MINDEN, Nev. (AP) — Several dozen Black Lives Matter demonstrators at a weekend protest in rural Nevada were greeted by a far larger group of counter-demonstrators, including some bearing military-style weapons and tactical gear, but a sheriff who had made controversial remarks earlier about the racial injustice movement reported no arrests or serious incidents.
The clash of rallies Saturday came days after Douglas County Sheriff Dan Coverley attracted national attention for telling the local library not to bother calling 911 for help after board members publicly considered a statement opposing “all forms of racism, hatred, inequality and injustice” and the line “We support #Black Lives Matter.”
The library abandoned plans to issue the diversity statement and the sheriff backed off, saying deputies would continue to respond to all 911 calls.
Plans to organize a demonstration against racial injustice that spread on social media spawned competing campaigns supporting Coverley and inviting supporters to back sheriff’s deputies.
Coverley did not immediately respond Monday to messages about the events that a county and sheriff’s office statement characterized as “a handful of small arguments ... between BLM protesters and counter protesters.”
“No active police reports have been filed at this time in regards to any altercations occurring during the protest,” the statement said.
Social media posts cast some confrontations as competitively loud, sometimes tense and briefly violent before demonstrators on both sides urged nonviolence.
As protesters chanted “Black Lives Matter,” sheriff supporters across the street chanted “U.S.A.” and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, the Reno Gazette Journal reported .
“When I turned around in the big crowd of people chasing me out of their town, I was reminded of the 1960s civil rights movements,” Jerome Silas, a Carson City resident who helped organize the Black Lives Matter protest, told the newspaper.
Coverley told reporters Saturday he felt unfairly drawn into a national debate about policing and racial bias following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“I think law enforcement is under a ton of unfair scrutiny based on the events ... thousands of miles away from here that my office had nothing to do with," he said. “We strive every day to do the best job that we can."
State Assemblyman Jim Wheeler estimated as many as 2,000 people cheered Coverley after fewer than 40 Black Lives Matter demonstrators arrived on Main Street in Minden.
“There were some rude comments, from both sides. Some swear words,” said Wheeler, who was seen in a white short-sleeve shirt and Western hat calming a crowd gathered around a vehicle containing two protesters.
“I heard of other incidents with a lot of foul language,” said Wheeler, a four-term Republican who supports Coverley. “I certainly didn’t see everything. But I didn’t see anything illegal out there.”
Nevada Highway Patrol troopers directed traffic and sheriff’s deputies from neighboring Carson City remained mostly on the sidelines with Douglas County deputies as protesters marched from the sheriff’s office to a park and the historic Douglas County Courthouse.
Minden is 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Reno.
The Nevada Appeal reported that people with weapons kept them holstered or slung over shoulders.
“People need to talk to each other rather than yell at each other,” said Wheeler. “I think people are afraid of what’s going to happen next. We’re seeing people start to stand up to protect themselves and stand up for police. Things are just going too far.”
Associated Press writer Ken Ritter reported from Las Vegas.