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Niagara Falls protesters warn of white supremacy groups organizing in WNY

Mike Desmond

On the first anniversary of white nationalist rally that turned into an anti-police protest in Charlottesville, VA, around two dozen protestors turned out in Niagara Falls, marching to a now-closed white supremacist bar.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

On the first anniversary of the Unite the Right protests in Charlottesville, sign-carrying protestors on the other side in Niagara Falls marched from the Unitarian Universalist church to a building that was home to Rust bar, allegedly a bar owned and frequented by white supremacists.

The protest was led by Showing Up for Racial Justice, an increasingly prominent group on the left against white supremacist groups. It has also led protests against Buffalo Police over two deaths in confrontations with cops.

The same group held counterprotests in Charlottesville and in Washington against anticipated groups also represented in last year's protests. Locally, Linnea Brett is an organizer for SURJ Buffalo and helped organize the Niagara Falls march. Brett said the group is specifically organized.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"We're a local chapter of a national network and it is a group of primarily white folks, organizing in white communities to undermine corporate racist institutions and to fight white supremacy."

SURJ's Erin Heaney was in Charlottesville last year.

"It's not just these small groups of mostly men, of white folks. White supremacy is also alive and well in our court system, in the criminal justice system, in the health care system," Heaney said. "Every system that we have, we know that people of color are harmed all the time. So we're here today to list up the fact that white supremacists are organizing here in our community."

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

The group remembered Heather Heyer, who was killed in the Virginia university town when a self-professed white supremacist drove his car into a crowd.

The Rust bar was shut down because of problems with its liquor license and ownership. At the time, Niagara Falls Police were investigating a claimed brawl in which a white university student who entered the bar with an African American girlfriend was badly beaten by staff.

SURJ organizer Linney Brett said the bar staff and customers were a threat to the community.

"White supremacists owned and operated this bar, Rust, right near downtown, a place where staff and patrons harassed, attacked and, in more than one instance, brutally assaulted community members," Brett said. "We know that when we ignore white supremacists, they recruit, organize and terrorize."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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