Home Politics Militias, right-wing political organizations rally at Ohio Statehouse

Militias, right-wing political organizations rally at Ohio Statehouse

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Unifying Ohio for Liberty Rally. Photo by Eric Boll.

*Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story erroneously referred to the “killing” of Jacob Blake. Blake was shot by police and is currently being hospitalized as of Aug. 30, but he did not die. The story has been updated to reflect that.

COLUMBUS – Around 150 people gathered at the Ohio Statehouse on Saturday to demonstrate about a laundry list of grievances, including mask mandates, online schooling and what they said were an erosion of gun rights in Ohio.

“Unifying Ohio for Liberty” spearheaded the rally – a group that seeks to unify the various separate fringe political groups and produce a cohesive message.

Tracey Sparks kicks off the rally. Photo by Eric Boll.

The organizer of the event, Tracey Sparks of Milford, Ohio, said her primary grievances with the state government are mask mandates. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine implemented a statewide mask mandate in July.

She said she suffers from chronic obtrusive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cannot wear a mask because of her condition. Sparks, a retail marketing manager, added she gets daily criticism for not wearing her mask to work.

She urged Ohioans not to wear masks.

“I know a lot of you are out there walking around, putting a mask on because you don’t want confrontation,” Sparks said. “And if you go into that store and you feel like ‘man, I really don’t want to put this thing on’ — don’t.”

The CDC recommends face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Nearly all research suggests face coverings are effective at reducing spread.

However, masks should not be worn by children younger than two, people who have trouble breathing or people who cannot remove the mask without assistance, according to the CDC.

State Rep. John Becker, R-Clermont County, speaks to the crowd about impeachment proceedings against Ohio Gov. Mike Dewine. Photo by Eric Boll.

Sparks said she was disappointed by the small turnout. The Facebook invitation for the demonstration recorded 257 people planning to attend with around 1,200 more interested in attending.

“I wish there were more people,” Sparks said.

Nearly half of the demonstrators appeared to be members of militias, organized or informal. Most were armed with rifles and pistols, although some carried large clubs at their waists.

The New Political observed at least two dozen members of the III% Republic, an Ohio militia, disembark from a bus.

The III% militia is a national, far-right organization. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center list them as an anti-government group and militia. The III%’s national website says they are not a militia and not anti-government, but pro-government so long as it abides by the constitution and “doesn’t overstep its bounds.”

Matthew Nelson, a leader of the Ohio III% Republic, told The New Political he and the rest of his militia were attending to provide “security” at the rally. Nelson was armed with a rifle.

“That’s my duty as a citizen of the United States, to protect those that can’t be protected,” Nelson, of Massillon, Ohio, said.

At the start of the rally, an announcer took the microphone and said he had heard “BLM buses” were en route to disrupt their rally, but the counter-demonstrators never materialized.

State Rep. Candice Keller, R-Butler County, tells the crowd about her accomplishments in the statehouse. Photo by Eric Boll.

When asked how he felt about Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old who is accused of killing two with an illegally possessed rifle at a protest against the shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black in Kenosha, Wisconsin last week — Nelson described Rittenhouse as “a hero.” Blake was hospitalized after he was shot.

Rittenhouse was charged with first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide, and attempted first-degree intentional homicide, according to The Washington Post. Rittenhouse was also charged with possessing a dangerous weapon while younger than 18.

Another militia present was the Proud Boys, an alt-right group infamous for their frequent street clashes with members of antifa and their openly “western chauvinist philosophy.”

Members of the Proud Boys carried long rubber clubs as well as firearms. This reporter overheard a member of the Proud Boys telling another member the clubs were designed to hurt people, “but not hurt them too bad.”

One Proud Boy fought off an imaginary assailant with his club, and then told the hypothetically defeated foe “to lick his boots” to the laughter of other members.

In addition to organized groups, a loose group of “boogaloo” supporters, known as “boog bois” provided additional security at the event. They patrolled Capitol Square with rifles and posted men with weapons at street corners near the Statehouse. 

“Boog bois,” identified by Hawaiian print shirts, are a relatively new anti-government subculture premised on the belief that a second American civil war is imminent, according to literature provided by a “boog boi.”

Several state representatives attended the rally, including Rep. John Becker, R-Clermont County, and outgoing Rep. Candice Keller, R-Butler, who discussed with the crowd their recent introduction of articles of impeachment against DeWine.

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