After neo-Nazis disrupted Motor City Pride in Detroit, the Detroit Police Department was heaped with criticism for providing the provocateurs with a police escort. Now, the police have issued a statement explaining their presence.
“They wanted something even more substantive than Charlottesville,” said police chief James Craig. “That’s according to credible intelligence we received.”
Craig is referring to the “Unite the Right” rally where images of white supremacists carrying tiki torches went viral and a car attack against protesters killed Heather Heyer and injured others. According to Craig, the Southern Poverty Law Center-designated neo-Nazi group NSM intended their appearance at Pride to foment a “Charlottedville 2.0”, an event local authorities were determined to prevent.
The neo-Nazis were armed with two long guns and three handguns openly carried — which is legal in Michigan — and clashed with a third group of demonstrators Craig identified as Antifa, short for anti-fascist. Antifa is pointedly not listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
While the neo-Nazis and Antifa groups both boasted only around fifteen members, both groups were particularly hostile to the police presence, according to Craig. The Nazis also had an attorney and cameras present.
“Both groups were taunting our officers with racial epithets,” he said.
The crowd at large was not on the police’s side in the matter either, starkly critical of the apparent police protection of the neo-Nazis. In videos, Pride attendees can be heard asking why police were defending literal Nazis instead of vulnerable communities like the LBGT Pride celebrants. It is worth noting that Pride commemorates the Stonewall Riots, which were themselves an anti-police demonstration.
Craig responded to the criticism by saying police were not there to escort the Nazis, put to prevent escalation to violence that their intelligence suggested was the intent of the neo-Nazi presence, and on this front they scored a solid success. He was frankly surprised that his officers’ presence alongside the Nazis was seen by onlookers as a sign of support.
“We took no sides; we communicated with both groups, and we didn’t have an uprising,” said Craig. “According to our intelligence, they were hoping because of open carry, they were frankly trying to bait this police department and bait the other side.”
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.