When Back the Blue protesters marched through Fredericksburg, their counterprotest brought threats, hate, and fear to Black Lives Matter protesters. We spoke with local BLM organizers to hear their stories after the event.
Since Black Lives Matter protests have begun all around the world, opposing pro-police groups have been at odds wherever they take place. Recently, these groups collided in the City of Fredericksburg.
Peaceful Black Lives Matter protests had been occurring in Fredericksburg in June. On several occasions, police began turning violent, causing injuries to BLM protesters. This caused much backlash from the community, resulting in the mayor of Fredericksburg apologizing for the way protestors had been treated. However, the events also sparked an outcry from people supporting the pro-police “Blue Lives Matter” movement, and a group of counter-protesters from that movement decided to march in their own rally.
On Sunday, June 28, a group of counter protesters marched through the City of Fredericksburg to the city’s police station. Naming their event the Back the Blue rally, they marched in support of local police force and “blue lives.” This rally was intended to oppose the Black Lives Matter marches, which protest the injustice and mistreatment of Black lives and systemic oppression by police forces across America.
After a Facebook event was created, things began to get scary. Eddie Banks, a Fredericksburg native, served as an organizer for a BLM march called Leaders for Peace. Banks discusses the town’s events, and how they received hate comments after a Fox News discussion with right-wing provocateur Tucker Carlson.
“Tucker Carlson posted a clip of a 911 call that is currently under investigation, which is why people can’t really talk about it. After that was posted, we started receiving a lot of hate comments,” Banks explained. “It was about a week before [the protest] that we started hearing ‘second Charlottesville’ being used as terminology for what was going to happen for Sunday’s [BLM protest]. A lot of people ended up not coming out, and went into hiding.”
The term “second Charlottesville” refers to the brutal and violent right-wing protests known as Unite The Right, which occurred in Charlottesville in 2017 and resulted in a member of a hate group fatally injuring a peaceful protester with his car. Banks explains that protesters of the BLM movement did not come out because of the fear of being identified on social media, and the potential of right-wing extremists targeting them.
“We’re in full covering in case they were identified, because we were aware that we would be targeted. There have been some secret groups doxxing people who have been protesting,” Banks said. “Showing their names, addresses, photos of people who are just standing up for their first amendment rights.”
“The Back the Blue protests got a lot more attention than I think they would have, because of the Tucker Carlson piece that was extremely falsified,” said Ryan Brown, who has led Fredericksburg protests alongside Banks. “[The piece] absolutely was what brought unwanted national attention from right wing organizations to Fredericksburg. I know there were death threats, not only [directed] at protesters but to the Mayor as well. There were right wing Facebook group [posts] with captions, saying things like ‘extra points for hitting the red head’ and other violent remarks. People were also getting extremely violent text messages from unknown numbers.”
Comments in Fredericksburg’s Back the Blue rally event page, along with other Fredericksburg-related pages on Facebook, were widely against BLM protesters. A few comments we came across are listed below:
“Too bad they can’t shoot them. It would clear the streets quickly”
“it will not stop until AMERICANS shoot the terrorists.”
“Shoot first and don’t give a shit about their answer
Clearly we need to take our country back
Trump Train 2020”
“These two need to be found and have their asses beat”
“Sooner or later people are going to stop catering to this bullshit and will start mowing people down. (I’m not people). But mark my words. It’s gonna happen.”
“I say go for it guys, make a stand I mean you would certainly get some news coverage. If Fox talks about the town for about 5 minutes then im sure if people actively chased these people out of town you may end up getting 10 minutes lol. It seems like this entire thing is a powder magazine just waiting for the match. Start it in Fredericksburg haha, put the town on the map!”
It’s clear why local response to BLM protests made organizers uncomfortable. Like Banks noted, many BLM protesters stayed home during the rally due to fears of being targeted by Back the Blue supporters. Brown also noted a few major differences between the way local Fredericksburg police handled Black Lives Matter protests and the way they dealt with the Back the Blue rally.
“On May 31, when the original Black Lives Matter and George Floyd protests were happening here, we got tear gassed and shot at with paintball rounds… out of nowhere, after no provocation, violence, nothing,” Brown said. “For this Back the Blue march, there were weeks of death threats in groups organizing the marches. The mayor had to flee the city in fear for her life. We had [BLM] protesters being named on those pages that had to flee town, and we were told the FBI was investigating right-wing activity in the town.”
“There’s all this craziness going down, and [Back the Blue protesters] being met with hugs and stickers and ‘good jobs.’ They were met at the police station with no problem whatsoever,” Brown continued. “It was very strange, and surreal that there were legitimate, dangerous concerns leading up to this march. The way they were treated, compared to the way Black Lives Matter protesters were treated — when they were completely peaceful — is something that I think stuck out, and was very visceral for a lot of people.”
The Back the Blue rally was escorted through downtown Fredericksburg by one hundred bikers carrying sidearms. If these protesters heard gunfire, they were instructed to get on the ground and allow the bikers to protect them.
“The rally in and of itself didn’t bother me, personally, as much as what seemed like an anarchist biker group filling the city. [It was] led by this guy named Mad Mike,” Brown said. “In his opening remark to the crowd, he said they’re there for protection, and that they won’t hesitate to use violent force if necessary. It was bringing a lot of unnecessary aggression to the situation.”
Brown and Banks explained that the protests they’ve organized were meant to enforce messages that everyone should be treated equally — and that no life should be treated better than another.
“I march because I want there to be justice for the people that were unconstitutionally arrested. I also march for accountability. For me, it’s frightening as a citizen of Fredericksburg,” Brown said. “I don’t think I’ll ever feel safe in a city that feels it can outright harm its citizens, for little to no reason. For nothing to come from it, that would make me feel forever unsafe here.”
Banks agreed. “Oppression that the police are able to carry is not okay,” she said. “The police brutality is not okay. The fact that I can say over a hundred names [of police brutality victims], and still not have said all the names, is not okay.”
“We are fighting a war against a system that has always been accepted in America, and it’s no longer accepted because people are tired of being treated like this,” said Banks. “All we’re asking is for equal education, equal job opportunities, equal lifestyle choices. Looking at [people of color’s] upbringing, we are taught to fear the police… and that if you encounter a person who is of white skin, to not become confrontational, because you don’t know if they have a gun. You don’t know if they’re going to say it was self-defense, and it varies because you are a person of color.”
Still organizing with Leaders for Peace, Banks and Brown are continuing to organize peaceful protests demanding justice for the victims of police brutality. Just a few days after the Back the Blue rally, they marched the same route through Fredericksburg. But recently, Fredericksburg City Council leaders have begun enforcing permits for protests, which take up to 48 hours to grant and could make organization harder. Banks described the frustration she feels about BLM protests, and tensions overflowing on both sides.
“I don’t know how much more peaceful people we can be while still following the law and making sure that everyone is safe… because when we were peaceful, we were still met with aggression and hate,” she said. “We are here to lead a peaceful movement in order to gain equality for all. Not just the Black community, not just the LGBTQIA+ community, the lower [income] white community — everybody deserves an equal slice. We’re not going to have that as long as the systems that we have are still in power.”
Top Photo: Back the Blue Rally in Fredericksburg, via Fredericksburg Police Department on Facebook