A small group of neo-Nazis clashed with protesters demonstrating against the police shooting of two unarmed black men Saturday night in Washington state’s capital city.
The neo-Nazis ostensibly turned out to counter-protest what they considered to be “anti-police” demonstrations, but the Olympia Police Department distanced itself from the group’s support.
“The two men who were shot were black, and we believe (the white supremacists) were trying to make statement about their race,” police spokeswoman Laura Wohl told local news site My Northwest. “There has been some confusion that they were here to support the police and they were not.”
My Northwest reported that while the crowd of demonstrators numbered more than 150 people, only approximately five to 10 neo-Nazis showed up. Wohl told the news site that there was a confrontation between the two groups but it was “over fairly quickly.”
Witnesses said both protesters and neo-Nazis were carrying bats and some people flung chairs from a nearby restaurant at the neo-Nazi’s cars, according to a report in The Olympian newspaper. YouTube user Nate Myers posted video of the confrontation:
“We don’t want violence in this city and some of the demonstrators that turned out on Saturday, both white supremacists and those who were against the white supremacists, seemed to have violence on their mind,” Wohl told My Northwest.
The streets of Olympia have seen several protest marches since May 21, when a police officer shot and wounded two unarmed men suspected of stealing beer from a convenience store. Officer Ryan Donald shot Andre Thompson, 24, and Bryson Chaplin, 21, after one of them allegedly assaulted him with a skateboard.
Donald is white while Thompson and Chaplin, who are stepbrothers, are both black. But Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts said in a press conference that he didn’t believe “race was a factor in this case at all,” according to the Associated Press.
The neo-Nazi counter-protest, which didn’t make a splash beyond local media outlets, appears to have gotten some fuel from a post on the message board Stormfront.org. A user going by the name “1pariah” posted a screenshot of what the person said was a Facebook event scheduled for Saturday at 9 p.m. at Percival Landing in Olympia and urged others to attend.
“Here’s an image of a flier the scum are posting to try and rally their efforts and see if they can overwhelm us into giving up the town for them to raid and loot!” the post read. “Stand and be counted and protect the northwest! These are OUR states, OUR cities, WHITE cities, and we’re gonna keep them away! Spread the word!”
The Facebook event, titled “Flood our streets: Anti-Fascist, Anti-Nazi!” was likely scheduled to follow up on prior demonstrations against the May 21 shooting, where The Olympian reported that “people carrying flags representing a known white supremacist group” had shown up.
An anonymous caller to the newspaper, who declined to give his or her name out of fear of retaliation, identified the men at Saturday night’s protest as members of a group called “Volksfront.” The caller said they were white supremacists who came out to show support for the Olympia Police Department.
But Volksfront, “a leading neo-Nazi skinhead group” based in Oregon, disbanded following the 2012 Sikh temple massacre in Wisconsin, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group had aimed to “establish an autonomous whites-only living space in the Pacific Northwest,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Olympia Police spokesman Paul Lower did not respond Tuesday afternoon to a request for comment from TPM.