Is it a neo-Nazi rally when only one neo-Nazi shows up?
On a warm, sunny Saturday at Cazenovia Park in South Buffalo, well-known white supremacist Karl Hand of Lockport was the only evidence of a much-anticipated “White Lives Matter” rally.
And Hand was outnumbered by about 350 to 1.
Like Bridget Marren, many of those who turned out to confront the neo-Nazis, held signs that said, “Not Here,” “Black Lives Matter” and, “We promote unity in Buffalo.”
“We live here,” said Marren, a South Buffalo native. “We don’t want that hate spread here.”
A counterdemonstration organized by the Buffalo Anti-Racism Coalition turned out hundreds to protest the rally promoted by the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group based in Detroit. The organization, on its website, describes itself as the party of “every patriotic white American” and says its membership is open to “non-Semitic heterosexuals of European descent.”
By the time word of the group’s plans began spreading last week, there was talk of a counterdemonstration, fueled in part by local organizations and politicians angry about the rally taking place in their backyard.
The rally never happened but hundreds turned out to voice their opposition, often loudly.
“I’m so pleased by the people who showed up," coalition member Lou DeJesus told the crowd Saturday. “But I’m not surprised. It’s Buffalo.”
It was, in DeJesus’s words, a proud day for the City of Good Neighbors.
Around her, people chanted “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Nazi hate has got to go,” and carried signs denouncing the rally and the people behind it.
A few feet away, Hand, a Nazi sympathizer of at least three decades, handed out flyers claiming there’s no racial bias in police shootings and supporting his write-in candidacy for U.S. Senate.
The only other evidence of neo-Nazi sympathizers was a man who, at one point, found himself surrounded by counterprotesters and exchanged punches with some of them before being escorted away by Buffalo police.
Even before the counterdemonstration began, the strong police presence in the park was obvious, with marked cars cruising the roadways and uniformed officers watching from afar.
The counterdemonstration also attracted politicians angry about the rally, including Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke, one of the first officeholders to publicly denounce the event and call for a peaceful counterprotest. Burke is married to a woman of Puerto Rican descent and they have three biracial children.
White supremacist rallies are not common in Buffalo, but they do happen.
A similar rally in 2006 in downtown Buffalo resulted in a small gathering of people on both sides walking from Lafayette Square to Niagara Square.