Rally heats up, no arrests

Published 10:23 am Monday, July 13, 2009

What started as a rally, quickly grew into another heated immigration debate Saturday, with both sides verbally sparring near the veteran’s memorial in front of the government center.

While no arrests were made, local law enforcement stepped in on at least three occasions, whenever a protester from one side crossed over to confront one on the other side.

In those cases, the protesters went back to their previous location.

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The event began at 2 p.m., lasted about two hours and was organized by Samuel Johnson as a protest against illegal immigration. Johnson, a member of the National Socialist Movement, held a similar rally last month at the same location and has also spoken out to the city council on the issue.

Johnson was joined by roughly a dozen supporters, while the people speaking out against his message numbered more than 100, the majority a combination of both Latinos and Whites.

“I’m just here to get people aware that illegal immigration in our city is a problem, and if you don’t stand up and do anything, then nothing will happen,” Johnson said before the rally began.

Toni Howg, who said she disagreed with Johnson’s message, was one of the organizers for the other side.

“We want to make it known, we don’t support the deportation of workers,” she said. “Immigration is important in a town like Austin.”

Shortly after 2 p.m., Johnson began speaking in a microphone to the crowd and reading various documents that addressed illegal immigration.

Those protesting against the message then began to chant from time to time in apparent attempts to drown out Johnson’s speech.

“The people united will never be defeated,” Johnson’s opponents chanted at one time.

Johnson kept talking.

“Every day we sit back and do nothing is a battle lost,” he said. “…Rallys must be held and support must be given … Carry the message loud. Carry the message strong, for if you will not stand up for America, who will?”

Both sides of protesters had at least one megaphone to try to drown out the opposing side, and both sides carried homemade signs.

On occasion, those opposed to Johnson’s message walked around the block and chanted.

Erik Flann, of Lino Lakes, a Johnson supporter who brought a large American flag to the rally, expressed his views as the protesters passed by.

“Hitler is not dead; he’s alive in our hearts,” he said.

Shortly after, he expanded on his comments.

“We’re trying to stop illegal immigration in this town,” Flann said. “…You can’t kill the spirit of National Socialism.”

Mary Laeger-Hagemeister of Albert Lea, at the rally to protest Johnson’s message, offered her view.

“I believe Latinos are being given a bad wrap,” she said. “There’s a lot of misinformation. I believe it’s a human rights issue.”