The Denver General Defense Committee, a progressive group affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies, has published a fiery account of the clash between members of a white-supremacist group and Antifa protesters outside a controversial event on the Colorado State University campus earlier this month.
In it, the authors explicitly state that members of the CSU Police Department stood "on the side of the neo-Nazis and fascists" during the confrontation and argue that a video shared here provides evidence to that effect by way of an officer telling a protester afterward, "If you guys need something, let us know."
Dell Rae Ciaravola, CSU's risk and public safety communications manager, corresponding via email, dismisses such pronouncements with extreme prejudice. In her words, "Any assertion that the university or CSUPD are in any way supportive of Nazis is ridiculous."
As we've reported, members of the Traditionalist Worker Parker, which has been identified as a hate group fueled by white-supremacist views, and representatives from the Northern Colorado Antifa Collective and other anti-fascist outfits gathered near CSU's Lory Student Center on February 2 to share their opposing views about "Smashing Socialism," a 5:30 p.m. talk by Charlie Kirk, founder and executive director of Turning Point USA.
The latter is a conservative national group that says its mission is "to identify, educate, train and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets and limited government."
But while Turning Point USA tries to portray itself as mainstream, critics such as CSU student Hank Stowers, who wrote a scathing op-ed published by the Rocky Mountain Collegian, CSU's student newspaper, charges the outfit with having a "history of condoning misogyny and rape apologia in Colorado." In his view, this philosophy has a corollary in the approach of the TWP. Stowers accuses its members of harboring "similar doctrines of inequality, separatism and hatred."
According to the Denver GDC post, the protest on the 2nd began as "almost entirely peaceful," with "a small presence of Young Republicans, Proud Boys and other fascist groups" limiting their engagement with counter-protesters to invective.
That changed around 9 p.m. with the arrival of a TWP contingent. "Police formed a line blocking the north side of the plaza and, to the confusion of everyone in attendance, declared over a loudspeaker that this was an unlawful assembly and that everyone had to disperse or face police action. The protest itself was winding down, so there was little reason to announce this," the piece states.
"Immediately after declaring the protest an unlawful assembly, approximately a dozen members of the TWP appeared on the opposite side of the plaza wearing riot gear masks and carrying large metal flashlights and a flag with a neo-Nazi symbol on it," the article goes on. "Earlier in the night, police had combed through the anti-racist protesters and took away canes, flag poles and harassed a medic for carrying trauma shears because these items 'could be used as weapons.' Police made no clear effort to disarm the TWP, demonstrating a double-standard and destroying the illusion of impartiality."
Shortly thereafter, the GDC story posits that police tactics involving a "long range acoustic device" squeezed the protesters between the cops and the TWP forces, which then "attacked members of the crowd with their shields and flashlights. Some protestors were injured, including a member of the Denver Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World and General Defense Committee. This fellow worker sustained injuries to the head that required sutures."
The report criticizes CSU for allowing Turning Point USA to speak on campus in the first place — but it also asserts that "the police made absolutely no effort to prevent violence or intervene once it occurred.... After witnessing sieg heils, assaulting and injuring protesters, and yelling racial slurs towards a person of color, an officer was heard saying, 'Let me know if you guys need anything' to a fascist supporter after the altercation."
This moment is captured in the aforementioned video, compiled by Unicorn Riot. The statement can be heard just past the 4:30 mark, following vivid scenes filled with angry shouts, profanities, racial slurs and random violent assaults. Here's the clip.
In the video, one of the pro-Turning Point USA demonstrators self-identifies as a member of a different fascist group, Aryan Circle, while several of his fellows sport skull masks of the sort associated with yet another right-wing amalgam, the Atomwaffen; the TWP allegedly engages in coalitions like these across state lines to make its membership seem larger. But in the end, counter-protesters successfully drove the neo-Nazis off campus and inflicted some damage as well. One of the TWP party wound up with a bloodied face, while another can be seen limping away after being struck by what appears to be a variation on a police baton.
Nonetheless, the CSU Police Department "made no arrests during the event or post-event activities," a CSUPD release distributed afterward confirms.
The release adds: "During the protests following the speech, there became a risk of an imminent threat of potential violence. CSUPD Chief Scott Harris made the determination to issue the dispersal order. Less than 200 people were on the plaza at the time the order was given. A group, whose affiliation was not confirmed, was moving into the area and was confirmed to be armed with bats, shields and gas masks."
The only injury mentioned by the CSUPD involved an officer whose ATV "hit a patch of ice and tipped to its side. He was transported to the hospital for evaluation. The injury was not life-threatening."
Prior to the speech, CSU president Tony Frank sent out a campus-wide email blast condemning the TWP with the phrase "a Nazi is a Nazi is a Nazi" but maintaining that the students who invited Turning Point USA to speak had "followed all appropriate steps" given that Kirk had "no track record of causing disturbances on college campuses" — claims the GDC post castigates.
As for Frank's post-speech statement, also shared with all students and employees, it acknowledged that "there were some clashes that caused police to move in and disperse the crowd. This occurred with no injuries [other than the officer whose ATV crashed] or arrests."
Frank added: "In a crowd where emotions are running high and various groups arrive with a goal of violence to
spread their fear, it's sad but not unexpected to have some level of conflict, but we had a solid security plan in place and it worked well to minimize any violence. Our paramount concern from the beginning was to ensure that the student event could take place as planned and that those who wanted to exercise their right to peaceful protest could also do so."
In response to the GDC's charges, CSU spokesperson Ciaravola strikes a similar tone. "Our institutional position on Nazis could not be more clear," she notes, and "our commitment to public safety is equally clear. The police issued multiple warnings to all protestors to disperse, and announced clear avenues for doing so, which most people used. All those who refused the order to disperse were then broken up by the police, without regard for their political affiliation, in a manner that resulted in no reported injuries and arrests."
In contrast, a co-author of the Denver GDC account, who emphasizes that he's speaking for himself and not the organization as a whole, sees the lack of TWP-crew busts as substantiation of favoritism.
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"I was told by numerous anti-Nazi protesters that they showed up with flags and banners on poles and the police made them take them off the poles because they could be used as weapons," he says. "But the TWP showed up fully armed with truncheons, knives, flags on poles, tactical flashlights they used to blind people and then hit them with like a club, and shields, which is their new thing. They use their shields almost like police do, to set up a wall. It's like watching a battle in antiquity."
Furthermore, the member says, "we had reports of the TWP coming and going from the campus all day long. The officers had to have seen that, too, especially since they were using drones, which you can see in the Unicorn Riot video, too [check just past the four-minute mark]. But somehow, this group was able to get back onto the campus fully armed, and that doesn't look right to me. That makes it look like the police were colluding with this Nazi organization."
The member's suspicions on this score are based on anecdotal accounts, not documentation. But numerous reports have surfaced over the years suggesting that some police members are sympathetic to fascist groups. Take an article about California police working with neo-Nazis to pursue anti-racist activists, written by former Westword contributor Sam Levin and published in The Guardian earlier this month.
"If they really care about the community up there, they need to launch an investigation about what happened that night," the member argues. But such an inquiry doesn't seem to be in the offing.