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A day of discord and drama as Trump rallies clash in Buffalo

Before Sunday's dueling pro-and anti-Trump rallies on Bidwell Parkway in Buffalo, organizers Nate McMurray and Rus Thompson met in the middle and expressed their hopes that both would be peaceful.

But tensions rose even before the rallies were scheduled to begin when a group of a few dozen counterprotesters confronted the pro-Trump rally on the grass at Colonial Circle at Richmond Avenue and Bidwell.

About 30 minutes before the pro-Trump rally began, while members of the the groups were still interacting one-on-one at the circle, two middle-aged men got into a fistfight that ended with a hand-lettered sign torn into pieces, one man bleeding and the other without his ripped shirt.

After that, the Buffalo Police Emergency Response Team arrived and several dozen officers separated the groups with a line of officers. People who arrived for the event were asked to choose one side or the other of the police line.

Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said the Emergency Response Team was activated ahead of time. "We planned the activation when we became aware of the competing rallies," Gramaglia said. He said there were no arrests.

The pro-Trump rally was organized by several organizations and local activist Rus Thompson of Niagara Falls after former Congressional candidate Nate McMurray announced that he would head an anti-Trump demonstration less than a half-mile away, at Elmwood Avenue and Bidwell Parkway.

"There aren't going to be any speeches," Thompson said, as the chant "Fascists go home!" echoed in the background. He told the crowd of several hundred, many wearing pro-Trump T-shirts or carrying Trump flags or signs, to ignore the counter-demonstrators.

The pro-Trump crowd sang "God Bless America" and the national anthem, said the Pledge of Allegiance and chanted "Four more years!" Stefan Mychajliw, Erie County Comptroller, posed for photos and shook hands.

"We just want to show Western New York that there is more support out there for President Trump than people think," Thompson said. "That's the whole purpose of this, nothing else."

Thompson said he thought the turnout for his rally was "pretty good; I think it would have been better had they not infiltrated the camp. We intentionally set up two different areas, pro-Trump and anti-Trump. And here we are, I get a picture at a quarter after 12 with the opposition set up here where we were supposed to be."

An anti-Trump demonstrator yells to pro-Trump supporters during Sunday's pro-Trump rally. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Victoria Ross, executive director of the Western New York Peace Center, said, "I'm here to stand up against fascism. People are very concerned about what's going on in this country — more than concerned. It's alarming the amount of hate."

She said that the smaller group chose to split off from the anti-Trump group at Elmwood and Bidwell and confront the Trump backers because "different people have different ideas. But we are united in terms of our assessment of the issues."

Charlie Murphy of Buffalo, who identified himself as a Trump supporter, said he had brought his 13-year-old son, Hunter, to the rally to show him "our First Amendment rights from both sides."

At Elmwood and Bidwell, a comparable sized group of 200 or more heard speakers, including McMurray, Murray Holman, chairman of the Stop the Violence Coalition, and Eva Hassett, executive director of the International Institute of Buffalo. Hassett led the chant, "No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here."

"There is no one coming in to save us," McMurray told the crowd. "We're going to have to save ourselves."

After the scheduled speakers, Ilyas Khan of Buffalo, 15, took the microphone and made a plea to fight climate change. "Climate action is moving, but we could be moving faster," he said.

Dan Cycon, Charlene Piechocki and her son, Marek Hall, 11, watched the end of the rally from the back of the crowd. "We're here to see the freedoms that we have," said Cycon. "There are countries where if you do something like this, you get thrown in jail or worse."

"I tell my son, one person can't necessarily make a change, but one person can spark a change," Piechocki said.

After the anti-Trump rally ended, a few dozen people made their way down Bidwell to the pro-Trump rally. The police formed a tighter line, batons drawn, as the pro-Trump numbers dwindled and the anti-Trump crowd grew in size. Although a few people shouted comments back and forth across the police line for another hour, most of the people attending gradually drifted away.

News reporter Lou Michel contributed to this report.

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