About a dozen white supremacists staged a demonstration on Woodstock’s village green on Friday, February 11, holding a “White Lives Matter New York” banner and brandishing signs with slogans such as “Anti-racist = Anti-white” and “Stop White Guilt.” But their protests were short-lived.
The group wore all-black clothing and masks with drawings of skeleton mouths. They refused to show their faces for fear of getting doxxed, a term that means publishing private or identifying information about someone on the Internet for retribution.
The apparent group leader wore around his neck a press identification badge bearing the logo for Rebel News, but hid it from view when anyone tried to scrutinize it. Rebel News is an extreme right-wing media outlet based in Canada that communicates via the Telegram online messaging platform. Other social-media sites would likely terminate their accounts.
Their group name is WLM_USA_NEW_YORK. Group chatter mentioned February 12 as a key date, though there was no indication of a repeat performance in Woodstock.
Initially, the group was countered by a lone woman on the sidewalk facing Tinker Street, holding a hastily made “Black Lives Matter” sign. Occasionally, a pedestrian walked by, saluting the protesters with an upraised middle finger.
“I didn’t know anything about it until I heard bullhorns from the green, and so my dog was barking, and I’m like, What’s going on in the village green?” said the Rev. Cari Pattison, pastor of the Woodstock Reformed Church, which owns the historic property in the middle of town. “I thought, Oh, maybe they’re just passing through, and they’ll leave right away.”
Through an agreement with town officials any groups or events on the church property need clearance from both the church and the town. Pattison said she confirmed with the church property committee that this was not a sanctioned event.
The church property committee called the police, who may have been unsure of who had permission to be on the property, Pattison said. Police asked the group to put down the bullhorns and maintained a presence to make sure the scebe didn’t turn violent.
“In the year and a half I’ve lived here,” Pattison said, “I’ve seen plenty of different protests, but the thing that made this different was the confrontations they were having, both with the bullhorn and without. It was clear they were trying to bait people.”
While some gave them the finger, others honked and waved as they drove by, said Pattison. “And I felt really on the verge of tears, not only because this was happening on property that is in the heart of Woodstock, but also property that in some sense is connected to the church.”
She didn’t have enough time to rally congregants, so Pattison went home and made a sign to stand with the lone counter-protester. It said, “Woodstock Reformed Church does not endorse this White Lives Matter protest. Black Lives Matter. God created all equal and beloved.”
On the other side of the sign, she wrote, “God’s heart is with all who are oppressed and cast down. The pastor of this church on the green stands w/ BLM and all who suffer.”
Soon after Pattison joined the counter-protester, about five others arrived.
A sinister, dark energy
A carload of people arrived to argue with the White Lives Matter group, and that, Pattison said, was when things got scary.
The new arrivals shouted, “If you’re the Proud Boys, what are you so proud of? Don’t you understand what’s going on in our country?” Several obscenities followed.
“That’s where it did look for a while like it might turn violent, and I don’t think it ever did,” Pattison said.
The whole ordeal lasted about 45 minutes. Pattison said she felt “a sinister, dark energy.”
“And nothing about that does our church stand for. Nothing about White Lives Matter is a platform that we are behind or endorsing or welcoming to our space or to the world.”
Just ignore them
“Listen, they’re looking for attention,” said Woodstock town supervisor Bill McKenna. “They’re poking us. I would say ignore them.”
McKenna had arrived on the green to assess the situation and help move the protesters onto the sidewalk, where demonstrations are allowed. But many of them had left already, he said. “I remind everybody, we live in America,” the supervisor said, “We all have a right to freedom of speech, and that means even people that we don’t agree with their message. However, the church does own the property. The town is the guardian of the property, and the church has instructed me that they don’t want them there protesting.”
If the group comes back,McKenna said he had instructed the police that they need to be moved to the sidewalk. “They’re looking for a write-up. They’re looking for an incident. They’re looking to make headlines.”
By the time Ulster County sheriff Juan Figueroa and some deputies arrived, most of the members had already disappeared.
‘Look at the cowards…’
A well-known local character who goes by the name Ricochet posted a video in which he approached and heckled the costumed group.
“Bunch of cowards. Look at the cowards,” he said. “Look at the coward. He won’t tell me his name… Look at the other coward. He won’t even take his mask off,” he said, pointing to one of them.
Ricochet addressed a young man.
“I bet you your mother’s proud of you. Does she know you’re here? Do you have permission to be out protesting with your little crew,” he asked.
He also asked why others were “dressed like it was Halloween.” “If you’re white and you’re proud, why are you hiding behind a mask?”
Figueroa and Woodstock police chief Clayton Keefe could not be reached in time for this report.