NEW HAVEN >> A counterprotest on the City Green denouncing a planned demonstration by far-right groups dissolved into chaos Saturday after protestors clashed with local police who attempted to disperse a crowd of more than 150 people.
Counterprotest organizer Natalie Alexander said organizers had learned the Proud Boys, a far-right men’s group, were among five groups planning a rally at the City Green on Saturday afternoon, to “resist socialism.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes said the organization is, “pro-West fraternal organization,” and is linked to the alt-right movement.
At least four people were taken into custody by New Haven police.
Police spokesperson Officer David Hartman said one person was issued a summons and released on scene, while three others were arrested for misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges. At least one of the people arrested had participated in the counterprotest.
Hartman said one person arrested was hospitalized after a substance at the rally caused the person’s asthma to flare up. One of the individuals arrested had illegal fireworks, Hartman said. The incident led to road closures along the Green, including the portion of Church Street running parallel to the Green.
The event underscores the tension between far-right groups emboldened by what counterprotesters in New Haven said is rhetoric from President Donald Trump and left-leaning organizations that believe such far-right groups align too closely with white supremacists.
Other groups were said to be involved, though members affiliated with Proud Boys were the only ones who identified themselves to press members as belonging to a specific group. Police on-scene said no group had been issued a permit to rally on Saturday.
“Many of them, they’re kind of the middle band of white nationalists … people,” Alexander said. “They’re all explicitly nationalist.”
Jesus Morales Sanchez, of the immigrant advocacy group Unidad Latina en Accion, said Trump’s rhetoric on Muslims and immigrants has been especially problematic.
“We’re trying to send a message that that’s not welcomed in New Haven, because that’s not what New Haven stands for,” Morales said. “A lot of these groups have popped up; they’ve become more relevant since the election and since (Trump’s) campaign started.”
Two Proud Boys members, who said they were brothers from Massachusetts, said their organization was not affiliated with white supremacists. They declined to give their names. They arrived shortly after 1 p.m. near the Green. Their members spoke to some counterprotesters while others yelled chants and obscenities behind them.
One group member said they support immigrants, “as long as they come here legally and don’t expect us to conform to their culture.”
“As long as you’re not, you know, prompting your own culture, which deviates from the culture that is here,” the members said.
Another group member said they were surprised to see a counterprotest. He said Proud Boys are not white supremacists.
“Nazis hate us,” another group member said. “Because we have gay members and Hispanic and Asian members.”
The counterprotest began with a march at about 12:40 p.m. on the Green. Demonstrators stopped near the city’s war memorial flagpole.
There, a man who declined to name what group he was affiliated with was met with counterprotesters who asked that he leave. Obscenities were yelled at the man, who was shoved several times while walking away from the counterprotesters. A hat he wore was taken off his head, while one person attempted to punch him and another kicked the man. The man said he was from New Haven and said he was “anti-socialist.”
The incident was a harbinger of what soon approached: Proud Boys members came face-to-face with counterprotesters near Church and Elm streets. They were told by counterprotesters that they were not welcome in New Haven. While some demonstrators yelled at the protestors, a few began throwing objects, including what appeared to be paint-filled balloons.
New Haven police arrived on the scene in droves at about 1:11 p.m. The demonstration erupted after police began requesting people disperse from the area, which was now filled with close to 200 demonstrators and more and more police officers. Officers were seen arresting at least three people, including one woman who appeared to throw an object. Several high-ranking officers were on-hand, including Assistant Chief Achilles Generoso.
Among the four arrested was community activist Barbara Fair, who appeared to be released on-scene after being handcuffed. She told supporters afterwards she “was fine.”
Mayor Toni Harp released a statement on her re-election campaign Facebook page Saturday following the rally. She said the city wasn’t aware of any planned protests on Saturday.
“We were in no way supportive of any assembly that intends to incite fear, hatred and violence,” Harp said. “New Haven is and remains an inclusive city and I personally take responsibility for ensuring that this is the case.”
Hartman said the Proud Boys members requested that police escort them out of the Green, and they left shortly before 2 p.m. It’s unclear if other far-right group members attended the planned rally.
“They promised not to come back,” Hartman said.
Edited for mb3-org.com