The arrest of an inflatable purple unicorn on Saturday wasn’t even close to the strangest event to unfold at Bloomington, Indiana’s Community Farmers’ Market this year.
The market was once the peaceful home of fresh vegetables and goat cheese. But after the owners of a market stall were outed as supporters of a white supremacist group, it has become the center of a fierce debate on bigotry and free speech. The controversy has led to new rules about where people can hold signs and distribute flyers in the market—and on Saturday, five anti-racist protesters were arrested for allegedly breaking those rules.
The unicorn was the first to go. Dressed in an inflatable purple pony suit with a golden horn, protester Forrest Gilmore was removed from the market by two police officers, each gripping one of his purple hooves.
Gilmore is part of the Purple Shirt Brigade, an activist coalition that formed this year in response to allegations of white supremacists working at the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market. Those allegations began after the arrest of Indiana resident Nolan Brewer for spray-painting Nazi flags on the side of a synagogue and setting off a fire outside. Brewer told authorities he was a dues-paying member of the hate group Identity Evropa, and described getting dinner with another member: Sarah Dye and her husband Douglas Mackey. Brewer also told investigators the screenname Dye used in an Identity Evropa chat room. Local activists then matched that name to Dye and a series of racist messages she posted as “Volkmom.” (Dye denies being a white supremacist, but describes herself as an “identitarian,” a term with little to no meaningful distinction from white supremacy, and which has become popular among white supremacists hoping for more mainstream acceptance.)
Activists also connected Dye to Schooner Creek Farm, the farm she runs with her husband. The two have a stall in the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market, where some local activists began distributing “Don’t Buy Veggies From Nazis” buttons this summer. The group “No Space for Hate” announced plans to protest at the market, prompting counter-protests from right-wing groups like a local “Three Percenter” militia and new rules about where and how people can express themselves in the market. One anti-Schooner Creek protester was arrested for holding a sign in front of the stall.
Bloomington officials ruled this summer that Schooner Creek Farm was not breaking any rules, and that Dye and her husband had a First Amendment right to their beliefs. The protests, however, became the subject of new rules. “New signage will clearly indicate areas designated for flyering and expression and publicize market rules,” the city announced in August.
On Saturday, the Purple Shirt Brigade tested those rules.
“The idea was to find a way to protest directly in the market,” a spokesperson for the group told The Daily Beast. “Most of us had been protesting with No Space for Hate previously (and still are). The market had created rules earlier in the summer to ban the use of signs in the marketplace.”
The group pointed to pictures of a number of recent guests with far-right ties at the Schooner Creek farm stand, including Patrick Casey, the leader of Identity Evropa (which rebranded this year as the American Identity Movement). Casey and other group members attended Unite the Right, the deadly 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Online, the farm stand has also received support from the right. When Dye shared pictures of protesters this summer (“violent Indiana ANTIFA terrorists at our farmers market booth today”), a commenter asked, “why didn’t anyone just shoot them?”
Previously, the Purple Shirt Brigade skirted the anti-signage laws by printing their messages on T-shirts. (“Justice is what love looks like in public,” the shirts read, “Boycott Schooner Creek Farm.”) But they’ve pushed the rules in a bid to see exactly what’s allowed.
“We have wanted to challenge the signage rule because we believe it's a violation of our First Amendment rights,” the spokesperson said. “One week we brought purple fans to the market (they looked like signs), and the market staff let us get away with that. However, this week we created signs with statements made by SCF supporters about us (from Facebook comments).”
Protesters carrying the signs dressed up as unicorns, vikings, and Wonder Woman. Five were arrested on counts of disorderly conduct and trespassing, and issued 24-hour bans from the market area, the Bloomingtonian reported.
In a video captured by the Bloomingtonian, the purple-clad protesters sang “no neo-Nazis in the market” while two unicorns argued with a police officer over exactly how they could protest.
“So we can’t sing?” one unicorn asked over the sound of a guitar.
“Not in here,” the officer responded. He turned to the other unicorn. “Forrest, I need you to leave as well.”
Police were filmed writing the unicorn a citation shortly thereafter.