As supporters of President Donald Trump rallied Saturday inside the Minnesota State Capitol, a small group of white nationalists and about 200 antifascist protesters held a noisy, profane shouting match on the sunny Capitol steps.
Organizers of the antifascist protest had sent out news releases and social media invites saying that neo-Nazis would be speaking at the 11 a.m. Trump rally at the Capitol celebrating his first 100 days in office. But those gathering for that rally, including some veterans, said that no white nationalists were involved in or welcome at their event.
"They show up everywhere," said Alley Waterbury, a pro-Trump organizer from Woodbury.
The anti-immigrant, anti-refugee demonstrators, some wearing alt-right insignia and helmets, soon gathered outside the Capitol, scuffling with the anti-fascist protesters.
At one point, a Trump supporter came out of the Capitol and told the alt-right group, some of whom were carrying American flags, "Please go away. We have nothing to do with you guys."
One of the apparent alt-right demonstrators replied, "Excuse me, sir, we support Trump, and we have a right to be here too." That demonstrator then led chants of "We are the future!"
Some in the anti-fascist crowd wore bandanas over their faces and carried red-and-black anarchist flags, but the majority appeared to be people expressing support for immigrants, refugees and Black Lives Matter, as well as opposition to the Trump administration.
Troopers from the Minnesota State Patrol, which provides security at the Capitol, kept the groups separate, heading off physical confrontations. Loud chants, insults and profanities were exchanged well past noon, but no arrests were reported.
When the alt-right group tried to enter the Capitol, where the pro-Trump rally was going on, anti-fascists barred their entry. After a brief tussle, troopers told them to keep their confrontation outside. They did so, hurling slogans and insults at each other on the Capitol steps as a line of troopers separated them.
Shouts of "Go home, fascists!" and "No Nazis on our streets!" sought to drown out the alt-right group's chants, which included "Law and order!" Some state troopers, who stood stoically between the groups, appeared to be wearing small earplugs amid the din.
Inside, some Trump supporters complained that their event had been co-opted by the alt-right group and that the chaos outside the Capitol was preventing many people from coming to their peaceful rally inside.
Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, thanked the 30 or so supporters who had the courage to be there.
"This is your building," said Hall, who described masked protesters as "robbers" attempting to deprive them of their freedoms. "They wanna tell you not just what to say, but what to think," he said.
The shouting match on the Capitol steps continued well into the afternoon. About 2 p.m., the antifascist crowd had pizzas delivered to their ranks. By 3 p.m., the groups had dispersed.
Elsewhere in St. Paul, much larger and far less contentious events were underway as thousands of people gathered at RiverCentre for the Festival of Nations and on the West Side for a huge, merry Cinco de Mayo celebration.
Staff writer Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648