A dozen white supremacists staged a protest in the town square of Woodstock on Friday, Feb. 11, holding a “White Lives Matter New York” banner and waving signs with slogans such as “Anti-racist = Anti-white” and “Stop WhiteGuilt”. But their protests were short-lived.
The group wore all-black clothing and masks with designs of skeletal mouths. They refused to show their faces for fear of getting doxxed, a term that means posting someone’s private or identifying information on the internet in revenge.
The apparent leader of the group wore a press identification badge bearing the Rebel News logo around his neck, but hid it when someone tried to peer into him. Rebel News is a Canada-based far-right media outlet that communicates through the Telegram online messaging platform. Other social media sites would probably close their accounts.
Their group name is WLM_USA_NEW_YORK. Group chats mentioned February 12 as a key date, although there was no indication of a repeat performance at Woodstock.
Initially, the group was countered by a lone woman on the sidewalk facing Tinker Street, holding a hastily-made “Black Lives Matter” sign. From time to time, a pedestrian passed, greeting the demonstrators with the raised middle finger.
“I didn’t know until I heard megaphones from the green, and so my dog was barking, and I was like, what’s going on on the village green?” said Rev. Cari Pattison, pastor of the Reformed Church of Woodstock, which owns the historic property in the middle of town. “I thought, Oh, maybe they’re just passing through, and they’ll be leaving right now.”
Through an agreement with city officials, any group or event on church property must be licensed by both the church and the city. Pattison said she confirmed with the church property committee that this was not a sanctioned event.
The church property committee called police, who may not have been sure who had permission to be on the property, Pattison said. Police asked the group to put down the megaphones and maintained a presence to ensure the scebe did not turn violent.
“In the year and a half that I’ve lived here,” Pattison said, “I’ve seen a lot of different protests, but what made it different was the confrontations they had, at the both with the megaphone and without. It was clear that they were trying to bait people.
As some gave them the middle finger, others honked and waved as they passed, Pattison said. “And I really felt on the verge of tears, not only because this was happening on a property in the heart of Woodstock, but also on a property that in some sense is connected to the church.”
She didn’t have enough time to rally the faithful, so Pattison went home and motioned to stand with the only counter-protester. He said: ‘The Reformed Church of Woodstock does not endorse this White Lives Matter protest. Black lives matter. God created all equal and beloved.
On the other side of the sign, she wrote, “God’s heart is with all who are oppressed and downtrodden. The pastor of this church on the green stands with BLM and all who are suffering.
Shortly after Pattison joined the counter-protester, about five more arrived.
A dark and sinister energy
A boatload of people arrived to chat with the White Lives Matter group, and that’s where, Pattison said, things got scary.
The newcomers shouted, “If you are the Proud Boys, what are you so proud of? You do not understand what is happening in our country? Several obscenities followed.
“That’s where it seemed for a while to get violent, and I don’t think it ever did,” Pattison said.
The entire ordeal lasted about 45 minutes. Pattison said she felt “a dark, sinister energy.”
“And nothing about it represents our church. Nothing in White Lives Matter is a platform that we support or endorse or welcome into our space or the world.
“Look, they’re looking for attention,” Woodstock Town Supervisor Bill McKenna said. “They bite us. I would say ignore them.”
McKenna had arrived on the green to assess the situation and help move protesters to the sidewalk, where demonstrations are permitted. But many of them had already left, he said. “I remind everyone that we live in America,” the supervisor said, “We all have the right to free speech, and that even means we don’t agree with their message. However, the church owns the property. The city is the custodian of the property, and the church told me they don’t want them protesting there.
If the group returns, McKenna said he asked the police to move them to the sidewalk. “They are looking for an article. They are looking for an incident. They seek to make headlines.
By the time Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa and a few deputies arrived, most of the members had already disappeared.
‘Look at the cowards…’
A well-known local character who goes by the name of Ricochet posted a video in which he approached and heckled the costumed group.
“Bunch of cowards. Look at the cowards,” he said. “Look at the coward. He won’t tell me his name…Look at the other coward. He won’t even take his mask off,” he said, pointing at one of them.
Ricochet spoke to a young man.
“I bet your mother is proud of you. Does she know you are here? Do you have permission to go out to demonstrate with your small crew, ”he asked.
He also asked why the others were “dressed like it was Halloween.” “If you are white and you are proud, why are you hiding behind a mask?
Figueroa and Woodstock Police Chief Clayton Keefe could not be reached in time for this report.