On June 27, 2020, a few violent confrontations erupted at Art Hill in St. Louis, Missouri, as different groups of protesters clashed over whether a statue of King Louis IX should be removed from that site. No serious injuries were reported. When videos of these incidents started to circulate online, they were frequently accompanied by the claim that praying Catholics had been attacked by Black Lives Matters protesters.
This is a genuine video of an incident that occurred on Art Hill. However, labeling this video as if it shows Black Lives Matter activists attacking Catholics who were simply praying mischaracterizes the nature of these altercations.
Black Lives Matter Versus Catholics?
We'll go into detail about what transpired in St. Louis, but let's address the general claim right at the top. These videos don't show "Black Lives Matter" activists beating up "Catholics" who were just praying at the feet of a statue of King Louis IX. Claims using this language omit some key details.
The group described as "Catholics," for instance, was partly comprised of individuals who align themselves with hate groups (such as the Proud Boys) and other white nationalist ideologies. Also, this prayer event was organized by the proprietor of a far-right conspiracy website. While there were certainly Catholics who attended this event in good faith, describing this entire group only as "Catholics" omits some very important and relevant details about who exactly was involved in these altercations.
Furthermore, while the politics of the people who organized the counter-protest may align (at least in part) with the Black Lives Matter movement, and while there were Black Lives Matter activists present at this event, this was not an official BLM protest. This counter-protest was organized by Muslim and Jewish activists who wanted the statue taken down in part because of King Louis IX's persecution of Jews in the middle ages.
In mid-June 2020, a petition to have the King Louis IX statue removed from Art Hill and to rename the city of St. Louis, Missouri was filed on Change.org by Umar Lee, a Muslim activist and writer, and two other community activists:
St. Louis has a large and vibrant Jewish and Muslim community and it's an outright disrespect for those who are part of these faith communities to have to live in a city named after a man committed to the murder of their co religionists... I ask all people of good faith committed to the modern values of equity and coexistence to sign this petition to rename the City of St. Louis to something more suitable and indicative of our values.
A few days after this petition was announced, Jim Hoft, the proprietor of the conspiracy theory website Gateway Pundit, started to organize a prayer rally to be held at the base of this statue.
Prayer Event Organized by Jim Hoft of The Gateway Pundit
This prayer event was not organized by a church or a religious group. Rather, it was started by Jim Hoft of The Gateway Pundit, a far-right website that traffics in conspiracy theories and misinformation. The website has been connected to "crisis actor" smears against environmental activists, they spread a "Me Too" hoax aimed at discrediting Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing an investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and they've published inflammatory, misleading, and flat out false content related to mass shootings.
On June 24, 2020, Hoft published an article on The Gateway Pundit calling for all "Catholic and Christian men" in the St. Louis area "to join us in public prayer to save the iconic St. Louis statue in Forest Park."
Hoft wrote: "It’s time the good God-fearing men in this country stand up. We cannot allow the continued assault on our country, our history and our culture. Please meet with us on Saturday at noon in Forest Park at the St. Louis Statue on Art Hill."
Shortly after Hoft called for "God-fearing men" to gather at Art Hill, Lee called on protesters to gather at the same location to "Stop Hate and Racism":
Yes, Catholic Priests Spoke at the Event
Regardless of its politically tinged origins, this event was truly attended by at least two Catholic priests. St. Louis Today (website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper) identified Rev. Stephen Schumacher and Rev. Samuel Miloscia as two of the faith leaders who spoke during the event.
The local news outlet KMOV4 also reported that "many Catholics" were in attendance to pray at the base of the statue:
During Saturday's rally, many Catholics prayed at the base of the statue and said they want to see it remain.
“This is a religious symbol of everything I hold dear. St. Louis is a citizen of heaven," one woman named Beverly said. "We have to take a stand now, we can't allow mob rule, this is totalitarianism."
We reached out to Miloscia for more information but have not been able to find contact information for Schumacher. We'll update this article if more information becomes available.
