When the right-wing rally called We the People was planned for Philly, fear that hate was on its way to the City of Brotherly Love.
But that’s not how events turned out on Nov. 17 outside Independence Mall. Contrary to expected numbers, only two dozen or so conservatives showed. However, leftist counter-protesters came in the hundreds, representing all walks of the movement.
Despite reports of peaceful demonstrations by the two groups, there were a number of clashes between the two sides as well as with the police.
Four people were arrested during the day, including an Antifa member who sustained a head wound following a fight with an alt-right protester.
In video captured by Philadelphia Weekly – which can be viewed on our Facebook page – the Antifa man was held down by multiple police officers, who placed a foot his head and held it to the cement even with his visible head injury and small pool of blood beside him. After getting up from the group, the caucasian man started yelling at police and was carried away. Sustaining head injuries, it was confirmed the counter protester was transported to a hospital.
While the Philadelphia Inquirer reported “no indication of attendance by neo-Nazis, white supremacists, or members of hate groups such as the Proud Boys or Three Percenters,” the video shows identified alt-right Proud Boy Alan Swinney clad in riot gear.
Other video by PW shows police ramming bikes into two women protesters and a video of a cop pushing a person yelling at Swinney.
“[I am protesting] the injustices of Black people, minorities, everybody. I am scared of the cops. They kill us on camera and get away with it,” said Richard Scott of West Philly. “So I’m down here for that. I have kids, I have family members, so that’s why I am down here today speaking on all injustice.”
The day had high police presence with law enforcement on foot, car, bicycle, motorcycle and even horse.
“An alternative to police based on community principals” were the handful or so Antifa members, identifiable by face coverings, sunglasses and hand radios used for intercommunication, an Antifa member named only as “Kara” told PW.
“We are not here to incite anything, incitement doesn’t do much,” said Kara, who disapproves of comparisons to police due to the anti-fascist militant group’s beliefs in law enforcement corruption. “Think of it this way, a security guard at a bar or at a club isn’t there to incite violence, but if someone becomes violent towards them or to a patron, they are going to be violent back, because it’s their job. We’re security guards. We are not here to start anything, but if someone else starts something then we are going to keep people safe.”
The incident had additional resonance being just weeks after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that left 11 dead. Counter-protester Steve Newman, an English professor and president of the labor union at Temple University, shared what it meant to protest the alt-right as a Jewish man.
“What I was taught, being raised as a Jew, my father [said] the verse in the Torah that is repeated most often is ‘be kind to the stranger, because you were strangers once in Egypt,” said Newman. “That is the ethical precept I try to live my life by and that my wife and I try to teach our kids. You have a group on the other side that seems invested in persecuting the stranger, that for whatever reason for their own sadism or their own insecurity seem to enjoy, it’s not even a matter of need, it seems to be this weird pleasure in making other people feel scared or feel frightened or feel persecuted, and we simply can’t tolerate it.”
However, there were people whom the left were there to defend in full support of the alt-right movement and stood on that side of the protest. A self-identified Jewish man named Ryan, whose last name was omitted for privacy, held an “I Back the Blue” sign, showing his support for the police, and wore a U.S. cap and an Israel Defense Forces sweatshirt.
“The reason why I am wearing an IDF shirt is to not only show conservatives who might be thinking that there is the Jewish conspiracy and stuff like that, that not all Jews are liberals,” said Ryan.
Additionally, the We the People rally was the first pro-Trump event for Desmond, a 27-year-old African-American man from West Philadelphia.
“I’m interested in meeting like-minded people, like-minded conservatives. It’s hard to find that in a city that’s mainly Democrat,” said Desmond. “There are Black conservatives.”
While Desmond did not vote in the 2016 election, he said Trump has his vote for 2020 because he is a “great deal breaker” and has increased jobs. Desmond was unwilling to accept that decreases in unemployment were already in motion during the Obama administration.
In terms of the racist affiliations of Trump’s base, Desmond said it is “hard to judge from the outside.” He also said he feels like an “outsider” in the Black community.
“I do see where they are coming from, but Black people, we’ve stuck together long before the Civil Rights movement. That’s the reason we all think the same and agree with each other,” said Desmond. “I want to break past that, because we should have the capacity to think on our own. I should have my own voice, you should have your own voice, and we shouldn’t have to fight about it.”
Daniel Rivera, a Latinx Trump advocate said he supports the focus on increased borders.
“I believe there is a difference between legal and illegal immigration, and I believe that legal immigrants should be supported,” said Rivera, a New Yorker.
When asked about the Dreamers in America, immigrants who were brought to the states illegally as minors, Rivera said borders need to be secured before giving safeguards to them. Otherwise it would be an “endorsement” and “incentive” for illegal immigration.
“Because of our lax immigration policy in the past, we are in a difficult situation now dealing with the consequences of that,” explained Rivera.
Many of the Trump protesters continued to say they were not bigoted or there to cause harm.
“We are for equal rights for everyone. We are here for the constitutional rights of “We the people,” said Paul, last name withheld. “We are here for equality under the law.”
However, he made sure to emphasize that he meant “equal rights for all U.S. citizens” when asked about border separations.
His wife Erica added xenophobic statements about the health of immigrants, which would include the many asylum seekers. Immigrants fleeing persecution are allowed to apply for asylum status even if they did not enter the country through an official port of entry.
“They are not only coming in illegally, they are also coming in with illnesses and stuff that can get people to be sick over here,” said Erica. “They are walking through dirty water, they don’t have water on their way here. They are bringing coughs and colds and other things into our country trying to make us sick. So if they are coming here legal that’s fine, but not illegally.”