A pro-Donald Trump rally at the Minnesota Capitol Saturday morning soon morphed into something else.
Two somethings: The event planned for the Capitol steps moved inside the building, where Trump fans listened to some speeches.
Outside, a group of left-wing protesters clashed with some heavily armed neo-Nazis, whose identifying symbols included American flags and "MAGA" stickers, for Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.
Minnesota State Patrol officers mostly kept the two sides separated -- a couple skirmishes resulted in no reported arrests -- and the combined effect of bullhorns and chants made for more noise than anything else.
The alt-right side was heavily outnumbered, on the order of six-to-one, according to estimates, with some 200 anti-fascists facing down 30 or so neo-Nazis.
The Trump supporters inside seemed fully aware of what was happening outside. The Star Tribune reports one of them came out to approach the neo-Nazis, telling them to get lost. "We have nothing to do with you," the Trump supporter said.
The neo-Nazi disagreed, explaining that they "support Trump," too, and had a right to be there.
In case anyone inside was still oblivious, Unicorn Riot recorded video of event organizer Jonathon Aanestad explaining the scene.
On one side were the "neo-Nazis," whom Aanestad says are "all very armed -- really well-armed." And opposed to them, Aanestad told his small crowd, were the "anti-Nazis, which, a lot of them were anti-fa[scist], which are technically, against us."
Later, Aanestad would tell WCCO he's worried about Trump rallies becoming "co-opted" by the neo-Nazis who tried crashing the party Saturday.
Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dillworth, a powerful Republican committee chairman who announced a couple weeks ago he's running for governor, saw the scene differently.
Dean was one of the Trump event's speakers, and on Sunday he issued a strong statement about the protest dust-up outside.
His Facebook statement makes no mention of the armed fascists, and instead singles out the left-wingers with "black masks," who produced "profanity-laced" chants, and intimidated and "verbally and physically assaulted" Trump supporters, who were "simply trying to assemble in the Capitol."
This charitble description apparently includes people like the guy who wore a bike helmet, a bandana, and used a bullhorn to lead a "Build the wall! Deport them all!" chant in the video below.
Dean went on to say the state Capitol, a "symbol of freedom," is soiled by these kinds of incidents. He blames one side, and one side only.
"[The Capitol] has been vandalized and marred," Dean says, "by the punks and thugs who celebrate intimidation and violence as some acceptable form of political expression because their candidate lost the last presidential election."
And the Nazis? Are they also a problem?
Not in Dean's statement, which goes on to say, richly, it's time to "stop creating false equivocation and looking the other way."
Hear, hear! No more looking the other way. Let's get started right away: If "really well-armed neo-Nazis" clash with "anti-fascists," and Matt Dean puts out a statement that only criticizes the anti-fascists... whose side is he on?
Read Dean's full statement below.
Yesterday at the Capitol, a group obtained a permit for a rally in support of the president.
About 45 minutes before it was to begin, protestors began to assemble on the steps. Out my office window, I saw four heading that way. They were tying black masks around their faces. As I walked that way, I could hear profanity-laced chants coming from the mob.
They formed a chain to prevent people from getting into their Capitol and intimidate anyone from entering the rally inside. I entered through another door with my key card. If I didn't have that, I could not have gotten in.
Only the few who were very early were able to hear what I and other speakers had to say. I understand that not only were families blocked from entering, but some were verbally and physically assaulted.
The anti-GOP protestors were allowed to shut down the Capitol and attack those Minnesotans who (under permit) were simply trying to assemble in the Capitol.
Our Capitol is a symbol of our freedom. It has been vandalized and marred by the punks and thugs who celebrate intimidation and violence as some acceptable form of political expression because their candidate lost the last presidential election.
This is the second time this year Minnesotans were physically attacked at our Capitol because of their beliefs.
It's time to stop creating false equivocation and looking the other way. If our Capitol can't be open and safe for those with a legitimate right and legal permit to assemble, then we have lost the meaning of the building itself.
I'm proud to have had the opportunity to represent our state in this beautiful place. It was built 112 years ago as a memorial to those Minnesotans who died trying to save our country from civil war. They deserve better.
Violence and intimidation can not be tolerated in our schools, on our freeways or in our Capitol. It is not part of the process. It is not free speech. It is not Minnesota.
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