A week ago, I posted some reflections on the Juneteenth observances around the country, and remarked that we still have a long way to go before the legacy of slavery is cleared away, or even rendered less harmful than it remains today. At the time, I wasn’t thinking in particularly immediate terms, but two days ago an event in my hometown brought that observation to life in a particularly ugly way.
A group of (mostly) young folks organized a demonstration in the courthouse square in Fredericktown, Missouri, the place where I grew up for the first ten years of my life and where I still have family connections and strong emotional ties. That’s a picture of them above, and another one here:
Threatening-looking, aren’t they?
Apparently the rumor mill had been active before the event, with the current crazy talk of “busloads of protesters” and such. A local businessman organized a counter-demonstration, and it attracted a sizable crowd of racists, nutcases, curiosity-seekers, and, presumably, some decent-minded people. Here’s a few of them:
The counter-demonstrators, many of whom were heavily armed, attempted to disrupt and intimidate the demonstrators by circling the courthouse square with their speakers blaring, trying to drown them out, and more troubling, they positioned themselves in high positions above the demonstrators with weapons visible:
I’m no weapons expert, but that sure looks like a silencer or flash suppressor on the rifle in that last photo.
The groups exchanged some yelling, but thankfully the police (who were considerably outnumbered) managed to keep the counter-demonstrators from attacking the demonstrators for the most part, although eyewitnesses said the counter-demonstrators were clearly looking for an excuse to start violence. At one point one of the demonstrators attempted to unfurl an American flag and was attacked by one of the counter-demonstrators, who was clearly armed:
You can see the outline of his pistol pretty plainly in this photo. These last two pictures, by the way, are from Ramblin Hamlin Photography, which was on the scene. I took the other pictures from Imgur.
The most aggressive act from the demonstrators, by contrast, might have been a slightly ragged version of the Electric Slide (that’s right, the Electric Slide):
(also from Ramblin Hamlin Photography)
Social media has been burning up since then, with two major themes: Those racists don’t represent our community – we’re good people! (Or at least I’m not a racist) and A lot of those demonstrators weren’t from Fredericktown – why didn’t they protest in their own town? Both good issues to raise. I guess my thought on the first one is that if you don’t want a bunch of racist lunatics to represent your community, at least in the minds of others, then you had better get out there and join the demonstration and make sure that your community comes down firmly on the side of racial justice. Otherwise the people who see the pictures will believe that the racists do represent you, because you have allowed them to. And on the second point, the home location of the demonstrators is not relevant for the same reason. I am told that one of the most obnoxious counter-demonstrators, who made gestures and said things that I will not describe or repeat here, was from Centerville. Well, if he got to come to the Madison County Courthouse and make a fool of himself, then I suppose some kids from Farmington are just as entitled to come down and demonstrate.
It saddens me to see such a disgraceful display in my hometown. Yes, Fredericktown has lots of lovely, non-racist people in it. Some of them showed up in the courthouse square on Wednesday, only to be spat at, threatened, and called vile names. So now the town is branded as a racist haven in the eyes of others, and if the citizens want to have that label removed, they’ll have to do it themselves by their words and deeds.
A COUPLE OF UPDATES: One of the demonstrators contacted me and let me know that some of the heavily armed, camouflage-wearing militia members actually performed a beneficial service, helping to keep the mob away from the demonstrators and escorting them to their cars and to the bathroom. That was good to hear, and it complicates the easy black-and-white narrative.
In addition, the town of Eminence, in Shannon County, came close to out-embarrassing Fredericktown on Saturday, the 27th. The sheriff there, in the midst of a re-election campaign, announced on social media that he had received a “credible threat,” which quickly brought the same unfounded rumors of “busloads of BLM and Antifa rioters” and resulted in about a hundred people, once again armed to the teeth, who parked at the courthouse or circled the square, crowing about their patriotism and vowing violence on any protesters who dared to show up. Video footage of this event shows a weird, carnival-like atmosphere, a combination of party and lynch mob. As it turned out, the “credible threat” was a complaint from a mother who was unhappy with the investigation of the 2018 death of her son, and the whole BLM/Antifa thing was complete baloney. I’m not sure which community has cast itself in a worse light: the one that had an ugly response to an actual demonstration, or the one that had an ugly response to an imaginary one.