Sunday Night: Protesters, ‘Not Militia’, and an Apology

Breathe a sigh of relief. Redding is still standing. No fires, no looting, no riots, no broken windows, no destroyed property, no killings.

All the rumors and chatter and hype and sky-is-falling protest predictions fell flat.

There were no huge protests in Redding. And despite some posts on Facebook that had been warning for days of possible busloads of trouble-making antifa and Black Lives Matter groups from outside the area to bring potential mayhem to Redding, none of those things happened.

Not to downplay the few dozen Black Lives Still Matter local protesters who did show up with American flags, hand-made cardboard signs, some bullhorns and rainbow flags, but their peaceful group on Dana Drive was blessedly Protest Lite; a thousand times more tame than what was predicted. What a colossal relief.

North State Black Lives Still Matter protesters showed up Sunday at Dana and Hilltop drives near the Highway 44 entrance. Photo by Steve DuBois.

The protest that was supposed to happen Saturday at Movies 14 never materialized. Even so, there were guys in big trucks with huge American flags who hung out around Movies 14 in Redding on Saturday, just in case. Other men and women who’d also volunteered to keep the peace gathered at Orchard Nutrition Saturday evening, also to keep an eye on things, at the ready in case things turned ugly.

Across the street from the Cypress Square Shopping Center, some drivers parked and stood outside their vehicles where they talked and waited. By about 6:20 p.m., the vehicles left, dispersing in various directions.

Another case of mistaken information?

On one Redding crime Facebook page, a few members discussed how the Redding Police Department had contacted some Athens Avenue area businesses to give a heads up about a possible protest Saturday night. According to Facebook posts, this message caused some business owners such concern that they spent the night inside their businesses to stand guard and protect their property.

For many days in Redding, it was a whack-a-mole game of gossip and rumor in which the militia and volunteer community-protectors went from rumor to rumor, place to place, watching and waiting for protesters.

Saturday came and went without a protest in sight.

Change of militia plans? Source: Facebook

The real protest, far different from the expected one

Meanwhile, it turned out there was some truth to the militia groups’ original intel about a protest in Redding on Saturday. However, they didn’t get the memo when the Redding group that organized the modest Saturday protest changed their plans from Saturday to Sunday.

Last week, when I asked one of the local BLM organizers about the confusion over the dates, and pointed out that the militia groups seemed under the impression that the protest was Saturday — when it was actually happening Sunday — the organizer cleared things up.

“They are misinformed, I have chosen not to correct them. That was last week and they must have misread that post. The current protest is on Sunday and it’s at a completely different location.”

The organizer said that if other protesters had shown up at Movies 14 Saturday, they wouldn’t have been affiliated with their protesters whatsoever, a group the organizer described as peaceful and nonviolent.

“We are also a very small group and in no way antifa,” the organizer said. “We are anti fascist, but not antifa. The organizer said that their group goes out of its way to avoid violence.

“We have experienced some counter protesters before, and they are the violent ones every time,” the organizer said. “Last week a man approached us two different times; once to puff up his chest, try to fight some of the protesters, and also yell disrespectful slurs at all of us. The second time he came with a knife. Two protesters deescalated the situation, better than a lot of police officers would, in my opinion, and it remained peaceful. We have never damaged property or been violent.”

A tale of two groups: protesters and non-protesters

Sunday night’s location at Dana and Hilltop was just big enough for a modest peaceful protest.

Remember the June 2 protest in Redding?

No way could that many protesters have fit on that Dana to downtown corner.

The small Black Lives Still Matter group began their official protest at Dana and Hilltop about 7 p.m. They chanted words like, “Black lives matter” and “No peace, no justice.” They read the names of people whose deaths were caused by police. The protesters handed out copies of the Constitution.

As the traffic passed, some vehicles’ horns honked in approval, while some drivers and passengers yelled, “Black lives matter”. From other vehicles some drivers and their passengers yelled, “All lives matter,” and “Trump’s life matters”.

Photo by Steve DuBois.

Meanwhile, just to the north and behind the protesters’ spot, a few trucks and cars driven by non-protesters had parked in front of the nearby strip mall that includes a credit union, a financial planner and a shoe store.

Seven men and two women – one who had a dog on a leash – were outside their vehicles, standing, talking and occasionally looking toward the protesters. (Update, checking my notes, I can’t tell if there were five men and two women, for a total of seven, or seven men and two women. Sorry for the confusion.)

A few times one of the guys turned on the flashing light and loud siren perched on top of his truck.

That’s where I’d parked my car, too. When I sized up the situation, I assumed the men and women non-protesters were militia members. As I walked by, I asked if I could take their photo. They said no.

By around 8:30 p.m. the protest was over. I spoke with three of the women. They were cool with having their photo taken as we chatted.

Three Redding protesters from the Black Lives Still Matter group stop to talk as they head home Sunday evening after the protest. Photo by Doni Chamberlain

The women talked a bit about the confusion about the protest dates. They said that actually, they had participated in a protest at Movies 14 last weekend. They retold the same story the organizer had shared with me last week about the man with the knife, and how frightening that had been.

The women emphasized that they were exercising their right to protest peacefully; that they’d never advocate the use of violence.

