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Demonstrators stand in front of the Medford Police Department as part of a 'Back the Blue' rally supporting local law enforcement Saturday morning. The rally drew controversy because of initial involvement with an organization of national anti-Islam demonstrations from which local organizers later withdrew. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

'Anti-Muslim' rally turns out to be pro-police

As a passing car honked its way down Eighth Street Saturday, participants in a rally they said was to support police decided the driver was backing their cause and cheered.

Some of the 10 demonstrators standing outside the police station wearing blue shirts, waving American flags and carrying signs saying "God Bless Our Police," "Back the Blue" and "Blue Lives Matter," seemed confused by the sight of over 100 people gathered for a peace-focused counter-rally in Alba Park.

"We're not the anti-Islam group," demonstrator Doug Gould told a woman who crossed the street to confront the his group. "We're the 'support the police' group."

Patrick Leiser, who organized the "Back the Blue" event in front of the police department, said his event was meant as a family-friendly rally in solidarity with local law enforcement and other first responders.

"This is anti-hate. We're just supporting our men and women in blue," Leiser said.

However, until late Friday night Leiser's rally was affiliated with the "Global Rally for Humanity," a nationwide series of protests in 20 cities targeting Islam and organized by extreme right-wing organizations Oath Keepers and The Three Percenter's Club. Other Global Rally events were held primarily around mosques on Oct. 9 and 10, and the national Global Rally for Humanity Facebook page is filled with statements such as: "Standing up against Islam does not mean you're racist or a bigot, it simply means you're not an idiot and can see the reality of Islam around the world."

"Once I saw that they were anti-Muslim, I pulled myself from the group," Leiser told a peace demonstrator who crossed the street to speak to his group. 

The social justice group Oregon Action organized the counter-rally on Tuesday after learning that a Global Rally for Humanity event was slated for Medford on Oct. 10. The organization reached out to local congregations and progressive organizations.

On Friday night, Oregon Action got word the "Back the Blue" organizers had requested the national Global Rally for Humanity remove Medford from its map.

"While that's good news, we're just concerned that a rally like this could be planned in the first place," said Michelle Glass, a regional organizer for Oregon Action. Glass said the "Back the Blue" demonstrators' withdrawal from the Global Rally for Humanity was a "re-branding," and cited an Oregon-based Global Rally for Humanity Facebook page with anti-Muslim rhetoric as evidence of a major shift in focus.

"In response to this sort of outpouring, they pulled their event," Glass said.

The flier Leiser emailed to the Mail Tribune Wednesday announcing the planned demonstration spoke only of supporting law enforcement, but it did include the logo associated with the Global Rally for Humanity. By Friday afternoon, Leiser posted the same flier on the Rogue River Police Department's Facebook page, but the Global Rally for Humanity had been replaced with a "Prayers for UCC" image.

Leiser vehemently denied any involvement with Oath Keepers and The Three Percenter's Club, groups that advocate armed resistance to government actions they consider unconstitutional. He said he only wanted to hold a peaceful event supporting police.

"I don't see any Oath Keepers. I don't see any anti-Muslims. This is not a hate rally," Leiser said. "Like that sign, 'Wage Peace, Not War,' I'm in support of that," he said, pointing at a peace demonstrator.

"We're God believers. We love everybody," police demonstrator Sherri McNeely said.

On the other side of the street, SOU professor Alma Rosa Alvarez stood with Victor Chang encouraging unity.

"We had heard there was an anti-Muslim rally, and I felt really sad that there'd be an anti-anything," Alvarez said.

She said she has a brother who's a police lieutenant and a cousin who's a sergeant. At the conclusion of the peace rally she approached an officer to clarify that she personally isn't against law enforcement.

"We don't believe anyone here is," the officer replied. "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

 

—Reach newsroom assistant Nick Morgan at nmorgan@mailtribune.com.

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