Protesters gathered in the town of Princeton on Saturday, Jan. 12, to protest against white supremacy — even when the white supremacists themselves were nowhere to be seen.
Hundreds of University students and local activists marched in Palmer Square at noon in response to a previously scheduled demonstration from the New Jersey European Heritage Association (NJEHA), a white supremacist organization.
In a tweet on Friday, Jan. 11, however, the NJEHA announced that its planned protest was, in reality, an elaborate hoax — designed to increase publicity for the organization and demonstrate that “the so-called ‘tolerant’ phony privileged limousine liberals of Princeton have no respect for freedom of speech.”
In preparation for possible security issues, the University locked down facilities beginning at 11:30 a.m.
According to an email distributed from the University’s emergency notification system Tiger Alert, “the campus returned to normal operations shortly after 1 p.m.,” when the locked buildings were reopened.
The Princeton Police Department maintained a strong presence in the area to ensure that protests remained peaceful, in case the NJEHA or other white supremacist organizations attempted to agitate.
“We’ve got information that there may still be other groups that might come to take the place of this one,” Princeton Police Department spokesperson Sergeant Frederick Williams said. “But there’s nothing official.”
Still, counter-protesters were not deterred, some arriving in sub-30-degree weather hours before the march officially began.
Carrying a sign reading “end racism, use your voice to speak, your heart to listen, and your hands to hold,” Hopewell, N.J., native Heidi Wilenius arrived in Palmer Square after attending another protest in Paterson, N.J., in support of Jameek Lowry, a young black man who died in police custody on Monday.
Wilenius is the co-founder of the local group Hope Rises Up, which she said hopes to make political and social advocacy accessible to the broader Trenton community.
Protesters, some independent and others representing an organization, chanted lines such “No ban, no wall, tear it down and free them all,” and “No hate, no fear, Nazis are not welcome here,” while marching around Palmer Square.
Participating groups in Saturday’s counter-protest included Faith in New Jersey — a racially and religiously diverse social justice organization, the North and Central Jersey Democratic-Socialists of America (DSA), Not in Our Town Princeton (NIOT), and Heathens Against Hate, which protest Nazi appropriation of “pre-Christian Germanic” religious iconography.
Notable protesters included Class of 1943 Professor in the Center for African American Studies Cornel West.
In a joint email statement sent to The Daily Princetonian by Ayesha Mughal — co-chair of the Central Jersey DSA — the Princeton Young Democratic-Socialists of America, the Central Jersey, North Jersey, and South Jersey DSA called for all to join them in resisting white supremacy, including by overwhelming such groups with large groups of counter-protesters.
“Recognize that peace without justice is tyranny,” the groups said in their statement. “We are protesting this rally not to provoke violence, but to show the white supremacists that our communities will not stand for their hate.”
The groups also referenced the statement that the Charlottesville chapter of DSA put out after the anniversary of the Unite the Right rally, in which counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed and 19 others injured when rally-goer James Alex Fields Jr. rammed a car into a crowd of protestors.
“We ask that you join us in confronting all forms of white supremacy in your community, however explicit or subtle,” the Charlottesville chapter said in its statement.
“We are tired of having our religion absconded by white supremacists,” Heathens Against Hate organizer Robert L. Schriewer told the ‘Prince’ on Saturday.
Erich Kussman, a Faith in New Jersey organizer and vicar at Westminster Presbyterian Church of Paterson, said his group received word that the Aryan Strikeforce, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi organization, might “show up to instigate.”
“We just want to make sure everything’s peaceful and loving, and reassure that love trumps hate, all puns intended,” he said.
Faith in New Jersey has protested white nationalism in the past and was in Charlottesville, Va., to demonstrate against the Unite the Right rally.
Numerous protesters from the University — many of whom first heard about the NJEHA’s supposed demonstration through Facebook or other friends — marched alongside the groups.
Emma Harlan ’22 was first notified of the NJEHA’s planned protest from an NIOT email.
She said that by later claiming the “it’s okay to be white” march was a hoax, the NJEHA might have thought that they won, but it didn’t mean that other groups shouldn’t organize against the message of white supremacy.
Brittani Telfair ’22 said that it was important to attend the counter-protest even if no white supremacist organizers made an appearance.
“It’s important to send a message that this type of thing is not acceptable,” she said. “I’m from Virginia, and when the Unite the Right rally happened, a lot of my friends were freaking out.”
“Especially because it’s on the Princeton campus, we have to show up for the community,” Kathy Palomino ’22 said.
In an email sent Friday, Jan. 11, to the University community, Vice Presidents for Campus Life and Human Resources W. Rochelle Calhoun and Lianne Sullivan-Crowley and Dean of the Faculty Sanjeev R. Kulkarni announced that certain locations — including the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding and the Office of Religious Life — would be open Saturday for students wanting a “place to gather with others in community and conversation.”
Certain eating clubs also took security precautions, including Cap & Gown Club, which locked all doors except the front door from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and stationed two bouncers at the front door. Tower Club also said it increased security measures, according to Interclub Council President Hannah Paynter ’19.
Though the march began to dissipate at 1 p.m. — and it became increasingly clear that the NJEHA would not make an appearance — some saw it as an expression of the town’s commitment to maintaining a safe and loving environment.
“I’m glad that it turned out the way it did,” Bent Spoon owner Gabrielle Carbone said. “I think it shows that Princeton is a community that just wants to do good things and be united.”