Photo: Keri Blakinger
Waving banners and hurling obscenities, White Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter protesters faced off in an angry hours-long shouting match Saturday in front of the Anti-Defamation League’s southwest Houston office.
WLM protesters countered chants of “Black Lives Matter” with shouts of “No they don’t!” Meanwhile, BLM protesters urged their opponents to, “Kill yourself, follow your leader,” referencing Adolf Hitler’s death by suicide.
On one side of barriers – set up by police well before the 11 a.m. start – a multicultural coalition of counter-protesters waved “Smash Fascists” and “Stop Racism” signs, debated whether to burn a flag, blasted Spanish music and raised black power fists.
A few yards away, heavily tattooed WLM activists hoisted “Stop Killing Our Police Officers” signs and waved images of Pepe the Frog, the cartoon image recently declared a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League.
“This isn’t about Nazism. We are here because white lives matters,” said Trump hat-wearing rally leader Ken Reed, 41.
Police – some on horseback, some on foot – fanned out across a large area surrounding the protest site, spilling into nearby parking lots with emergency vehicles and blocking one lane of traffic along the Southwest Freeway service road. Although police kept the feuding activists separated with barriers and yards of empty space between the two camps, a chaotic chorus of chants and counter-chants volleyed back and forth for hours.
Self-proclaimed pro-white activists originally planned the event to protest the civil rights organization, which they called “disgustingly anti-American” and said is supposedly “involved in domestic espionage,” according to the Facebook event page.
“They are calling us a ‘Hate Group,'” the group griped online.
In response, a broad coalition of counter-protesters, including everyone from Students for a Democratic Society to Latinos Inmigrantes Triunfadores to Black Lives Matter, gathered in opposition, far outnumbering the white nationalists who initiated the event.
“We’re here to drown the voices of the White Lives Matter white supremacists out. They’re out here protesting the Anti-Defamation League, but it’s more than that,” said organizer Ashton P. Woods, 31. “They’re white supremacists. They no longer matter, they never did. And it’s time for their voices to be drowned out.”
With a crowd at least 50 strong, the counter-protest coalition did their best to achieve that, but white activists kept firing back with snarky insults.
“Black, brown, Asian, white working people must unite,” chanted the counter-protesters.
“How many of y’all actually work?” shouted one pro-white activist.
At one point, WLM protesters began shouting about Harry Potter, for reasons that were not entirely clear. Later, they told a white BLM supporter they couldn’t take him seriously because of his perm.
As the day wore on, WLM protesters grew in number, while BLM protesters refreshed their front-line supplies with freshly made signs, using four-letter words to denounce their opponents’ Pepe images.
The bizarre anthropomorphic frog was once a benign symbol that morphed into an internet meme and eventually took on racially charged connotations as Klan-hooded and Hitler-mustached variants surfaced online. In September, the Anti-Defamation declared Pepe a hate symbol.
Despite the offensive nature of their signage, Reed clarified that his group is not white supremacists.
“I am not a Nazi,” he said, flanked by a man sporting a swastika tattoo. “I am a racial realist and white nationalist, meaning that I support the rights and interests of our people in this country.”
When one WLM protester showed up with a gun, counter-protesters objected – and Reed shouted, “The only way his finger will go on the trigger is if you all come over here.”
At one point, Black Lives Matter supporters scrounged up a flag and started gathering lighters. But ultimately they decided to rip the stars and stripes to shreds, waving it along the roadside for passersby on Southwest Freeway service road.
Leading up to the event, protesters on both sides prepped with a flurry of Facebook activity, including some live video posted the night before.
“Activists have to act. Movements have to move and if you are pro-white, you’ve gotta be pro-active,” one white activist said in a video posted.
He went on to trash Hillary Clinton, immigration, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
“White genocide is a real thing and white privilege is not a real thing,” he said.
Last month, a group of gun-toting white activists made national headlines when they waved Confederate flags and flew White Lives Matter banners in front of the NAACP’s Houston office in the historically black Third Ward.
“It has nothing to do with racism on our part,” Reed said at the time. “We’re proud to be Southern. It has all to do about heritage, nothing to do with hate.”