The town of Bethel, Ohio has received national attention after a small Black Lives Matter protest was met with violent counter-protesters. As Insider reports, a group of locals in the town decided to host an anti-racism rally on Sunday, and the peaceful protest turned violent, when hundreds of anti-BLM protesters joined in. There were chants of "USA, USA," moments of physical violence instigated by the counter-protesters, and racist slurs yelled at peaceful demonstrations.
Bethel's police claim that counter-protesters were involved in "approximately 10 incidents" currently being investigated, with the individuals identified as "several motorcycle gangs, back the blue groups, and second amendment advocates." The Washington Post reports that the protest was planned by Bethel resident Alicia Gee, who informed city officials that there would be about 80 people present. It is estimated that around 700 or so counter-protesters turned up. In clips that circulated on social media, the counter-protesters who arrived at the demonstrations did so with firearms proudly on display.
One such clip showed a white man confronted by an anti-BLM crowd shouting abuse at him as he stands in silence and a police officer watching does nothing. He's then punched in the back of the head, after which he told the officer watching that he was punched. Instead of stepping in, the officer watched it unfold and seemingly joined in on telling him to protest elsewhere.
As TMZ reports, other cops eventually stepped in to escort the protester away from the angry crowd. The man who punched him is now wanted by police, but the department also claimed that "this offense took place in the presence of a police officer but was not witness by the officer."
In talking with WCPO Channel 9, Bethel Police Chief Steve Teague condemned the violence, but said that his small department was overwhelmed by the number of counter-protesters. "That's what we allow around here, unfortunately," he explained, noting that his department only has six officers. "You know, it's their right to do it, and it's a little scary for us, too, because I'll be quite honest with you, we were outnumbered many times with people having more weapons than the officers do," he added.
One protester told WCPO that he was called the n-word more times that day than he had his "entire life."
In another clip, the angry counter-protesters could be seen hurling verbal and physical abuse at another person they surrounded. They can be heard chanting "USA, USA," and calling the protester a "fucking terrorist." Notably, a lot of the counter-protesters were wearing Punisher t-shirts and wearing clothes that featured the Confederate flag.
According to Business Insider, counter-protesters have claimed that they showed up to scare off people from the anti-fascist movement Antifa. On social media, conspiracy theories regarding Antifa as a boogeyman of the far-right continue to circulate, although the FBI has already indicated that there's no evidence to suggest that violence at protests have any connection to the organization. On Facebook on Monday, a man who lives near Bethel shared a video in which he claimed buses filled with members of Antifa were arriving in the small town to protest. The rumors have persisted, and resulted in the town, which is 97 percent white, succumbing to chaos on Sunday.
Bethel Mayor Jay Noble called the behavior of the anti-protesters "appalling and disgusting." Councilman Ron Dunn added that the Black Lives Matters protesters remained peaceful, for which he gave them props. "To have such hatred and filthy things spewed at you and just to take it is very foreign to most people," he said.