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Police brutality protest meets militia demonstration at Michigan Capitol

Craig Mauger Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Demonstrators for two different causes verbally clashed at times outside the Michigan Capitol on Thursday night as a group that's been protesting police brutality interrupted a militia-focused event.

A group of about 35 people, calling themselves The People of Lansing, walked to the front of the Capitol as a group calling its event the American Patriot Rally was focusing speeches on the right to a well-regulated militia.

Some of the protesters involved in the pro-militia event carried firearms and have been at the Capitol previously, demonstrating against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home orders.

Demonstrators against police brutality lie on the ground in the middle of an event focused on the right to a well-regulated militia outside the Michigan Capitol on  Thursday, June 18, 2020.

The People of Lansing supporters lay on the ground face-down in the middle of the pro-militia event, which had dozens more people, about 7:15 p.m. as some participants in the militia event shouted at the counter-demonstrators.

The People of Lansing supporters' position on the ground evoked George Floyd, who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

Paul Birdsong of The People of Lansing, a group protesting police brutality, and Ryan Kelley, an organizer of the American Patriot Rally, speak near the Capitol steps on Thursday, June 18, 2020.

"If black lives really mattered, none of us would have been targeted when we walked out here," said Michael Daniels, 28, of Lansing, one of the counter-protesters with The People of Lansing. "None of them would have been insulted when we walked out here."

The American Patriot Rally was scheduled to go from 7-9 p.m. Thursday.

"America is a free country because we the people have the right to bear arms," a Facebook post about the event said. "Come hear about the Constitutional role of 'a well regulated militia' to keep the government in check."

A group of protesters against police violence against African Americans stage a die-in during the  American Patriot Rally for Constitutional Rights at the Capitol Building in Lansing, MI, Thursday, June 18, 2020.

"We ask that you stand up and join us," one of the event's speakers said from the Capitol steps as the counter-demonstrators were on the ground. "We're going to continue fighting for your rights no matter what."

Others in the crowd weren't so positive. One person yelled, "Your grandfathers and your uncles and your brothers, every one of them that fought for our country is ashamed of you."

"Don't call them names," another person in the crowd said. "That's not how we operate. We are respectful."

Jason Howland, one of the organizers of the American Patriot Rally, said the group would probably continue its event despite the counter-protest. At one point, the counter-demonstrators each silently raised a fist.

About 8:30 p.m., The People of Lansing demonstrators left the Capitol grounds.

At one point, Paul Birdsong, a member of The People of Lansing group, and Ryan Kelley, an organizer of the American Patriot Rally, spoke near the Capitol steps.

A pair of armed Libertarian constitutionalists show their support for the Black Lives Matter protesters at an American Patriot Rally for Constitutional Rights at the Capitol Building in Lansing, Thursday, June 18.

Both discussed the goals of the groups in a conversation that was at times heated. Birdsong expressed frustration with the way his group was treated while they lay on the ground near the Capitol steps, noting that some in the rally shouted expletives and carried guns above them. 

"That’s against what we believe in," he said. "We would never do that to you.”

Kelley contended they had similar goals when it comes to liberty.

"We want a similar message," Kelley said. "We want liberty. We want freedom. We don’t want police to kill people like George Floyd died. … We need to figure this out together.”