It was hard to hear what right-wing rally goers were saying over the speakers without standing close. Hundreds of anti-fascism protesters had gathered across the street from Saturday’s “We The People” rally outside the Independence Visitor Center in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to overshadow the few dozen self-declared “patriots” who attended Saturday’s—a light turnout, peppered with members of the violent, right-wing Proud Boys group.
“To be completely honest, this is pitiful,” Ted Chmielnicki, a rally speaker, said of the weak attendance. He accused members of a state-based militia group of trying to “actively sabotage” the event by telling people hate groups had been invited to the rally.
Christian Yingling of the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia responded to the claims in a Facebook post, writing that event organizers were “attempting to blame us for the hate groups they invited not showing up.” Right Wing Watch has contacted Yingling via Facebook Messenger asking if he would let us review private messages he claimed in the post to possess, which allegedly contain evidence that hate groups were courted ahead of Saturday’s event.
“They were using the same rhetoric as Antifa, as the left, to try to destroy,” Chmielnicki said. “To have it from our own side, it’s disgusting.”
The rally’s Facebook event page stated that “all Patriots, Militia, 3%, constitution loving Americans, pro good cop, pro ICE, pro law and order, pro life, pro American value, pro gun and anti illegal immigration” believers were welcome to attend Saturday’s rally. The event’s initial planning involved members of the Proud Boys organization, which was founded by CRTV host Gavin McInnes and has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The event had also piqued the interest of Bob Gaus, member of a neo-Nazi group, as Rewire News reported. Gaus, who co-founded the Neo-Nazi group Keystone United, had asked in a comment on the Facebook event page if there was a meeting point for participants. Right Wing Watch did not spot Gaus in attendance at Saturday’s rally and a rally organizer told us that they privately asked Gaus not to attend.
Organizers were adamant that the rally was not a “Proud Boys event,” but Zach Rehl, a planner of We The People, is a member of the group. Rehl has organized past rallies in the city that have attracted people in extremist circles. Andrew Kovalic, who was reported to have originally planned security for the event, was fired from his job at Comcast for being a Proud Boys member.
When chatter first began that members of the Proud Boys group would take part in the rally, anti-fascist organizers began mobilizing crowds to turn out and oppose the demonstration. The Push Back Campaign spearheaded the effort, earning the endorsements of a handful of anti-fascist groups, legal groups, and labor unions. A post on the Push Back Campaign’s website read:
Far-right groups with ties to Neo-Nazis known as the “Proud Boys” and the “Three Percenters” are planning to attend a rally in Philadelphia on November 17th called “We the People”. They provoke and attack people on the streets who they deem to be unworthy of their far-right, fascist vision of the country. The Proud Boys were present in Charlottesville, terrorize residents in the cities of Portland, New York, and Providence, and have been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The residents and allies of Philadelphia must stand in opposition to this escalation of the far-right’s push into the city’s culture and politics.
Rehl said the planned demonstrations against his event would be “kind of hilarious” if the Proud Boys didn’t attend his event during an interview on WPHT 1210AM before the rally.
At least two Proud Boys attended Saturday’s rally, including David Kuriakose, who is facing riot and assault charges in New York City for his participation in brawls after McInnes delivered a speech to the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan last month. McInnes’ speech, and the subsequent violence, attracted members of the New York skinhead gangs 211 Bootboys and Battalion 49, and led to the arrest of several Proud Boys.
Alan Swinney, another Proud Boy, showed up at the Philadelphia event dressed in a full suit of armor. On two occasions, Swinney exited the barricades surrounding the rally to in apparent attempts to goad anti-fascist protesters into committing violence. On Swinney’s second foray outside the perimeter, an opposing demonstrator took the bait. The counter-protester was arrested.
A separate scuffle involved a man that Billy Penn identified only as “Zachary.” Billy Penn purported Zachary to be a person mistakenly attacked by anti-fascist protesters, although there is some debate over whether he may have obscured his connection to the Proud Boys. Zachary entered the crowd wearing a hat advertising the Silver Dollar Bar, which coincidentally is the name of a bar where Proud Boys members crashed a Democratic Socialists of America meeting in September. (Update: The Silver Dollar Bar hat Zachary was seen wearing is actually from a bar in North Dakota). When an observer of the scuffle asked Zachary why he left the rally to go to the counter-protest side, he responded: “it’s a free country.”
McInnes was allegedly spotted in the city on Thursday, and many anti-fascist demonstrators told Right Wing Watch they had worried he might attend with a troop of his followers. But at Saturday’s rally, McInnes was nowhere to be seen.
Hundreds turned out on Saturday to oppose the rally, including government whistleblower and activist Chelsea Manning. Many protesting the event brought along signs, costumes, and memorabilia of the Philadelphia Flyers mascot “Gritty,” whose likeness has been co-opted by anti-fascist demonstrators and leftist activists.
“Whose streets? Gritty’s streets!” activists chanted.
That’s the good stuff pic.twitter.com/rcU7VhW82T
— Jared Holt (@jaredlholt) November 17, 2018
Without active threats to oppose, anti-fascist demonstrators spent most of their day mingling with one another. Many groups that had demonstrated at the 2017 Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, had traveled to the Philadelphia event, which became something of a reunion for many in the anti-fascist crowd, who were overheard sharing stories in good spirits. One activist described the gathering to Right Wing Watch as a sort of “Antifa Thanksgiving.”
Daryle Lamont Jenkins, a well-known anti-fascist activist in Philadelphia and the founder of One People’s Project, told Right Wing Watch that the community organizing efforts were responsible for the right-wing rally’s low turnout, which he called “pathetic.” One People’s Project endorsed the Push Back Campaign.
“They tried to pick a fight with us and we weren’t having it,” Jenkins said. “We mobilized against them and we’ve done it before. … Their numbers are down because of us.”
The less-clued-in participants in the right-wing rally were confused at the opposition to the event they were attending. We the People rally-goer Dmitry Kyrychenko, a local Philadelphian, said he found out about the event via a post on the Philadelphia Police Department Facebook page. Kyrychenko said he believed that rally counter-demonstrators were opposing “free market principles,” and expressed his shock that they would oppose a rally promoting American exceptionalism.
He was wearing a shirt displaying the NPC meme that received a flash of attention in right-wing internet circles, accidentally matching another rally attendee.
These two folks have NPC shirts. They don’t know each other and accidentally matched. pic.twitter.com/cun0Oj6WZ5
— Jared Holt (@jaredlholt) November 17, 2018