As the women walked down the sidewalk with their flags and signs, heading for their cars, one of the guys in front of the strip mall called out, “Have a good night.”

Militia, or just concerned citizens?

Non-protesters who requested they not be photographed and who declined to give their names gathered in the strip mall parking lot north-west of the protesters. Photo by Steve DuBois

I won’t lie. There were a few tense minutes of initial conversation with the non-protesters after I identified myself as a reporter, and said where I worked.

One woman asked if I was the one who’d written to Gavin Newsom. I answered yes, because I knew what she meant.

Actually, to clarify, I didn’t really write to Gavin Newsom. I doubt he knows I’m alive. But I had written a post with the headline, “Dear Gavin Newsom, We’ve got trouble, right here in river city.” Close enough. Since that post, I’ve heard from many angry people who’ve cursed me for “writing a letter to Newsom”.

Anyway, she said that “letter” really pissed her off, because she no longer has a job, thanks to the shutdowns. She said that writing to the governor was a terrible thing to do.

Then a tall slender man with a beard said that his life had been made hell because of an article on my site about the June 2 protest in front of the Shasta County Courthouse, a night I remember well, because I was there.

As he spoke, I recognized him from a photo we’d published in a story about the protest. The photo showed him standing on the sidewalk with some other men. Among the words used to describe them and their appearance were “scruffy” and “tattooed”. This particular part of the story referred to those who were not protesting, including militia and counter-protesters.

He explained that the “scruffy” condition of his clothing the day of the protest was because he’d just heard about the protest after work and he’d driven there directly, and hadn’t gone home to change clothes.

He said that story had appeared on other websites, and afterward, some people who recognized his photo in the story had thrown things at his truck, accusing him of being racist, which he said he isn’t.

A couple of the other guys chimed in, and said they were not racist, either. One man said he believed all lives matter, including Black lives. He said that in fact,  he thought it was racist to say, “Black lives matter” because it’s singling out one group of people over another.

One man asked if I agreed with the destruction of property done by protesters around the country. I said I did not.

I asked why this particular group was there, watching the protesters.

“We want to make sure there’s no violence or arson,” one man said.

“None of us are racists, or hate blacks,” said another.

Another man said he didn’t hate the protesters, either.

“We’re good people,” he said. “I’m sure they’re good people, too.”

Another man said that they were not there for conflict.

“We’re just watching and keeping things safe here, to protect our town,” he said, adding that if the protesters needed protecting, this parking-lot group would do that, too.

They described themselves as extremely hard workers. A few of them identified themselves as veterans. One man said that with the exception of the woman I’d met who was currently unemployed because of the coronavirus shutdowns, they all had jobs, and none of their jobs allowed them the time or ability to leave work to travel the country protesting.

One man looked toward the protesters and said they seemed peaceful, but he couldn’t understand why protesters needed to yell to get their points across. He wondered why people couldn’t just talk.

I shared my belief that we might have more in common than we might guess.

I asked if they were militia. They said no, that they were just concerned citizens who’d seen Facebook posts about the protest, and they’d shown up to lend support, if things got out of  hand.

I asked if they were part of an organized group.

A man laughed and said no, and that in fact, before that night, they’d never met.

I asked why, if they truly believed there was imminent danger of violence from outside protesters and antifa, why didn’t they just leave it to trained law enforcement to protect the city.

“Cops are outnumbered,” one man replied.

Another said that frankly, those with military experience were probably better trained than most police officers.

The slender man with the beard said that the way he saw it, having citizen volunteers help law enforcement during times of potential danger is like when you’re moving, and you have a really heavy piece of furniture that you can’t move by yourself. He said it’s easier if you have some guys willing to help carry the heavy load.

“Sometimes, you need help,” he said.

Another man offered his own explanation. He said having people like himself and others willing to step in and help the trained law enforcement during times of trouble is no different than helping your neighbor whose house is on fire, or during a flood, when everyone pitches in with sandbags.

I asked how they thought law enforcement felt about having their help.

One man, who said he was only wearing cammo because it was hunting season, said law enforcement had asked them for help.

I asked if they considered themselves counter-protesters. One man said no, because if they were counter-protesters they’d have signs and would be yelling things.

“We’re here to protect our community,” he said.

All’s well that ends well

That’s not every word spoken between myself and the men and women outside that strip mall, but I’ve reported the highlights.

They asked if I would report everything they said. I said not everything, but if I quoted them, it would be accurate.

They all expressed their belief that all real journalists – good journalists – should only report facts, and not give opinions, and never be biased. I told them I can do straight objective reporting, but I usually give opinions. I said it was my right, because I own the website, so I can do what I want.

The photographed man apologized to me for cussing during our conversation. He said he’d been upset. I said I understood, and it was OK.

I had my own apologizing to do. I apologized for publishing on my website descriptions about his appearance that demeaned him and caused him embarrassment. I was sorry that because he was recognized in the photograph, some people inaccurately accused him of being racist.

I said I was sorry. And I truly am.

It was time to go home. I thanked them for talking with me. As I walked to my car, a couple of the men had a few more things to say.

Have a good night.  

Stay safe.

God bless America.

 

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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