to recruiting, training, and mobilizing citizens community-by-community to help protect and preserve American culture and to keep this nation safe.” The group claims that it has driven the “passage of 80 bills in 32 states” through educating the public and elected officials on issues they consider important to national security.
Critics claim that they are anti-Muslim and their actions are tantamount to hate speech. ACT for America says they are not anti-Muslim but are instead against Sharia law in the United States.
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), University of Minnesota chapter
The student and youth-led organization, which borrows the name and ideals of the first iteration of SDS that was founded and disbanded in the 60’s, focuses mainly on two issues. Opposition to US-led wars around the world and student rights. SDS operates as separate chapters and each chapter can have their own pet issues that they can take on. The SDS chapter at the University of Minnesota is focusing much of its attention on resisting the Trump administration and advocate for immigrant and worker rights. SDS also tackles issues like tuition costs at colleges and sexual assault.
Proud Boys, Minnesota chapter
Proud Boys was founded by Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice and conservative provocateur. Members are self-proclaimed western chauvinists. The Minnesota chapter is led by Jimmy Cosgrove, a veteran who works in Minneapolis. The Proud Boys are members of the so-called “alt-lite”, a nickname given to them by the more conservative and Trump friendly alt-right. This moniker reflects the Proud Boys insistence that they’re here to protect free speech and do not hold white supremacists views. The Alt-knights, a military wing of the Proud boys, does not currently exist within the Minnesota Proud Boys.
Critics accuse Proud Boys of being friendly with Nazi and white supremacist groups, though they do not seem to outright support either.
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)
This group has the deepest roots of the groups involved in this conflict at the State Capitol. IWW was founded in 1905 and bills itself as a big union that focuses on worker’s issues like higher pay, safety and union protections. IWW banners are often seen at rallies and protests that condemn the Trump administration and at events that are related to protecting the rights of historically oppressed classes of people.
J.D. Duggan contributed to this story.