ST. GEORGE — Concerns over a potential Black Lives Matter protest that was supposed to take place Saturday evening in downtown St. George brought out hundreds of counter-protesters, some of whom were visibly armed, in response to fears that the BLM protest would devolve into a riot. However, the anticipated mayhem did not occur as the rumored busloads of BLM protesters failed to materialize.
A handful of Black Lives Matter supporters did show up across the street from the counter protest and were vastly outnumbered.
Fears of a riot were spurred on by ultimately unconfirmed rumors over social media that protesters with plans to riot were going to be brought in from out of town by the busload. These rumors came to the attention of the St. George Police Department.
“In the past few days, the St. George Police Department has received information from several people about a protest that has been planned this evening, August 29, in St. George.” the Police Department posted on Facebook Saturday afternoon. “Keep in mind there seem to be a lot of unsubstantiated rumors and speculation surrounding this event.”
St. George City Councilwoman Michele Randall also posted on Facebook on Saturday that the event was not planned through the local chapter of Black Lives Matter but by a student who wanted to protest the recent shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. Anything beyond that was unconfirmed rumor.
“Are busses full of Antifa rioters here in St George? As of right now, there is no credible source or information to substantiate this rumor!” Randall posted, followed by a plea to both sides planning to attend the protest to be respectful and peaceful.
While the police made preparations for the protest, two citizen groups organized their own response to what they saw as a potential threat to the community.
“If you are going to protest, we’re going to make sure that it’s done peacefully – that you’re not going to hurt our cops, that you’re not going to hurt our businesses and you’re not going to cause problems here in St. George,” said Bobby Chiodini, a retired police officer who moved to St. George over seven years ago. He organized what he called the All Lives Matter protest to counter the supposed BLM one set for Saturday evening.
Chiodini told St. George News that he had grown tried of seeing social media posts that stated only Black lives mattered. He responded that all lives mattered and said he was attacked over social media and called anything from a racist to a pedophile for it
“The definition of ‘all’ is every race,” he said.
The group Chiodini organized began to gather at the Washington County Administration Building shortly after 5 p.m. The goal was to take a position at the southwestern corner of 200 East and St. George Boulevard directly across the street from the Iceberg Drive Inn, where Black Lives Matter protesters were anticipated to gather.
As the All Lives Matter group grew, members of the St. George Police Department arrived to lay down a few rules about holding a peaceful protest, while also warning of what might happen if the protest got out of hand and was declared an “unlawful assembly.”
The All Lives Matter protest grew to around 200 individuals by 6 p.m. and kept growing as it moved to the street corner nearby. Amid the mass of counter-protesters were several American flags, Blue Thin Line flags and the occasional Trump 2020 flag. Several hats and shirts worn by those gathered also showed support for Trump, supporting police or denouncing socialism.
The other citizen group that responded to the worry of a possible riot was the Liberty Action Coalition, a group formed two month ago. The group’s goal is to protect the city and its people from the potential violence and destruction that have accompanied riots elsewhere, chairwoman Patricia Kent said.
To aid in this goal, Kent said the coalition also formed a minuteman group that works with the militias in the Southern Utah.
“That minuteman group has united with all the different militias in the Southern Utah area,” she said. “We believed there could be a riot in the St. George area, and as a result, here we are.”
Several members of the counter protest were visibly armed with pistols, long guns and AR-style rifles. Kent said the show of force was to help keep any potential rioters in line.
“I learned a long time ago that talk is cheap,” Kent said. “But when it comes to defending your rights, most terrorists, most antagonists, most rioters don’t listen to anything unless you’re armed.”
As Utah is an “open carry” state, residents can legally carry firearms in public.
As the evening wore on, the coalition and the All Lives Matter group primarily congregated at the street corner by the county administration buildings.
At its peak, the All Lives Matter counter-protest appeared to have up to 400 or more people involved. In contrast, a group of Black Lives Matter supporters, many of whom appeared to be teens and young adults, numbered around 20.
Police officers were a constant presence during the protest in order to keep interactions between the two groups civil.
At times the two sides seemed to trade chants. One would yell “Four more years” while the other shouted, “No lives matter till Black lives matter” and other slogans associated with either side. It wasn’t uncommon for the chants to be drowned out by the repeated blasts of horns from passing cars on St. George Boulevard.
Several motorized passersby appeared to share support for Trump – including some with Trump 2020 flags attached to their vehicles – while others showed their disapproval for either the Black Lives Matter or the All Lives Matter crowd in various ways.
The driver of a truck that passed by the small cluster of Black Lives Matter protesters accused them of being racists and followed it up by displaying his middle finger toward the group.
Some of the All Lives Matter protesters also crossed the street and stood by the BLM supporters. This resulted in “Black Lives Matter” signs being raised next to ones that read “Back the Blue.”
Despite this, the two groups largely remained civil to each other, with the exception of a couple of incidents of individuals who briefly had verbal confrontations. Where noticed by police, these interactions were swiftly ended with those involved being separated.
Jennifer Field, who brought her children to the BLM side of the protest, was emotional as she spoke to St. George News.
“It makes me really want to cry that we have these kinds of people who hide behind Trump or whatever,” she said. “Its just really sad that we have to deal with this.”
Field said she brought her children to the protest as a learning experience to help them realize that “no lives matter until Black lives do.”
“I just wanted to support my brother and sisters.” she said, adding she felt frustration over how little progress she felt had been made in the arena of civil rights since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s time.
“Unfortunately, not a lot has changed since then,” Field said.
Though the rumored busloads of out of town protesters did not materialize, counter protest organizers considered the event a success as they said it showed people in St. George will not tolerate threats of violent riots.
“We don’t want our town looking like Portland, (Oregon),” Kent said.
The St. George Police Department was unable to confirm the origin of the rumored busloads of BLM protesters.
Updated Aug. 30, 8 a.m. to include details from event.
Original photo gallery article from Aug. 29, 8 p.m.
ST. GEORGE — Hundreds of protesters gathered Saturday night on St. George Boulevard with the stated intention to “stand up for all lives.”
According to the Facebook event page for the All Lives Matter protest, organizers were rallying people to “come together as one….Peacefully…. Unite as one,,, not one race.. Everything that is happening is happening to all of us.. We need to teach our children, the next generation. Teach them right from wrong.. Protect our communities against wrong doings, looting, destroying and the aftermath left behind. If we don’t stand up now it’s only going to get worse.”
A small group of Black Lives Matter protesters also showed up and staged near the Iceberg Drive-Inn on the corner of the Boulevard and 200 East.
St. George News was on the scene, and this article will be updated with more coverage from the event.
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