The alt-right group the Proud Boys promised a rally in West Philadelphia’s Clark Park on Saturday.
The gathering, which had residents on edge over fears that the event could spark violence, never materialized. Those who showed up in one of the most progressive, racially diverse neighborhoods in the city turned out to be largely locals, with up to 500 people assembling to oppose a rally that wasn’t.
“Clark Park remains a place where folks from all walks of life come to recreate and to convene and to just be,” Jamie Gauthier, who represents the neighborhood in City Council, said in a speech. “The white supremacist hate group that plan to come here today, they set out to disrupt all of that.”
Gauthier spoke about racial injustice in the city and the importance of maintaining the energy brought to the park Saturday.
“If these Boys come here today, they’re going to go home to their miserable lives,” she said. “But we will still have work to do.”
“It’s important to resist any anti-democratic rally,” said Catherine McCoubrey, 67, a school psychologist who lives in the neighborhood. “We want to make it clear this area is not friendly to their [Proud Boys] values.”
Social media posts claimed there was a Proud Boys presence at the park, with members saying they were there disguised as journalists to gather information about leftist activists, but they did not engage in organized demonstrations.
A Proud Boys social media page claimed the event, which had been promoted for at least two weeks, was always intended to be a fake, and was a ploy to expose Antifa violence.
On at least two occasions, there was tension in the park. A man brought a bat, but it was taken away. He ran out of the park while being chased by a crowd yelling, “Get the f— out of my neighborhood!”
The man pulled something out of a zipped light athletic jacket as he retreated and quickly put the object back in his pocket as he hustled out of the park. The crowd chasing him yelled that he had a gun. It was unclear from video of the incident whether the object was a gun.
A second man, a conservative media personality, conducting a video interview with people and defending President Donald Trump was quickly surrounded and called a racist. The group grew to around 50 people who demanded he leave.
The interviewer was shouted down and the crowd moved toward him, making him leave. He yelled over his shoulder, “You can’t have a civilized conversation!”
Video on Twitter showed a man being chased to his car, where a counterprotester smashed the rear window of a vehicle with Massachusetts plates. It was not clear if this person was one of the two men chased out of the park.
The Proud Boy social media site stated neither man was with the organization.
The Proud Boys are a self-described “Western chauvinist” organization the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as a “general hate group.” Overwhelmingly male, the right-wing group has become prominent as Trump supporters. The Fraternal Order of Police drew criticism in July when 10 men who identified as Proud Boys attended a party at the union’s headquarters. A Proud Boys rally in Kalamazoo, Mich., in August led to fighting between the group and counterprotesters. Another event is planned in Portland, Ore., on Sept. 26.
On social media posts, the alt-right group had called Saturday’s event “Belly of the Beast 2020” and said it was a rally against what they described as “antifa terrorism.” A Proud Boys post on the social media site Telegram specifically singled out two Philadelphia activists, Daryle Lamont Jenkins and Gwen Snyder, and included slurs about both of them.
Though Clark Park seemed typically vibrant Saturday morning, with friends lounging on the lawn and the twang of a man’s guitar providing accompaniment to a bright, cool fall day, there were hints of tension. The orange tables and chairs normally at the center of the park had been removed. The market, which usually runs until 2 p.m., shut down at 11:30 a.m.
By then, West Philadelphians and activists had gathered in numbers.
“Ignoring them is only going to be seen as empowering them,” said a local tattoo artist who gave her professional name, Katy A.D. “That’s going to be seen as a permissive action.”
A.D. held a sign that included statistics on the number of domestic terror incidents ascribed to far-right groups.
Jenkins, executive director of One People’s Project, an antiracist organization, led the crowd in a call and response, asking, “Whose community is this?" and “Whose city is this?”
“This is our city,” he said.
The rally was supposed to begin at 1 p.m. By 1:30, Jenkins mocked that the far-right group appeared to be a no-show.
“If they come, hey, that’s just them saving face," he said. "But they know we got this.”
The Rev. Jeffrey Jordan of the Whomsoever Metropolitan Church was with members with seven signs bearing the last words of Black people who were killed by police, including George Floyd and Eric Garner.
“We feel their words are crying out from the grave to end the murder of unarmed Black people,” Jordan said. “We live in a time when white supremacists feel comfortable enough to come out in the open, and that is a major part of the problem we are facing today.”