Protesters and counterprotesters squared off in downtown Marion Friday evening.
With about of a street block and lines of law enforcement officers between them, Black Lives Matter protesters and All Lives Matter protesters screamed, yelled, and pleaded with one another for about half an hour.
Tension had built in the Smyth County courthouse town since June 13 when a Black Lives Matter march took place. On that Saturday, the protesters were met at the county courthouse by a group of counterprotesters surrounding the monument to the Confederate dead on the lawn. The armed counterprotesters confronted the BLM group. A profanity-filled exchange took place.
After the BLM group announced that it would hold a second protest and march Friday, a second First Amendment gathering was announced. It attracted a couple hundred individuals from around the region.
The downtown confrontation was the last of several Friday night. The first exchange began around 5:30 as BLM protesters stopped at the old Rite Aid building on Main Street and chanted “All Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace.” The “All Black Lives Matter” chant acknowledged the inclusion of LGBTQ concerns in the protest.
Bikers calling themselves American Patriots soon drowned out the crowd, revving their engines across the street in the KFC parking lot.
Minutes later, when the two crowds met at the edge of the street, police who had been escorting the march, swarmed in to create a barrier between the two groups. Though the exchange was again heated and profanity was strewn about, it remained verbal and no physical altercations occurred. Police reported that no arrests were made.
Similar exchanges took place up the street near the Food City entrance, across from the Citgo and again at Walmart.
Despite the exchanges, the day full of protesting, gatherings and marches began smoothly.
The American Patriots rolled into Main Street just before noon. The downtown took on a celebratory atmosphere with attendees listening to music, talking and flying flags. Along with a nearly two-to-one American flag-to-person ratio, rally-goers carried, waved and wore plenty of Confederate and Gadsden flags. One man wrapped himself in the American flag, while a woman wore a Confederate flag as a cape.
There were guns, too, at the 1 p.m. Main Street gathering. Lots of them. Open carried guns, concealed carried guns, guns on the dashboard of SUVs parked along Main Street.
Only once during the first protest of Friday — around 1:15 p.m. — did things heat up slightly. A man with a megaphone stood on the courthouse lawn and read a statement that seemed to support the BLM protesters and was unpopular with the afternoon crowd. Protesters quickly shouted him down with chants of “All Lives Matter.”
While the standoff on Main Street oozed with hostility among the hundreds gathered there were times when tensions slacked.
“We love you,” the BLM protesters screamed.
Despite the escalating rhetoric on social media and fears from police that the online commentary would spill over into real life, the day ended without any violence.
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