I have deep roots in Carson Valley. I learned to swim at the Carson Valley Aquatic Center, where I was taught to monkey-tree-rocketship my way through the water. My mother taught special education at Gardnerville Elementary School. Our secret family cheesecake recipe actually came from Barbara Storke of the old Storke Dairy. My first job as a journalist was with the Record Courier. I have never felt unsafe in Douglas County, until today.
Douglas County Sheriff Dan Coverley made national headlines when he issued a public letter to the Douglas County Library Board after they proposed support for the Black Lives Matter movement. In the letter, Coverley threatened to ignore emergency calls for assistance.
Though Coverley later stated he would respond to calls for assistance, many across the country were outraged.
In Carson City, a group of about 30-40 people, most of them young and many of them juveniles, have been peacefully protesting and marching in front of the Nevada Legislature every Saturday this summer. It was these protesters, joined together with other regional Black Lives Matter movements, who organized a peaceful protest in Douglas County to support the library and express their outrage at the sheriff’s statement.
Douglas County and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) released several press releases regarding the protest, including the fact that they would be providing “Free Speech Zones” in the parking lot behind the sheriff’s office, along with temporary bathrooms.
What the Sheriff’s Office failed to mention was that while the free speech zones were erected for BLM protesters, DCSO officers would not protect them.
Hundreds of counter-protesters held signs that read “Blue Lives Matter” and “Stand with Dan” and “We Support our LEO’s.” There were other signs as well with vulgarities and overtly racist comments.
I searched for over a half hour for the BLM protesters. I walked through crowds of people, who had speakers blasting country music, drinking beer, laughing on lawn chairs. It felt more like a tailgate than a protest. I even saw children riding bicycles, and a few dogs taking walks with their owners.
At first, I believed that the protest had been cancelled. Organizers from Reno BLM had made an announcement the night before the protest asking people to not attend due to safety concerns. Numerous social media reports regarding self-proclaimed militias had been circulating, and many of them threatened violence against BLM protesters.
Self-proclaimed militia members surrounded the sheriff’s office wearing military fatigues, assault rifles, hand guns, ammo, and bullet proof vests. Others carried bats, knives, shot guns, and homemade weapons.
I crossed Highway 395 at the crosswalk where DCSO deputies clad in riot gear were managing Blue Lives Matter pedestrians. They used their batons to signal for people to cross and when to let cars go past on busy Main Street.
Not thirty yards away, a crowd was forming around a man standing on a transformer box. People were booing and chanting “USA! USA!” drowning out what he was saying.
As I got closer, pushing my way through throngs of unmasked counter protesters, I finally could hear what the man was saying.
“This is America!” he yelled to the crowd. “They have the right to speak!”
While the man himself was not associated with BLM, I quickly realized there were two young BLM protesters inside a vehicle trying to leave the scene. Protesters swarmed the car, screaming at the protesters, who looked to be teenagers, to get out of the car while simultaneously telling them to get out of town.
The car did not move. The occupants held up peace signs from inside.
It was at that point that Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, wearing his signature white cowboy hat, got in the middle of the throng.
“This is Douglas County, this is not how we treat our visitors!” Assemblyman Wheeler, who is not a supporter of the Black Lives Movement, shouted at the crowd. “Here we treat others with respect!”
Two or three military-fatigue-clad men joined the Assemblyman and pushed counter protesters to the side, making a hole through the crowd so the vehicle could leave. It rolled slowly forward, the occupants still holding up peace signs.
At no point were any DCSO deputies visible during the clash.
I realized a large majority of the crowd was continuing down the narrow side street so I followed them toward the court house.
It was there that I finally found the BLM protesters – a handful of young people, many of them juveniles. They were surrounded on all sides by a group of thirty or so counter protesters. The crowd was growing rapidly as more counter protesters joined the circle.
As I climbed the steps to the court house, I observed four DCSO deputies in riot gear, standing at the bottom of the steps, far away from the crowd. A small throng of reporters along with their cameras were attempting to ask the small group of Black Lives Matter protesters questions.
When I got close and stood next to a young, female reporter from KOLO 8 and attempted to listen to what the young man was saying, a large, aggressive white man came up beside me and attempted to shove me out of the way.
“Take your fucking misconduct out of here,” the man screamed in my ear, showering me with spit from his unmasked mouth, which hovered only inches above me.
“Sir,” I said, holding my hand up between us to attempt to separate him from my space.
“Motherfucker,” he screamed, rattling my eardrums.
“Sir, please,” I said to him, while attempting to hold my camera steady.
“I’ll fucking yell if I want to and if you don’t like it you can leave,” he screamed, one inch from my face, yet again covering me in spittle.
“Sir, this is not appropriate,” I told him calmly, though I felt anything but.
Someone I could not see asked him why he was yelling, and he shouted back, “Because I want to yell and it’s my fucking right to!”
I felt a small hand on my shoulder, and turned to find that a young, teenage Black protester had her arm around my shoulders. She never said anything, but just attempted to protect me.
“It’s okay,” I told her, “I’m not moving.”
A few moments later, the protesters decided to move, as they were surrounded yet again by more and more armed counter-protesters. They began walking up the street adjacent to Minden Park.
“Free water!” an older woman in a sun visor yelled. “All lives matter and you all need water!” She was a Lyon County Republican, according to the hand wrapped labels on the water bottle. I gladly took the water from her and thanked her, as it was around 90 degrees at that point. She handed water out to both protesters and counter-protesters alike.
I continued with the march, which now contained both groups of people. Counter protesters lined the streets armed with guns, knives, and bats, screaming profanities at the small group of young protesters.
