As Kentucky Derby Day finally arrived in Louisville, hundreds of armed militia members marched through the city’s downtown to confront Black Lives Matter supporters who have been demonstrating for 101 straight days.
A crowd of self-identified “patriots” carrying long guns — some waving American flags, others waving Trump flags, marched from a parking lot to the downtown area, where another group was calling for action in the Breonna Taylor case.
Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, was shot dead when police burst into her home in the middle of the night on March 13.
There was shouting between the two sides when they came into contact, but despite some tense moments, the interactions appeared largely peaceful. No police were present on the ground during the confrontation, according to local radio station WFPL, though some were on rooftops and in nearby streets.
A group of Breonna Taylor protesters — some also armed — chanted “Say her name: Breonna Taylor,” while the militia members chanted “Back the blue” and “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
The counter-protesters had turned out in response to an online personality known as “The Angry Viking,” according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Dylan Stevens, the man reportedly behind “The Angry Viking,” told the Breonna Taylor protesters he does not oppose them and said his march would leave about a half -hour after they arrived.
Stevens said he led the march to oppose a group, called NFAC, for “Not F–king Around Coalition,” which local media identified as a black militia. In July, NFAC leader Grand Master Jay said he would “burn the city to the ground” if justice wasn’t delivered for Taylor.
As the armed militia groups started to leave, Louisville police officers in riot gear arrived with only BLM protesters remaining, WFPL reporter Ryland Barton tweeted.
Police said later they didn’t want to escalate the tension, while the groups were confronting each other, according to the station. Officers came in “as tensions subsided,” to separate what remained of the groups.
By late afternoon, a gathering had formed at a park not far from the Churchill Downs, the racetrack where the derby is held. Following a rally at the park in support of Taylor and Black Lives Matter, the group planned to march to the track before post time.
Separately, Churchill Downs moved to take extra safety precautions following a police situation in the area, police spokesman Lamont Washington told the Courier Journal. No further details were provided, but the incident was cleared up and unrelated to the protests, police said.
Police and National Guard were already guarding the track, which because of the coronavirus will not host spectators for the 146th running of the Derby. The pandemic delayed the venerated race back from its traditional date by four months.