A wall of police officers stood between two groups of protestors at Riverside Park on the banks of the White River in Batesville on Saturday afternoon, as the groups hurled insult after insult at each other over race, nationality, religion and sexual orientation.
“Our position is that we are here to make sure everyone gets their voice, everybody has the right to free speech, and that nobody gets hurt,” said Police Chief Alan Cockrill.
Cockrill called in all available help, including auxiliary police officers, after news broke that the well-known Billy Roper, a local leader in the white nationalist movement, planned an anti-Sharia law rally at the pavilion at the
The event included a Muhammad drawing contest. Visual imagery of the Prophet Muhammad is considered extremely inflammatory in the Muslim religion.
Roper said the purpose of the rally was to call attention to terrorism, Muslim immigration and Sharia law, which he claims is taught in a number of mosques, including many in Arkansas.
“Sharia law makes women into second-class citizens. It allows child brides to be bought and sold like cattle. It throws homosexuals off of buildings,” said Roper.
“I’m just a pro-white guy who believes in speaking up. I got mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it anymore,” said Tom Bowie, who was wearing a t-shirt that read “Diversity is just a genocidal scam.”
“I honestly think that these are just a bunch of people who haven’t done well in life and they’re trying to compensate by taking pride in the achievements of people of their own race,” said Brock Neumann, a 19-year-old man who said he is half black and half white.
“White people are a race. We’re not a social construct, a skin color or a costume,” said a young man who gave his name as Sean but wouldn't give his last name and hometown. “It’s time that we separate the pro-whites and the anti-whites.”
“Hate spreads under a cover of darkness. Our job today is to shine a light on it, so our friends, neighbors and family members know that we have a different message,” said Wesley Beal, a counter protester.
Batesville’s anti-Sharia law rally was one of about 20 taking place across the country on Saturday. Police broke up a large fight using pepper spray in Seattle, while at least seven arrests were reported in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the flag in one of the photos. The caption has now been corrected.