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Armed Counterprotesters Have Opposed Anti-Racism Rallies In At Least 33 States

An armed counterprotester stands with others at a Black Lives Matter rally in Boise, Idaho, on May 31.
An armed counterprotester stands with others at a Black Lives Matter rally in Boise, Idaho, on May 31.

Armed counterprotesters have confronted anti-racism rallies in at least 33 states, according to a new analysis by .

Guns & America analyzed media reports and social media that tracked these armed counterprotesters. The picture that emerges is one of largely peaceful protests erupting all over the country after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd and being met by the intimidating presence of armed civilians, from California to Idaho to Ohio to North Carolina.

Some of the encounters have turned violent, including shootings in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Seattle that left protesters wounded.

Amy Cooter, a professor at Vanderbilt who has spent years studying far-right movements, said there have been sporadic armed protests in years past, but nothing like the nationwide counter-rallies happening now.

“In my opinion, the scale of it is absolutely unique,” she said.

The list of states that have seen armed counterprotesters, according to the Guns & America analysis, is long: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Others may still be added to the list.

Armed protesters are free to operate freely in much of the country, because gun laws increasingly allow for the open carry of firearms. In many instances, that leaves local law enforcement unable or unwilling to step in, even when protesters are intimidated while expressing speech protected by the First Amendment.

Just five states prohibit people from openly carrying handguns, according to the Giffords Law Center, the research arm of a gun control group. Just 12 states place restrictions on carrying long guns, like semi-automatic rifles.

Cooter says armed counterprotesters, mostly white and some members of the anti-federal militia movement, have a range of motivations. Some are explicitly racist, others feel threatened by change, and some genuinely fear looting and chaos.

“I think that the real commonality is this idea that they all have some mythologized version of an ideal past,” she said.

If a Democrat wins the presidential election, Cooter said, the armed groups might feel more threatened and motivated to keep coming out.

Guns & America’s Lisa Dunn, Francesca Slesinger and Jeremy Bernfeld contributed to this story.

is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.

Copyright 2020 Guns and America. To see more, visit .

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