A neo-Nazi flop in Burlington

February 13, 2018

Robin Chadwell and Steve Ramey report on a quickly organized rally that made it clear to the fascists of Patriot Front that their presence isn't welcome in Vermont.

MORE THAN 250 Burlington community members gathered on one day's notice at Staples Plaza February 10 to protest the white supremacist group known as Patriot Front.

Patriot Front is a Texas-based white supremacist group whose members maintain that their ancestors conquered America and bequeathed it to them alone. They define themselves as American fascists or American nationalists, focused on preserving America's identity.

In recent weeks, Patriot Front posters appeared on downtown Burlington bulletin boards, and racist anti-immigrant posters were put up on the University of Vermont green as students were returning to classes after Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

When reports from anti-fascist groups emerged on Twitter saying that Patriot Front was coming to town to rally and spread their hate, students at the University of Vermont (UVM) and Burlington residents decided enough was enough.

They responded in a united fashion, confronting the racist actions and hate speech of these cowards with our own speech and protest.

Anti-fascists in Burlington, Vermont, mobilize to confront the far right
Anti-fascists in Burlington, Vermont, mobilize to confront the far right (Ashley Smith | SW)

Jabari Jones of the People of Color Caucus in Burlington put out a call to action over social media on February 9, after receiving word that the fascists were planning a demonstration in the high-visibility Staples parking lot next to the highway.

The International Socialist Organization at UVM organized a student march from the university down to the shopping center. Black Rose/Rosa Negra Burlington and the Peace and Justice Center also put out a call to action, and many other groups mobilized to join the action.

Community members already at the shopping center cheered loudly as they were joined by students marching down Williston Road, chanting "No hate, no fear immigrants are welcome here!" and "No Nazis, no KKK, no fascist USA!" There were no obvious signs of any members of Patriot Front.

AMONG THE counterprotesters who occupied the sidewalk, shouting chants into the streets, was 21 year-old Drew Baker, a student at the University of Vermont. "I'm here today because a certain group of folks decided to wake up this morning and spread hate," he said. "In response to that, an even larger group of people decided to wake up and stand in solidarity."

Mary Robideau, also a UVM student, spoke of the scarring experience she had last fall while protesting fascists in Charlottesville, Virginia, where social justice activist Heather Heyer was killed. "That kind of put me off of activism for a little bit, honestly," she said, explaining her need to take time to recover. "But I decided that these white supremacist movements have to be squashed."

The next day, the Burlington Free Press reported that a handful of Patriot Front cowards avoided the confrontation at their planned rally site and crossed town to City Hall park to wave their banners on the corner, where they were shouted down by a "couple of kids" and were gone in about 10 minutes.

A video posted on Patriot Front's Twitter page was apparently taken down after someone pointed out that their license plate was visible.

The news that neo-Nazis did rally in our city was met with anger and sadness over social media by many of the people who came out to confront them on Saturday. This is understandable, but we shouldn't miss the point that the counterdemonstration of hundreds forced them away from their intended location.

Because Staples Plaza is close to a highway overpass, many counterdemonstrators believed Patriot Front was planning to hang racist banners from the overpass—one of its favorite tactics. Instead, the racists were forced to turn tail and hold a pathetic rally, where they were shouted down by youth.

The lesson for anti-racists in Burlington is clear: Don't wait! Organize against hate immediately. When racist posters go up, we must unite and take action to show people in targeted communities that people have their back—and show the fascists that they are the ones who are isolated.

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