Black Lives Matter activists and armed pro-police activists all assembled peacefully in Provo on July 1, despite suspicions of potential violence from both groups.
Following instances of violence at a Provo protest on June 29, including gunshots and people driving cars into protesters blocking traffic, Provo resident Casey Robertson issued a “call to arms” on a Facebook buy and sell group.
“Last night protesters descended on downtown Provo and terrorized citizens and (sic) SHOTS WERE FIRED,” he wrote in the post. “It is time to show these people that we will NOT tolerate violence, looting or threats to our community.”
Robertson created a Facebook group called Utah County Citizen’s Alarm, which has 4,800 members as of July 2. He also created an event page for the group’s counter-protest, scheduled for the same time as a Black Lives Matter protest hosted by the anti-racism activist group Insurgence.
Around 150 people showed up for each protesting group. The Black Lives Matter protesters stood on the southwest corner of Center Street and 300 West outside the Provo Police Department, while Citizen’s Alarm counter-protesters stood on the other three corners at the same intersection. Many counter-protesters carried firearms. Police officers from multiple cities in Utah County were also present.
Citizen’s Alarm assistant organizer Dan Oaks instructed the counter-protesters to organize into teams with designated leaders and videographers and distributed documents detailing legal guidelines regarding the use of force. Oaks encouraged those present with firearms not to have a round in the chamber or point their weapons at anyone.
“Let the protesters protest,” he instructed. “Do not engage them verbally or physically.”
The purpose of their presence at the Black Lives Matter protest, Oaks said, was to support the police and demonstrate a “show of force,” not to restrict anyone from exercising their right to assemble.
“Today the Black Lives Matter group is protesting. Tomorrow it might be us. We might have a grievance. We support the right to free speech 100%,” Oaks said.
The Black Lives Matter protest organizers condemned violence in their speeches. Insurgence founder John Sullivan warned protesters not to engage with any armed counter-protesters who might try to antagonize them to incite violence.
“Look away. Walk away,” he said. “They want you to start the violence. Don’t do it. That’s not what we’re here for. We will not stand by you if you create violence. We do not accept that because that is not acceptable.”
Sullivan also condemned the acts of violence that took place at the June 29 protest and reminded the crowd that peace and protection from harm were exactly what they were assembling for, dismissing the notion that the Citizen’s Alarm group was necessary to prevent violence.
“That they think that’s why we’re here, to harm other people, is ridiculous,” Sullivan said. “It’s a few individuals that decide, and their actions alone speak for themselves, not for our collective group.”
Both Sullivan and Oaks reminded their respective groups of their right to defend themselves from any violent attack.
Kelli Potter, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, also addressed the events from two days earlier. She praised the Black Lives Matter counter-protesters who “eclipsed” the Back the Blue rally and blocked traffic on Center Street and joined Sullivan in condemning the violent acts.
“In what world do people think that driving through a group of pedestrians is OK?” she said. “I was terrified that these five vehicles were going to kill someone.”
The event proceeded peacefully, aside from a few minor verbal altercations. Protesters and counter-protesters marched down Center Street to the Historic Courthouse, where the Black Lives Matter group held a brief rally, then back to the intersection by the police department.
Sullivan concluded the protest by inviting Citizen’s Alarm group members to share their thoughts in a display of unity and respect.