Some 32 people were arrested yesterday as hundreds gathered in Union Square for May Day. While most came to participate in demonstrations supporting international workers and laborers, a counter protest of loosely allied right-wing activists also congregated, to denounce what one of them said was the “Amerophobia” of May Day celebrants.
Jovi Val, leader of the recently formed Modern Patriots Facebook group, organized the “May Day Slay” protest as a response to celebrations that had been called by activist groups across the city. Val described the May Day celebrants as “a bunch of commie cuckfest clowns” in a Facebook Live video of their march from Union Square to Foley Square. The celebrations called for solidarity with immigrants and undocumented workers, who many fear are particularly vulnerable under the Trump administration. Val insisted that The Modern Patriots, affiliated with alt-right fraternity The Proud Boys, were present to promote “free speech.”
Val’s affiliated band of conservatives were a diverse crowd, united in a defense of Donald Trump. A group of 10 to 15 out of roughly 40 attempted to march into the May Day celebrations in Union Square. Some wore bulletproof vests and riot helmets. They were quickly surrounded by “antifascist” demonstrators, journalists, and other May Day revelers. There were some brief skirmishes accompanied with glitter bombs from the May Day side, and claims that antifa pepper-sprayed their adversaries.
There were 32 arrests, and 4chan troll Brittany Venti was briefly detained. Most arrests were for disorderly conduct, the NPYD said this morning.
“You can’t stop us,” Val told Bedford + Bowery. “You can’t stop our free speech, you need to respect it, and apparently throwing smoke bombs at us, or glitter bombs or whatever the hell chemical they threw at us, was their way of saying they don’t respect our free speech.”
Val denied having weapons, but admitted that those on the Modern Patriots side had brought a fire extinguisher to put out American flags being burnt. “This flag itself scares [May Day celebrants], it scares them so much that they feel they need to put it on fire. Which is weird because we don’t even burn a communist flag. We don’t burn any flag.”
No American flags were burned in Union Square, though one masked person was arrested in Los Angeles for setting fire to a flag. Another was arrested for allegedly throwing rocks at Trump supporters.
In Union Square, Val and his fellow protesters laid a “Hillary Clinton for President” banner on the ground. They spat on the banner, gathered in a circle and gestured obscenely at it while singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and poured milk on it while chanting “Whole milk nationalism,” a cheeky reference to white nationalism (the Proud Boys insist they are “Western chauvinists” and not white nationalists). They made sure not to leave out international politics either, chanting “Pinochet!” and “Vive Le Pen!”, references to the Chilean fascist dictator and Marine Le Pen, of the French nationalist political party Le Front National and current French presidential candidate. (The reference could also have been towards her ultra-nationalist holocaust-denier father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, but the apple doesn’t really fall far from the tree).
When Val was pressed on the fact that there were no indications of flag burning, but that he and his friends had spit on a banner, he responded with a question in return. “Did we burn it, though? Did we burn it? If somebody throws milk on an American flag, I mean, it’s weird,” he said. “Okay, would you rather me throw milk on you or set you on fire?”
The conversation quickly devolved from there as Val jumped to saying that pedophilia was “being sympathized in society,” and that I needed to “open up [my] eyes,” at which point the interview abruptly ended.
Some, like 26-year-old Michael Healy, just felt it was harmless fun and games. “I think we’re more mocking and making fun of the people over there, we’re not saying we want to hurt you. We’re just mocking, and we have every right to mock and satirize other people across the aisle,” he said.
But for those celebrating May Day, their presence was unwelcome.
“Anyone that is here to defend immigrants, anyone that is here to defend black people, refugees, anyone who is here to celebrate labor, they are allowed to be here, they should be allowed to be here, and they should be allowed to represent their own group’s individual policies,” said Tristan Flora, 26, of the Internationalist Group, a “revolutionary Marxist organization.” “But if there is anybody here, if there is any group that is looking to be violent against any of the people here, that is speaking blatantly out against immigrants, against workers, against refugees, anybody that is using that disgusting rhetoric, who is looking to provoke some type of situation between the peaceful demonstrators here and the police, they are going to be ousted. They should not be here.”
Martina Markota, a burlesque performer who was identified by NYC Antifa as part of New York’s Alt Right in November, told Bedford + Bowery that “there is a war going on, and most people don’t know about it. The media is not talking about antifa, people don’t know what it is, they just think, Oh, crazy Trump supporters. They think, Oh, this racket that’s being caused.”
Markota described antifa as “a domestic terrorist organization.”
“Do you see these flags? Do you know what that represents?”, referring to the hammer and sickle flag, used as the flag of the Soviet Union, but which has its roots as a symbol for the proletariat. “Communism, I mean, that’s really extreme. That’s not just, Oh, we don’t like fascism. Look at how they dress, they cover their faces, they’re crazy terrorists. They’ve been targeting us.”
Antifa have not been labeled by any credible source as a domestic terrorist organization, however there is a White House petition to do so.
Some would argue that May Day is as American as apple pie, with its origins in the nineteenth-century American labor movement and the struggle for the eight-hour workday.
But not everyone is convinced. Maxwell Hare, a member of the Proud Boys, was wearing the standard member uniform of a black and yellow Fred Perry polo shirt, a wink to skinhead culture. He says, “I think the West is the best. And those people hate America, so I figured I would show up. That’s what we do, we show up.”