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Police chief: Rally protesters were local Rapid City residents, not Antifa

Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater (copy)

Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater said people protesting the rally on Saturday were locals from Rapid City, not Antifa. 

A small group of people who protested the decision to hold the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally during the coronavirus pandemic were local demonstrators from Rapid City and not affiliated with any Antifa group like some social media accounts and websites are falsely claiming.

“There was approximately seven members who as far as we know were just local citizens from Rapid City and not affiliated with Antifa,” Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater said in a Monday news release.

Several social media accounts and websites are sharing videos of the protest with false claims such as “Antifa arrives” and “Antifa actually showed up to Sturgis today.”

Antifa is a left-wing and anti-fascist political movement and ideology, not one organized political group. Some cities — but not Rapid City — have local non-hierarchical groups that openly identify as Antifa. Those groups engage in mutual aid, host community events, and attend protests where some members will destroy property and act violently towards police. 

The Sturgis Police Department learned about the planned protest through citizens who saw the event on social media and contacted the department, VanDewater said. Officers met the group when they arrived around 4 p.m.

“The group was wishing to express their First Amendment right and we explained guidelines that we would allow as long as they remained peaceful and they did not violate any state laws or city ordinance,” the police chief said. 

VanDewater said the group was allowed to demonstrate in the middle of the first block of Main Street where no motorcycles were parked.

A 14-minute video posted to YouTube shows protesters standing in the middle of the street while holding a large banner that says “Noem send them home.” Others hold a LGBT pride flag; an anti-Trump, coronavirus and KKK sign, and a sign with curse words against the rally, Days of '76 Rodeo and the Central States Fair.

The group — which is mostly wearing black clothing and face masks — is surrounded by officers. Motorcyclists occasionally drive by and some rev their engines.

Rally attendees pack the sidewalks to watch and film the protesters while playing patriotic music, the video shows. Two women hold signs saying “Thank you bikers" while some attendees hold up Trump flags and pass out water to the officers. One man can be heard yelling a homophobic slur while another walks around with a Confederate flag. 

A 23-year-old protester from Rapid City was arrested for disorderly contact after he kicked a passing motorcyclist, VanDewater said.

A video posted to Twitter shows several officers taking the man to the ground and handcuffing him as other officers work to keep away Rally attendees, who are seen cheering and filming the arrest. The video does not show the alleged kick.

“Due to the safety of everyone involved, it was decided that the demonstrators would be escorted from the area and no longer be allowed to demonstrate," VanDewater said. "Officers escorted the demonstrators from the area and they left town."

— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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