What a few devout Trumpers hoped would be a strong Philadelphia debut of public support for their president backfired when multiple forces, notably a large “black bloc” waving Antifa (Antifascist) and communist flags, mobilized to confront a racist “Make America Great Again” rally on March 25.
The MAGA march, announced months ago, was organized by Trump supporters from counties outside Philadelphia and area police. Members of the neo-Nazi group American Vanguard were expected. A crowd of around 400 people was predicted, but turnout of MAGA supporters was 150 at its height.
The fascist rally was met with opposition from the moment it began, with more counterprotesters than MAGA attendees.
A strong crowd, including people from LGBTQ+ communities, pro-immigrant activists and women wearing pink “pussy” hats, surpassed the Trumper numbers. When the MAGA rally began, the large black bloc surrounded the rally site, intent on disrupting the MAGA rally and preventing the spread of its message.
Anti-Trump forces grew to around 200 protesters with flags, road flares and smoke bombs. They took the streets around Independence Hall, circling the MAGA rally. Organizers of the #DisruptMAGA action had called for people to bring “noisemakers, instruments, megaphones” and other tools to drown out the racist rally — a goal which protesters succeeded in meeting.
In addition to noise disruption, a primary Antifa goal was to impede and entirely block the Trumpers’ intended march, from Independence Hall to the Philadelphia Art Museum and back, where the racists intended to spread fear and normalize a fascist presence. #DisruptMAGA stated: “Let our rage send a message to all those who think the election of Trump means that we will lie down and die, and to all those unsure how to best stand against Trump and his minions.”
The anti-Trump demonstrators maintained a constant stream of anti-fascist chants and noise, as they lined the sidewalks with signs held high. As the black bloc surrounded the pro-Trump rally, other demonstrators, some of whom had harassed masked neo-Fascists in the past, enthusiastically cheered the bloc, with some joining it.
When the MAGA rally tried to march, half of the group backed out due to the militant Antifa presence. Police told those remaining, including American Vanguard members in skull masks, that their march permit was revoked and the event was cancelled.
Black bloc activists, occupying areas in preparation to block the march, took to the streets to celebrate. They marched the MAGA-planned route up Market Street, chanting, “Whose march, our march! Whose city, our city!”; “F*ck Trump, F*ck Pence, organize for self-defense!”; and “When Philadelphia is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” They were met with cheers and raised power fists from people all along the route.
As the anti-Trump march rounded City Hall and headed up Franklin Parkway, organizers heard that some neo-Nazis had not disbursed and had started marching toward the Art Museum. Yet again Antifa prepared to block them.
When police tried to kettle the Antifa marchers, the bloc was joined by roughly 300 youth on bikes who were turning onto the parkway. The young riders cheered the marchers as they crossed through police lines with fists raised, shouting “F*ck the police!” As a result the bloc was able to safely reach Families against Fascism, a support event they had initiated on the parkway.
Near the Art Museum, anti-fascist protesters observed police buses, military police and vans marked “Marine Unit” filling the area. They were warned that police, who had halted the 50 remaining pro-Trump marchers at City Hall, were possibly about to mass-arrest the bloc activists. In response, the bloc split and dispersed.
Back at City Hall, the heavily depleted MAGA force was escorted by police, seen chatting with the Trump racists. But the MAGA marchers continued to be harassed by an equal force of counterprotesters intent on “making fascists feel unwelcome in Philadelphia.” In the end, the MAGA march was ordered to disperse two hours earlier than scheduled.
While the ultimate goal of the #DisruptMAGA action was to prevent the MAGA march from occurring, the action reached a level of success higher than many had dared hope.
In addition to confining the march to less than half its original strength and route, public support for militant opposition to a fascist presence was unprecedented in Philadelphia.
When shown the choice between the right and the left, the masses overwhelmingly supported the left — from centrists to the people who encountered the march along the route, from the Philly kids on bikes to families gathered to protest with their children.
Should the Trumpers and their neo-Nazi allies return to Philadelphia in the coming months, they are sure to be met by an even larger force. They now know the people of Philadelphia will never welcome their presence.