While the 146th Kentucky Derby was due to be held without fans on Saturday evening, the streets of Louisville were far from empty as multiple militia groups and dueling protesters gathered throughout the city.
Hundreds of Trump-supporting militia members marched through the southern city into the path of Black Lives Matter supporters protesting both the March death of local EMT worker Breonna Taylor and the staging of the famous horse race.
The coalition of far-right marchers were led by Dylan Stevens, who brands himself online as the “Angry Viking” and has made YouTube videos sympathetic to the far-right group Patriot Prayer, and denouncing Black Lives Matter. His militia following, referred to online as the Angry Vikings, advertised their demonstration online, sometimes billing it explicitly as a rally to counter the Not Fucking Around Coalition (NFAC), a Black militia.
Some small scuffles broke out between the Angry Vikings and Black Lives Matter protesters in Jefferson Square Park before Louisville cops arrived in riot gear and dispersed the crowds.
Stevens agreed to leave the park after speaking with Breonna Taylor protesters, the Louisville Courier Journal reported. Stevens reportedly said he wasn't against the Black Lives Matter supporters but, rather, NFAC, who staged a demonstration elsewhere in Louisville on Saturday.
Protesters demanding justice for Breonna Taylor said they were fed up with the focus always being on militia groups, while the message of peaceful demonstrators who have devotedly shown up every day for the past three months too often goes unheard.
“I came out to support my people. I work a corporate job, but still have to deal with discrimination. You see people in social media claim we’re thugs, we’re not thugs. We just want justice for Breonna Taylor. And meanwhile the city spent all this money to make sure this event went off as many of its citizens are hurting,” Rashad Myers told The Daily Beast.
“I grew up in Louisville, live in D.C. now. I came back home to support the cause. The movement for Breonna’s justice started off slow, then [it was] incubated by the George Floyd murder, it accelerated the cause here,” said a demonstrator who gave her name only as Rhonda J.
Black Lives Matter activists marched from South Central Park to Churchill Downs Racetrack, where they were met by a heavy armed presence that included the Kentucky National Guard, Louisville Metro Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff Department, and Kentucky State Police, all stationed behind barricades and fencing.
The crowd chanted, “I don’t see no riot here so why are you in riot gear?”
“People are more important than horses,” local pastor Dr. F. Bruce Williams told the crowd. “Louisville wants us to stop demonstrating, so we can go back to business as usual. Going back to business as usual was not good for everyone.”
“Today it’s different,” Sadiqa Reynolds, CEO of Louisville Urban League, said. “No peace, no rest, no quiet, until we have justice. No derby.”
Quan Kaiser, who identified himself as a councilman for a diverse militia group named United Pharaoh's Guard militia, said his group came to Louisville on Saturday to protest the police-killing of Breonna Taylor and to educate people about the Second Amendment.
“I want everyone to exercise their Second Amendment, Black, white, brown, Asian, everyone,” he told The Daily Beast. “I’ve been to the gun range with someone who has totally different views.”
The NFAC also assembled in South Central Park on Saturday afternoon. The Black militia’s members have appeared at racial justice protests and counter-demonstrated against racist rallies across the south this year.
During a July 25 rally in Louisville over the death of Taylor, a Black woman fatally shot by Louisville Police in her home this year, the NFAC faced off against the far-right “Three-Percenter” militia.
The July protest, in which NFAC members heavily outnumbered Three-Percenters, ended anxiously, with three people injured when an NFAC member accidentally fired a gun. The NFAC’s founder, John "Grandmaster Jay" Johnson, has differentiated the group from other racial justice movements by stating that the group was not affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement and that he did not view them as protesters.
"We are a Black militia,” Johnson told Newsweek this year. “We aren't protesters, we aren't demonstrators. We don't come to sing, we don't come to chant. That's not what we do.”
Johnson has also courted controversy with endorsements for Black nationalist or Black exodus movements, and tweeting a fake Hitler quote that maligned Jews.