Hundreds of protestors outnumbered the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement (NSM) at their national rally on Saturday in Lansing. Before the event, the NSM claimed that they would have over 200 members and supporters in attendance, however, the group mustered well less than 80 members with fewer than 10 supporters for their rally which lasted from about 2:15pm to 4:00pm on the steps of the capitol building. Protestors, who were separated in two groups due to a decision made by some protestors to stay out of the “protest pens” designated by the police, numbered between 600 and 800 according to eyewitness and media accounts.
The protest organized by the Lansing Coalition Against Nazis (LCAN) began at 12:30pm in Riverfront Park at the corner of Michigan and Grand with a couple brief speeches leading up to a march that left at 1:00pm. The march, which consisted of a couple of hundred people, was quite energetic with drums, several large banners featuring anti-Nazi slogans (“No Nazis, No MCRI [Michigan Civil Rights Initiative],” “No Nazis, No KKK, No Fascist USA,” “Hate Speech Leads to Hate Crime,” “Nazis Not Welcome”) and several chants led by both march organizers and by people within the crowd. The march ended at the corner of Washington and Michigan where the group initially moved towards one of the security checkpoints and then moved back once it seemed that the police were maneuvering to contain the march. The march, after a brief confrontation with one Nazi supporter that resulted in one arrest, eventually settled at this spot for what essentially was a rally held outside the protest in an attempt to setup a “noise blockade” against the Nazis. It is hard to measure the effectiveness of the noise blockade because protest participants were unable to hear the Nazis but there were reports from arrested protestors that they could hear the Nazis while in jail (the jail was located right next to the crowd). The crowd’s energy was kept high with chants such as “Fuck the Aryan Nation,” “No Nazis, No KKK, No Fascist Us,” “Hey Nazis, What’s Up, What’s Up, You’ve Come to our Town and we’re going to Fuck you Up,” “Cops and Klan, Hand in Hand,” and “Up, Up with the People, and Down, Down, with the Nazis.” Throughout this rally, the cops moved into arrest people wearing bandanas or to confiscate banners and other supplies in several small police-initiated scuffles. Short impromptu speeches also addressed the obligation of people to work in the communities that the Nazis are targeting—primarily those who have been victimized by global capitalism and who have been targeted by the Nazis’ rhetoric of scapegoating.
Following the end of the Nazis rally, several protestors who were inside of the designated protest pen (some of whom toppled the fence designed to protect the Nazis) joined up with the LCAN sponsored protest and began rapidly marching through the streets near the capitol building in search of Nazis or their supporters. The march frequently turned in to a running group with several people surging ahead to confront Nazi supporters, many of whom were spit on, hit with construction fences, punched, or hit with rocks before people were able to move in to protect the Nazi supporters and disperse protestors. During these scuffles a police van got its window smashed after the police used it to shelter a beaten Nazi supporter, prompting mounted and riot police to move in to push the group east of Washington. The group decided to march towards Eastern High School to join the city sponsored “Diversity Rally” in an unpermitted march that stopped traffic along Shiawassee and garnered a show of support from community members along the route. As the group approached the Diversity Rally, the police positioned several dozen riot police armed with rubber bullet guns, tear gas, and batons in order to prevent the marchers from joining up with the rally. In the days before the rally, the police and city said they would allow the Nazis to attend the Diversity Rally but they restricted protestors demonstrating against the Nazis from entering and later portrayed the group as a “mob” in the media. After the group was denied access to the Diversity Rally it marched to intersection of Michigan and Grand, where the several dozen riot police and state police moved in and an order was given to disperse from the park or be arrested. Protestors dispersed at that point because there was nothing to be gained by continuing the protest.
The corporate media, which spent several weeks both in Lansing and in Michigan as a whole focusing on security preparations, largely focused their post-rally coverage on how the police prevented violence and kept “order” during the protest. Even in light of the physical attacks on at least three Nazi supporters, the media stuck to this line and downplayed the arrests of sixteen protestors, instead choosing to emphasize the success of the preparations of state and local police. While all media reports on the rally prominently featured the protests, it was rare that they did so in any substantive manner, instead choosing to quote people who discussed the need to come out and show “love” in the face of hate. In the same manner that media failed to fully engage the reasons why groups organized against the Nazis, media reports also failed to engage the substance of Nazism and instead reported on the Nazis as if they were just another political party or group in United States and not a movement based on an ideology responsible for the deaths of some six million people in concentration camps. The corporate media described how the NSM promised that they would “close the borders” because “the people” allegedly want the borders closed and that the NSM will participate in upcoming elections in the United States. The reporting largely ignored the NSM’s racism, despite the fact that racism is the crux of their ideology and political movement.
The NSM has announced that it plans further rallies and activities in Michigan. The NSM initially expressed considerable frustration with the way the rally went, citing the fact that the strict security allegedly kept away their supporters, that the media underplayed their numbers, and that multiple supporters were physically beaten leaving the rally. The NSM plans to hold an organizational meeting for new members in Lansing within the next two weeks, citing what they termed an “amazing” response with three-dozen inquiries coming from Michigan residents. Earlier in the week, anti-racist and anti-fascist activists protested the NSM in Grand Rapids and exposed Ken Mathews, a Grand Rapids resident who leads the Southeast Michigan Unit of the NSM. The Michigan NSM, termed “Unit Hitler” by the NSM’s spokesperson Bill White was given a “Unit Award” for its rapid growth and its contributions to the Nazi movement.