The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) is breathing a sigh of relief following an altercation between members of a right-wing group and anti-fascists inside its galleries. Punches were thrown, though no artwork was damaged in the incident, according to the New York Times.
February 25 was a normal day at the museum. Save, that is, for the 50-or-so protesters from the Twin Cities General Defense Committee (GDC), part of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) labor union, gathered outside. At first glance, it appeared they were speaking out against the anti-immigrant sentiment being stirred up by President Donald Trump’s administration by the proposed border wall, increased deportation efforts, and the travel ban targeting seven Muslim majority countries. In actuality, their message had a more immediate target.
According to a statement from the GDC, the protesters had gathered after getting word of a planned “White Lives Matter” rally from a group called AltRight MN at the museum.
A statement from AltRight MN contests this narrative, claiming that “we were there only to meet a few new faces and enjoy the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s collection of traditional art. However, when we got there, the IWW protesters were waiting. We had no idea that it had anything to do with us until two of our members were attacked upstairs.”
They allege that the anti-fascist protesters had learned of their meetup by posing as a Trump supporter to gain access to a private chat room.
Conflict broke out when the two groups came face to face. On its website, GDC has shared a photo of a man appearing to give a Nazi salute in response to the gathered protesters. One witness told Twins Cities news outlet City Pages there were shouts of “Heil Trump!”
According to the Star Tribune, three men who appeared to be neo-Nazis, one of whom allegedly sported neo-Nazi imagery on his jacket, entered the museum. IWW protesters followed, leading to a heated encounter in a gallery of 18th-century art, home to French armchairs, English landscape paintings, and a piece of Sèvres porcelain.
In their statement, the GDC alleges that one of the groups involved was Identity Evropa, which has adopted classical European art as a symbol of defending white culture. For instance, Identity Evropa has taken credit for the appearance of posters of Michelangelo’s David with the words “Let’s Become Great Again” around the Minneapolis area last year.
A search of the internet reveals that Identity Evropa has been on a postering campaign across the country, targeting campuses.
“I heard voices that were louder than usual for a museum. There [was] a large man with a buzz cut arguing loudly with some people. They were getting in each other’s faces and quickly started pushing each other,” Vijit Nanda, a visitor who witnessed the incident, told the Tribune. “The people who were fighting started throwing punches.”
A female security guard reportedly broke up the fight after a protester knocked one of the men down and was hitting him.
“She was terribly brave,” MIA director Kaywin Feldman told the New York Times. “As you can imagine, our security officers are trained not to put themselves in harm’s way ever. And so this was just a reaction on her part to protect another human.”
In his account, Nanda added that, as he was leaving the museum, a group “dressed in mostly darker colors walked out in front of us chanting and pumping their hands in the air. I honestly do not remember the exact words, but it was something along the lines of ‘Nazi scum get off our streets!'”
The Tribune reported that there were no arrests made, but that police responding to the scene did impound a large knife from one of the individuals involved in the fracas. AltRight MN claims that the weapon was found on one of the “assaulters,” while the GDC claims that they disarmed “a man with a nazi flag shirt carrying a large folding knife” after he “started a physical brawl.”
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