A group of far-right protesters who planned to demonstrate outside Rep. Maxine Waters’ district office in South Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon failed to show up, but dozens of counterprotesters did.
The Oath Keepers, a far-right anti-government group that purports to have many veterans as members, had said they would protest outside the Los Angeles Democrat’s office on Thursday afternoon.
Waters, who is one of President Trump’s most outspoken critics, angered the group and others by calling on the public to “push back” on administration officials they spot in public.
Calling Waters a “protest terrorist inciter,” the Oath Keepers publicized the planned gathering on Twitter and said they intended to “stand against terrorism, stand for freedom of speech and association, in support of ICE/Border Patrol as they enforce constitutional immigration laws.”
But at 1 p.m., police at the protest site said authorities had been in contact with the group, and it had decided not to come in order to ensure peace.
For her part, Waters urged counterprotesters to stay away. She noted that the organization, which at various points over the last decade has formed militias across the country, also has a history of attempting to provoke violence.
“The Oath Keepers would like nothing more than to inflame racial tensions and create an explosive conflict in our community,” Waters said in a statement.
That didn’t stop around 50 counterprotesters from arriving outside her office by 12:40 p.m., some from the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers Local No. 36.
“We’re here to defend our community and the members of our union against the hostile threat of this violent organization that’s coming into our neighborhood with an agenda that is opposed to our interests,” said union organizer Cliff Smith. He said he and his group would not be “baited into confrontations.”
A number of protesters remained near the intersection of 102nd Street and Broadway long after police announced the Oath Keepers were no-shows. For much of this time, the mood remained festive, although it was punctuated with moments of tension.
At one point, counterprotesters pulled a small American flag off of a pickup, doused it in lighter fluid and set it ablaze. The crowd then began chanting, cursing the government and saying, “America was never great.”
Pastor Cue Jnmarie, from the Row Church, said he wouldn’t have decided to burn a flag, but people should be able to choose how they express themselves.
“What they were saying is America has never been great to them,” Jnmarie said. He was among about 100 people spread out on along sides of the street about 2:30 p.m.. At times he broke up scuffles between counterprotesters and those suspected of supporting Trump.
“We wanted to be here because we know that they were coming here to intimidate and to bully,” Jnmarie said. “They say they are about upholding people’s constitutional right to express themselves, yet when Trump clearly called for violence during his campaign, they never went and protested his campaigns.”
In the age of Trump, Waters became a bit of a bugbear for the right after she called on citizens to get out and protest members of the Trump administration wherever they may be.
“If you see anybody from that [Trump] Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them! And you tell them that they are not welcome, anymore, anywhere,” Waters said.
Her opponents continue to attempt to use these comments to say that she is calling for violence against Trump administration members. At 79, she’s in her 14th term, but has never been more famous among young liberals pining for a bulwark against Trump. Last year, she refused to attend Trump’s inauguration and regularly refers to his staff as the “Kremlin Klan” in tweets and statements.
Seemingly aware that a standoff between the Oath Keepers and counterprotesters could go bad, Waters added in her statement: “It is best and preferable if no other demonstrations are scheduled on the same date and time as the Oath Keepers’ planned protest.”
She also noted that the Los Angeles Police Department would be there “to ensure safety and security.”
About a dozen officers were at the scene Thursday. By 3:15 p.m., only one squad car remained.
Waters’ office appeared empty, but that didn’t stop locals from expressing their support for “Auntie Maxine,” as one sign read.
“Maxine is a good woman for the whole community,” said Ed Rice, 65, a businessman who said he owns five Popeyes franchises.
Rice said Trump never campaigned in communities with a high percentage of African Americans, such as the one where Waters’ office is located.
“Donald Trump is divisive,” Rice said. He created this hysteria.”