“You don’t know what you’re doing!” one woman yelled through a megaphone. “You’re supporting a Marxist organization!”
“Take your racist ass on home,” another man said as they passed.
“All race [sic] matters,” a man chanted repeatedly as he followed along. “You people hate your own race!” he yelled at the white protesters, who held up peace signs and did not respond.
As the protesters continued near the Minden Park, a group of young women were crossing the street, some holding hands, others towing a stereo playing reggae music. A large black pick-up truck did not stop as it approached the marchers. It continued into the crowd, slowly, until it hit two young women holding BLM signs. The women stood their ground, and the vehicle continued to inch forward against their legs.
At that point, a young BLM protester threw a water bottle at the windshield of the vehicle, sending a splatter of water droplets into the air.
The crowd exploded. A man dressed in a tan vest with an assault rifle strapped around his chest, came sprinting from behind me and punched the young man in the face multiple times with a closed fist.
Everyone was screaming. A group of counter-protesters, similarly dressed in military fatigues and carrying guns, pulled the man off of the BLM protester.
Another man with an even larger gun strapped to his chest shoved the man back, and pointed a finger in his chest as he yelled something I could not hear over the sounds of yelling from the crowd. Others surrounded him and backed him away from the BLM protesters.
At no point did I see any DCSO deputies nearby BLM protesters.
The protesters continued to march. According to organizer Jerome Silas, they decided for their own safety and the safety of the community they would disassemble. Carson City Sheriff’s Office SWAT members, who had just arrived on scene, moved within the crowd while the Carson City mounted patrol brought up the rear, and BLM protesters moved forward within a crowd of counter-protesters.
Some protesters disbanded, while others continued up 395 back towards the Sheriff’s Office to retrieve their vehicles.
At this point, the crowd returned to being mostly peaceful. All it took were a handful of Carson City SWAT and mounted patrol officers to bring the crowd under control.
Finally, after the Carson City deputies arrived, Douglas County deputies joined the crowd as well.
Meet the BLM Protesters
After the protest in Gardnerville, I found a group of protesters back in Carson City who were having an after-protest meeting and eating pizza.
I spoke with one of the juvenile protesters, 17-year-old Jace Jackson, who I personally witnessed being assaulted numerous times by adult counter-protesters, who shoved, spat on, and hit the juvenile who brought up the rear of the protest.
“For some reason, they came and surrounded us,” said Jackson. “A woman came up and pushed me, but I didn’t do anything back. Then another guy came up and punched me right in the stomach and broke my sign. I don’t know why he did it. They were prepping for the BLM violence, but they were being violent themselves.”
Jackson said that he feared for his life when two adults pinned him up against a vehicle while they marched, before two other counter protesters pulled the assailants off of Jackson.
“Which was really nice of them,” Jackson said.
Jackson is planning on filling a battery report with DCSO about his assault.
Jerome Silas is one of the organizers of Carson City’s Black Lives Matter movement. Silas was the oldest protester I spoke to at the age of 26.
“Today we gathered in Douglas County as the Black Lives Matter movement in Carson City and surrounding areas to address the letter that was written by the sheriff addressing the library and their support of Black Lives Matter, and also calling for defunding the police,” said Silas. “While we were out there, we probably had a maximum of thirty, but we were with hundreds and hundreds of counter protesters, and people in support of the sheriff. As we were expressing ourselves and protesting peacefully, we were immediately met with counter protesters yelling and screaming obscenities, men standing in the face of our young women in an intimidating fashion. People were very willing to show their true colors today.”
Silas said that as they were standing in the “Free Speech Zone,” he and other organizers looked around and realized they were not only surrounded by counter protesters, but counter protesters who were heavily armed.
“They were wearing bullet proof vests, shot guns, hand guns, assault rifles,” said Silas. “We decided that it would be best to move from that immediate location to try and find another station that we could be comfortable, and everywhere we went we were followed and harassed, all the way until we decided to leave to prevent anyone getting hurt.”
Wesley Alexander, 21, attended the rally with his injured mother, and said that counter-protesters refused to allow him to help her when they were separated by the crowd.
“I have lived in the Carson Valley my whole life, my mother has lived here for over 30 years, my family has been here a long time, and I’ve never been more ashamed to be a Douglas County resident than I am today,” said Alexander. “My mother who was there today with a broken toe was walking a little bit slower because of her injury, and we were being chased by this angry mob of counter protesters.
“The [BLM] group was moving ahead and I heard behind me ‘Oh we’ve got a straggler, she’s with BLM’ and people were screaming at her, getting in her face, calling her horrible names. I went back there and told them off and put my arm around her and walked her up. About a block later I realized I had lost her again, so I turned around to try and find her, and tried to walk through the crowd, and the crowd of angry protesters chasing us wouldn’t let me pass. I told them ‘my injured mother is back there and I need to get to her’ and they started screaming ‘Oh he needs his mommy, fuck off,’ and they wouldn’t let me pass.”
Alexander stated that despite his right to walk on the sidewalk, counter protesters made a “human chain” to keep them separated, and shoved him with their hands as well as rifle butts.
“I’m from this valley, I was born and raised here,” said Alexander. “I one-hundred percent felt in fear for my life today.”
The night before the protest, Alexander said he had been walking home in Gardnerville with his girlfriend when he saw numerous self-identified militia members patrolling the streets, and said he had never felt unsafe in his community until that night.
Kelsey Penrose is a native Nevadan journalist covering everything from hostage crises to dog parades in the Northern Nevadan region. Support her work in the Ally.