Thirty Neo-Nazi demonstrators who gathered in West Allis on Sept. 3 to stage a “rally in defense of white America” were overwhelmed with LUV.
A counter-demonstration organized by an ad hoc group dubbed “LUV Brigade” drew nearly 2,000 protesters, who drowned out the hate rhetoric of the Neo-Nazis with chants of “silence,” “peace,” “go home” and other slogans.
The Neo-Nazi demonstrators, most of them young male skinheads, faced off against the counter-protesters from behind fenced barricades erected in the plaza adjacent to West Allis City Hall. They taunted onlookers with Nazi salutes and racial slurs. Some wore “white power” T-shirts, others were decked out in the movement’s signature black battle dress uniforms. They carried signs, American and Wisconsin flags, and flags emblazoned with swastikas.
The Neo-Nazi demonstrators were part of the National Socialist Movement. Founded in Detroit in 1994, the NSM is one of the largest and most provocative Neo-Nazi groups in the United States, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The group decided to demonstrate in West Allis after flash mobs of black youths attacked whites on the first night of the State Fair in August and also during July 3 fireworks in Riverwest. The words “justice for white victims” and “prosecute black hate crimes” were written on signs carried by NSM demonstrators.
During the 90-minute demonstration, several minor skirmishes erupted, provoked by Neo-Nazi sympathizers mingling with the counter-protesters. But the fights were quickly quelled by 100 police officers, who stood guard over the proceedings in full riot gear, some of them on horseback. Five people were arrested, but no one was injured.
Although the right-leaning Milwaukee Journal Sentinel led its coverage of the event with a picture of a young, shirtless black man with his fist raised, the counter-demonstration organized by the LUV Brigade was more notable for its peaceful tone than for anger. Speakers, however, did not shy away from comparing the elitist, divide-and-conquer philosophy of the Nazis to that of Gov. Scott Walker, the state’s GOP leaders and corporate-right leaders such as David Koch.
Despite a soaking rain, speakers affiliated with 30 organizations stood on a makeshift stage at the corner of 77th Street and Greenfield Avenue to address the crowd with messages about the strength of a diverse community.
The Rev. Joe Ellwanger of Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope said it was vital to speak out against the Nazis now because of what happened when people sat silent amid the rise of fascism in the 1930s.
“Every human being has dignity and worth and value,” Ellwanger said. “We denounce whatever breaks down … beloved community.”
The breadth of diversity in Milwaukee was in full display at the LUV Brigade event, which included people of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds. A sizeable number of LGBT people were also on hand. Some of them, such as Ray Vahey, carried rainbow flags or signs.
Chad Bowman, who described himself as a two-spirit Mohican from Milwaukee, said he “came here today to show the diversity of this community and to show that Nazis are not welcome here.”
“Two-spirit” is a Native American term for gay people.
“These hate-spewing idiots truly hate everybody, gays, lesbians, Indians – whatever,” Bowman said.
Jennifer Morales, an out lesbian and the first Latina to be elected to the Milwaukee School Board, told a cheering crowd that there is no difference between discrimination based on race and that based on homophobia.
“(Anti-gay) hatred is based on the assumption that we could change if we wanted,” Morales said. “Well, I tried. It doesn’t work. … I was born this way.”
One of the most compelling speakers was Arno Michaels, a former Neo-Nazi skinhead who had a complete change of heart after his daughter was born in the 1990s. Michaels wrote a book titled “My Life After Hate,” started an organization called Life After Hate and hosts a Web magazine that preaches anti-violence.
“For seven years of my life, I would have been over there,” Michaels said, gesturing to where the Neo-Nazis stood.
“Traitor,” yelled a Nazi sympathizer in the crowd.
“Thank you,” Michaels replied to cheers and applause.