ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A peaceful protest is planned for Saturday in Palmer. The protest follows similar ones seen in the Lower 48 following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis while he was in police custody.
Ahead of the protest, rumors have started circulating online that an armed militia was hired or called upon to respond.
The City of Palmer released a statement online saying in part, “The Palmer Police Department and the City of Palmer have become aware of rumors on social media stating that armed militia was hired to respond to the peaceful demonstration in Palmer scheduled for this weekend. This is not true.”
Alaska State Troopers say if troopers respond at all, it would be at the request of the Palmer Police Department. Megan Peters, a spokesperson for AST emailed saying, "claims of AST approving civilian actions in relation to this event are false. If criminal activity occurs, people should report it to law enforcement and let law enforcement handle it."
Palmer Mayor Edna DeVries said she was contacted by the group 907Freedom. She said she spoke with the group’s leader L.D. Howard. DeVries says she told him it was alright for the group to be at the protest.
“I said, 'It’s a public protest, you’re welcome to come.' He said 'we will not be carrying, you know, external rifles or anything like that,'” said DeVries. “He said 'we will come' and 'will probably be using our concealed permits,' and I said 'those are legal.'”
Mayor DeVries also talked about the concerns some people in Palmer may have about armed people being at a peaceful protest.
“The only thing I would say to them is that they might find it difficult to go to Fred Meyer or McDonald's or any other place because there are probably people that are carrying in all of those places.”
Devries added “I can't say because you’re going to do something lawful using your concealed carry permit that you are not allowed to come, (you're) not allowed to be on Palmer streets. I don’t have that authority.”
Mayor Devries closed with saying “Well, I’m hoping the protest is peaceable and respectable to everybody.”
Channel 2 reached out to Howard who confirmed he did have a conversation with the mayor. He added he told group members not to bring “AR-15s and shotguns.” Howard says the whole point of his group being there is to keep the peace.
“This is completely a precautionary thing to make sure we support our law enforcement, make sure we support our community, make sure that no one is hurt, and that businesses are kept safe and things like that. I hope and I have faith that Alaskans aren’t ones to allow this to escalate into anything violent or damage or destroy property.”
According to the 907Freedom website, “We are a group of concerned Patriots who are tired of the status quo. We see corruption, we see our rights trampled, we see incredible fiscal waste, and we see very little representation by our elected officials.” The group's Facebook page goes on to say it’s a political organization “of Patriots fighting for Liberty in Alaska.”
Channel 2 asked Howard how he would respond to the people who may not want his group at the protest.
“My biggest message to them is we are not here to infringe your rights. We are not here to intimidate you. We wholeheartedly support your first amendment protected right of assembly, voice, and protest. We truly do. That is so much an important part of our organization. We just caution you to police yourself, to not allow rabble rousers or instigators to defame their name, to discredit their organization or group.”
In a video posted Wednesday to the 907Freedom Facebook, Howard tells people going to the protest with a gun to, “use your head guys, this doesn’t need to be blown up."
Thursday night Assembly member Tim Hale took to Facebook saying:
"Hey folks, I received several calls from concerned Citizens today about an Outside organizer claiming that he had been authorized to assist Law Enforcement with security at the event downtown on Saturday. I spoke with both Palmer PD and Alaska State Troopers, who told me that they do not want nor would they accept civilian help with security at the event.
Stay peaceful, stay classy #PalmerLove"
Channel 2 reached out to the group organizing the protest, the group issued this statement:
“The organizers feel that we don’t want to draw any attention away from the movement and feel this isn’t about anyone individual or group of people giving the movement a platform it’s about the platform and the message itself.”
Copyright 2020 KTUU. All Rights Reserved.