Demonstration levels in the United States slightly increased last week compared to the week prior, largely due to a rise in demonstrations supporting immigration and a spike in demonstrations involving environmental groups. Despite a slight decrease compared to the previous week, events related to the COVID-19 pandemic continued to be the single largest driver of demonstrations, accounting for more than one-third of all demonstration events last week. Demonstrations related to abortion significantly decreased, as did those involving labor groups and healthcare workers. Nevertheless, demonstrations involving labor groups and healthcare workers represented the second-largest share of demonstration events last week, with these groups continuing to call for improved workplace conditions related to COVID-19. Finally, members of militant social movements participated in numerous demonstrations last week, while militias and white supremacist groups reportedly conducted a large number of training events throughout the country.
Pro-immigration demonstrations increased significantly last week. Multiple demonstrations, the majority of which were in support of immigration, were held in response to the clearing of a migrant camp underneath the Del Rio Bridge in Del Rio, Texas along the border with Mexico. Demonstrators organized in opposition to the mass removal of migrants under Title 42, which allows for deportations due to the prevalence of a communicable disease, such as COVID-19, in their country of origin (ABC News, 26 September 2021). In particular, demonstrators showed support for Haitian migrants, as more than 3,900 Haitians were deported despite the ongoing political crisis in the country (for more on the crisis in Haiti, see ACLED’s Mid-Year Update: 10 Conflicts to Worry About in 2021). Further demonstrations in support of immigration also included demands for increased pathways to citizenship. Notably, thousands of demonstrators, including Democratic lawmakers, unions, and Latinx groups, marched to the US Capitol on 21 September to call for fewer barriers to citizenship (Washington Post, 21 September 2021).
Environmental activists participated in nearly three times as many demonstration events last week compared to the week prior. The spike in demonstrations accounts for the largest number of environmentally focused demonstration events since the week of Earth Day in April 2021. The majority of these demonstrations took place on 24 September as part of the Fridays For Future Global Climate Strike, an internationally coordinated protest movement which calls for action to combat climate change (The Guardian, 24 September 2021). Most Global Climate Strike demonstration events were led by students and/or youth-driven organizations, such as the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion.
Meanwhile, abortion-related demonstrations decreased compared to weeks prior, but demonstrations opposing the Texas heartbeat bill continued in Iowa and Texas. Likewise, demonstrators in Florida rallied against legislation proposed on 22 September that mimics the restrictions of the Texas heartbeat bill. Despite last week’s decrease, demonstrations in support of and against abortion have increased overall since the Texas heartbeat bill came into effect on 1 September. Throughout the month, demonstrations explicitly opposed to the Texas heartbeat bill have been held across 15 states, with demonstrations in support of access to abortion outnumbering those in opposition by a 3:1 scale nationally.
On 18 September, people gathered at Union Square in Washington, DC for a ‘Justice for J6’ rally to show support for those involved in the Capitol riot on 6 January 2021. This turnout was substantially lower than had been projected ahead of the event, with police and journalists reportedly outnumbering the few hundred demonstrators (BBC, 19 September 2021). Demonstrations that included calls for the release of jailed Capitol rioters were reported on the same day in Charlotte, North Carolina; Seattle, Washington; Fort Worth, Texas; and Salem, Oregon.
In addition, militant social movements reportedly participated in multiple demonstrations last week. In Lansing, Michigan, for example, members of the American Patriots and the Boogaloo movement gathered on 23 September to demonstrate for gun rights. There was a notable increase of militia participation in demonstrations against COVID-19 vaccines and restrictions. QAnon adherents participated in ongoing ‘Worldwide Rally for Freedom’ demonstrations against vaccine and mask mandates in California, Hawaii, Utah, and New York.
Meanwhile, the Proud Boys remain one of the most active far-right groups in the country. On 18 September, members of the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer demonstrated outside the Washington State Capitol in Olympia over a recent clash with Antifa members, in which a prominent Proud Boy was shot in the foot. Proud Boys were also active in anti-mask and anti-vaccine demonstrations in Chicago, Illinois; Hillsborough, North Carolina; and Salem, Oregon. The demonstration in Salem drew around 1,000 participants, including a contingent of III% adherents who focused on the release of Capitol rioters alongside Proud Boys (Twitter@dburghart, 18 September 2021). The majority of participants, however, focused on opposing restrictions designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 and on anti-vaccine conspiracy theories (KATU, 18 September 2021). The participation of Proud Boys in demonstrations concerning various, broad right-wing issues indicates a new strategy to build alliances with disparate elements of the far-right to further mainstream the organization (NPR, 29 September 2021). The Proud Boys have been active in 30 of the past 31 weeks, dating back to 23 February 2021, participating in demonstrations focused on opposing abortion rights, Antifa, BLM, LGBT+ rights, President Joe Biden, and COVID-19 restrictions and vaccines, as well as in support of gun rights, Capitol rioters, and former President Donald Trump (for more, see ACLED’s Actor Profile on the Proud Boys).
Meanwhile, militia groups last week held the highest number of reported training events since the start of ACLED coverage in January 2020. The spike could be linked to heightened concern among right-wing groups over new pandemic-related public health measures, as comparisons between COVID-19 vaccine mandates and Nazi Germany have been increasingly pushed by Republican legislators and party leaders across the country (Newsweek, 9 September 2021; AZ Mirror, 13 September 2021; Slate, 21 September 2021; Anchorage Daily News, 24 September 2021). Additionally, fears of prosecution following the Capitol riot may have gradually decreased among militia groups, resulting in the increased broadcasting of activity. The American Contingency group sharply increased its firearms trainings for the second consecutive week last week, holding over a dozen training events in North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Ohio, Connecticut, and California. Openly white supremacist groups, such as the New England Nationalists and Nationalist Social Club 131, also held training events in New Hampshire.
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