Fears of far-right violence as US gears up for May Day protests

Far-right groups in Los Angeles and Seattle have announced plans to rally against May Day events.

    Militia groups have regularly attended far-right rallies in recent years [File: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
    Militia groups have regularly attended far-right rallies in recent years [File: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

    As people gear up for May Day rallies across the United States, far-right groups are preparing to hold counterdemonstrations in Seattle, Washington, and Los Angeles, California. 

    May Day, or International Workers Day, is commemorated annually on May 1 to celebrate the struggles of labourers and the working class.

    Rallies will be held in cities and towns across the US on Tuesday.

    In Seattle, where unions, socialists, anarchists and workers organisations plan to hold demonstrations on Tuesday, the far-right Washington State Patriot Response will hold a counter-rally dubbed "May Day Seattle - Stand Against Rioters".

    On a Facebook event page, the group calls on supporters to come "stand against" anti-fascists, known colloquially as Antifa, who it claims have "been destroying businesses and assaulting people on [May Day] all over the West Coast" in recent years.

    The header image of the page shows armed men wearing US insignia and military-style vests while raising their weapons to confront masked demonstrators standing in front of flames and plumes of smoke.

    "Berkeley - Portland - Charlottesville - Boston," the banner reads. "Not today Antifa."

    Many commenters on the event page called for violence against anti-fascists. "It's so about time that local patriots in Seattle get in the face of the subhuman mongrels," a Facebook account called Creak Aldo wrote.

    "Hats' off to you, #MAGA, smack a f***ing commie," Aldo continued. "MAGA" is a reference to the mantra - "Make America Great Again" - used by right-wing US President Donald Trump.

    An article posted on StopCommunismUSA, a far-right website, said that ultra-nationalist groups Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer will be attending the counter-rally.

    "Come stand with Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys and peacefully protest [t]he riots and destruction caused by groups like ANTIFA [sic]," the post read.

    Patriot Prayer is headed by Joey Gibson, a right-wing activist who is running for US Senate.

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    In the past, Gibson has hosted a slew of rallies in the states of Oregon and Washington and elsewhere that have brought out members of the alt-right, a loose coalition of white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis.

    The Proud Boys is a far-right men's fraternity that has been involved in violent clashes during pro-Trump and anti-Muslim rallies since Trump's election.

    Its founder, Gavin McInnes, cofounded Vice Media. After leaving the organisation, he became increasingly involved in far-right political activity and has been derided for racist, anti-Semitic and transphobic comments.

    Mark Bray, author of Antifa:The Anti-Fascist Handbook, explained that anti-fascism and labour rights' struggles have long overlapped. 

    "In general, there is a holdover of the perspective that fascism is at its core a kind of specially specific manifestation of counter-revolution," he told Al Jazeera.

    "And that's very much tied to the need of capitalism and the ruling class to defend itself in times of crisis."

    Charlottesville connection

    According to Bray, there is also a lengthy historical tradition of far-right groups targeting union and labour activists in the US and beyond. 

    On November 3, 1979, members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and the American Nazi Party killed five people who were participating in an anti-KKK rally in Greensboro, North Carolina. 

    Four of the victims were activists in the Communist Workers' Party (CWP), and the rally was borne out a conflict with the KKK that stemmed from the CWP's efforts to organise black workers. 

    "During the civil rights era, any kind of black union organising or otherwise always faced threats from the Klan and other [white supremacist] groups," Bray said. 

    The United Patriot National Front (UPNF), a far-right coalition of white supremacists and ultra-nationalists, has also announced on Facebook that it will confront May Day rally participants in Los Angeles on Tuesday. 

    "On May 1st, we will stand against the socialist values that have brought this [country] to its knees," the UPNF wrote on the Facebook event page.

    "The opposition will be marching to keep criminals from being deported … and we will show the nation that we will not stand by idle as these communists try to ruin our country."

    The event has gained little traction, with only 16 people pledging on Facebook to attend.

    The UPNF is headed by Antonio Foreman, who was photographed marching with participants of the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017.

    That rally turned deadly when James Alex Fields Jr, who had marched with a neo-Nazi group earlier in the day, allegedly murdered 32-year-old anti-racist activist Heather Heyer and injured dozens more when he ploughed his car into a crowd.

    The US far right surged during Trump's campaign and after his inauguration, throwing its weight behind his anti-immigrant policies, such as building a wall on the US-Mexico border, and promises to crack down on Muslims entering the US.

    Throughout 2017, clashes between anti-fascists and far-rightists were frequent.

    Recent months have seen a growing divide between the far right and the Trump administration, with the former increasingly disappointed in the president's involvement in wars overseas and his reneging on a host of campaign promises.

    Since Heyer's killing, the far right has suffered from widespread public backlash, internal disarray and legal challenges.

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    In January, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released a report that found that the number of people killed by white supremacists had doubled in 2017 when compared with the previous year.

    Of the 34 people killed by "domestic extremists" last year, at least 18 were killed by white supremacists, the ADL's report noted.

    According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based watchdog that monitors hate groups, more than 100 people have been killed or injured in incidents linked to the alt-right since 2014.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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