WHITEFISH – About 50 self-proclaimed anti-fascists gathered in downtown on Monday to show solidarity with the community on the day a neo-Nazi group had been planning an armed march through town that was later postponed.
The peaceful demonstration on Martin Luther King Jr. Day came a week after a white supremacist website, The Daily Stormer, sent an incomplete application for a special event permit to the city of Whitefish. The website’s founder, Andrew Anglin, had announced plans to hold an armed march on Jan. 16 dubbed the “James Earl Ray Day Extravaganza,” referring to the assassin who shot and killed the civil rights icon.
City officials said they could not act on an incomplete permit, and Anglin announced on his website soon after that the march would be postponed until sometime in February.
Despite the cancellation of the Jan. 16 event, anti-fascists and others gathered in Whitefish in case neo-Nazis did move forward with their plan to march down Second Street from Memorial Park to City Hall.
Many of the protestors came from out of the area and were organized by a coalition of groups, including the Missoula chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World and the Queer Insurrection Unit. Some were masked and dressed in all back with pink armbands. One man, who asked not to be identified, said organizers chose to wear black to show the neo-Nazis that they were “militant” and would not be deterred by their weapons.
“We’re here to stand in solidarity with the community of Whitefish,” said Davis Ritsema, an IWW organizer from Missoula. “We’re ready to show up to stand against the neo-Nazis, and if they do show up and march, we’ll be back.”
The presence of masked protestors in black briefly caused a stir on social media with some people believing the neo-Nazis had arrived. Whitefish Police Chief Bill Dial said his officers were keeping a close eye on the situation, and there was a noticeable police presence in the downtown area, with multiple police cruisers patrolling the area.
Jacob Johns, a community organizer from Spokane, Washington, was returning from the ongoing oil pipeline protest on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota when he heard about the proposed march in Whitefish. Johns said he helped organize rides for protestors from Washington and Oregon to stand against fascism.
“People from all different backgrounds are here to stand united and show solidarity with the community,” Johns said.
Leading up to his announcement of an armed march, Anglin had spearheaded an online “troll storm,” encouraging followers of The Daily Stormer to target local Jewish residents and businesses with harassment and threats through social media and phone calls.