Police broke up a protest of Syrian airstrikes last week in Florida after witnesses say a President Donald Trump supporter provoked fights.
Six demonstrators were arrested and one was hospitalized Friday evening after a man carrying a Trump flag and another man disrupted the protest at Jacksonville’s Hemming Park, reported WOKV-FM.
Protest organizer Dave Schneider led anti-war chants during the demonstration, and police said demonstrator Connell Crooms “changed the dynamic of the crowd” by speaking out against police brutality against black men.
Officers said the man with the Trump flag and another man then shouted pro-police statements through their own megaphone.
Crooms, who is deaf, tried to take the flag, and an officer tried to separate the two men — but they violently arrested the anti-war protester after he again tried to grab the flag.
An officer punched Crooms multiple times as the protester insisted he’d done nothing wrong. Crooms was later hospitalized for injuries suffered during his arrest.
Officers arrested several other people for fighting, and event organizer Schneider was also taken into custody after he tried to leave.
One man, Robert Sheffield Jr., was arrested for throwing water on a woman because he voted for Trump and she was a Democrat, and police were unable to verify his claim that the woman had struck him.
Witnesses said police were unable to keep anti-war protesters separated from counter-protesters, and they blamed the fighting on a Trump supporter named William Garrett Nix, who also goes by Gary Snow, reported Folio Weekly.
One protester said Snow, who was wearing a black vest with Trump’s name and the number 45 on it, repeatedly shoved his camera into demonstrators’ faces and tried to start fights
Some protesters asked police to stop Snow — who activists say is affiliated with white nationalist groups — before the fights broke out, witnesses told the newspaper.
Snow’s name turns up in local media reports expressing support for police, and Folio Weekly reported that he seeks out like-minded individuals on social media by using the hashtags “whitepower,” “whitepride” and “patriots.”
He complained Sunday in a Facebook video that he was not racist, but was instead protesting racism by blacks against whites.
“I’ve been accused of being a KKK member, a racist, you know, for the last year and a half,” Snow said. “I’ve been called everything from a misogynist to a homophobe to a xenophobe. But, you know, my biggest problem is actually being called a racist.”
Snow was not arrested during the protest, and he claims to be the victim.
“I’m not going to let you go uncontested in Jacksonville,” Snow told The Florida-Times Union. “You want to attack my president, our president, that’s your right to show dissent. But I also have the right to show support for my president … As we’ve seen, they’ve chosen to use violence in order to stop my freedom of speech.”