Mace used at Austin rally

Published 9:15 am Monday, October 19, 2009

Three arrests were made and mace was used during a rally at the veterans memorial in Austin Saturday afternoon.

At least one of the protesters arrested will be charged with disorderly conduct and criminal damage to property, according to Austin Police Lt. John Mueller.

Austin resident and rally organizer Samuel Johnson said he held the event to fight communism and illegal immigration.

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The rally was planned for 3 p.m., but started about 15 minutes early.

Johnson is a member of the National Socialist Movement — a neo-Nazi party — and has held similar rallies at the same location over the past four months, including one each in June and July that attracted dozens of protesters but ended in no arrests.

Saturday’s rally began similar to the others but ended differently.

At about 3:30 p.m., law enforcement officers asked Johnson and his supporters to leave the premises, which they did.

How it began

Using a microphone and flanked by two other men who Johnson said are also members of the National Socialist Movement, Johnson began his message that was protested by a group of about 40.

“We will not give up; we will stand strong,” Johnson said, who ended his short speech with the words “white power.”

The protesting crowd seemed to be made up of several activist groups and mostly younger men and women from the Twin Cities, although at least one resident from Austin, Jonathan Thompson, was among them.

“I think it shouldn’t be allowed,” he said of the rallies. “Free speech is one thing; hate speech is totally different.”

Some of the protesters covered their faces with bandanas, and several wore black sweatshirts with the words Anti-Racist Action on the back of them.

Jake Bell of Minneapolis was at the rally and said that he considers himself to be a part of Anti-Racist Action, a decentralized anti-Nazi coalition opposed to racism.

Shortly after Johnson began his message, the crowd began several chants that included “No hate in our state.”

The crowd kept inching its way toward Johnson, the closest ones coming roughly 10 to 15 feet away from him and his supporters.

At least eight law enforcement officers were present, including state troopers, Austin city police and Mower County sheriff’s deputies.

Gold Cross Ambulance and Austin fire personnel were also nearby.

Mace and arrests

At about 3:10 p.m., a member or members of the protesting crowd damaged part of the sound system Johnson was using.

“The crowd converged among the sound system, pulled it in and started to damage it,” Mueller said. “Mace was used to clear the crowd to give officers access.”

All three protesters who were taken into custody were arrested within the span of about five to 10 minutes, and all around the time the damage was done to the sound system.

Austin Police Chief Paul Philipp arrived on the scene in plain clothes.

“It’s unfortunate,” Philipp said of the arrests. “Everyone has a right to say what they want to say in this country, and these things happen. It’s unfortunate people can’t do it without bringing arrests.”

Throughout the protest, several Austin residents were curious about the rally and stopped to listen.

“I can’t believe this is going on,” Austin resident Kristina Reuss said.

At least five members of the Minnesota Peace Team were also at the event, including David Smith, who passed out lollipops and stickers that said, “Respect all beings.”

Smith said he did not represent one side or the other.

“We’re trying to promote a conversation that’s respectful and peaceful,” he said.

Johnson said what happened Saturday will not deter him from planning future rallies.

“I am on a mission for my people, and I am going to continue that mission,” he said. “Our mission is to awaken white people in America to the things that are happening in our government that are bringing our nation down. One of the main things is illegal immigration.”