Members of the Proud Boys Also Attended the Event
Not only was the event organized by the proprietor of a far-right conspiracy website, it was also attended by several members of the "Proud Boys," a hate group according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The St. Louis American reported that at least five Proud Boys were at the event. Two of those people, Mike Lasater and Luke Rohlfing, have confirmed their involvement on social media:
At around 11 a.m., several dozen Catholics – a predominantly white group – and others, including at least two identified members of the white supremacist hate group the Proud Boys, gathered at the statue to pray and to speak about how they believed it should not come down. While there were five men at the gathering who identified themselves as members of the Proud Boys, those whose names have been confirmed as of this writing are Mike Lasater and Luke Rohlfing.
A video shows one of these men with a "proud boys" tattoo on his arm:
Members of the White Nationalist-Linked Invaders Motorcycle Club Were Also in Attendance
A photograph from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows members of the Invaders Motorcycle Club standing guard near the base of the statue. We do not know the identities of these individuals, but the Invaders Motorcycle Club has been previously linked to white nationalist ideologies. Their website, for instance, is adorned with SS lightning bolts.
The Anti-Defamation League writes:
The SS Bolts are a common white supremacist/neo-Nazi symbol derived from Schutzstaffel (SS) of Nazi Germany. The SS, led by Heinrich Himmler, maintained the police state of Nazi Germany. Its members ranged from agents of the Gestapo to soldiers of the Waffen (armed) SS to guards at concentration and death camps.
What Happened During the Two Incidents of Violence?
As far as we can tell, there were two major altercations during this event, the first dealing with a man in a bright green shirt, the second involving a man dressed in black. St. Louis Post-Dispatch captured photographs of the first incident, which apparently started after a pink liquid was poured over the man in the green shirt, whom we will refer to as Paul.
The exact sequence of events that led to the altercation are unclear, but Paul wrote on Facebook that he "applauded" his attacker because the man was told just before the altercation that Paul was a member of the KKK.
Paul also addressed a separate photograph which showed him holding a knife at the protest. Paul said that he did not pull out the knife until after the altercation when he was leaving as a show of strength:
Here is the truth about the knife, yes I had a knife in my pocket at the rally, I did not brandish it until I was leaving after I was hit and flex my biceps as a show of strength and resolve against the Radical Muslim Group that organized the counter protest against the catholic prayerful. It has nothing to do with black people, I love black people. I applaud the guy for hitting me; because he was told that I was a KKK member by Regional Muslim Action Network and Tishaura Jones (our treasurer for St Louis).
Furthermore: where are the pictures of the guys carrying AK-47 and AR-15 rifles at 11 am during prayers Saturday morning or when they can back after dark to tear the statue down, but the trucks with chains didn’t show up?
Paul's assertion that some protesters were armed (although we're not sure of what type of weapons they carried) also appears to be accurate. But it should be noted that Missouri is an open-carry state and we are unaware of any arrests or incidents of violence that involved these weapons.
Terrance Page, the man in the blue bandanna who struck Paul, told KMOV that he believed some of the people at this protest were part of terrorist groups and that they needed to be met with force. Page said: "It’s not acceptable, our country as a whole has failed to do it, that's it."
The second incident took place after the rally ended (not while Catholics were kneeling in prayer before the statue) and involved a man who goes by Walker Moore on Twitter. Moore, who claims to be "unapologetically catholic" in his Twitter bio, has urged his fellow Catholics to fight:
While the photographs and videos from this event appear dramatic, there don't appear to have been any serious injuries. According to St. Louis Post-Dispatch, there was one report of fourth-degree assault to police from a man who said he was repeatedly slapped in the head, but as of this writing no arrests have been made.
Robert Cohen, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer who captured several photographs from this incident, told us there were a few additional minor scuffles. In total, Cohen said, there were five incidents:
The first was when Jim Hoft and the Proud Boys went to leave. They were followed by protesters and their cars were surrounded but no violence. Police on the scene helped the cars leave the area.
The second involved a man who was taking cellphone photos of protesters. A man told him to stop and he didn't. Crowd surrounded him, knocked phone from his hands and took his hat. Police intervened, guy got the hat back and the lieutenant suggested he leave.
The third was a man confronted by Mr. Page who was also filming him. It was quick. Page and others chased him away. Police lieutenant also suggested he leave and then that officer left himself, leaving no police on the scene.
The fourth involved the situation everyone is talking about with Paul Metzger and Mr. Page. There are several photos of that in the gallery link.
The fifth was shortly after the third. Conor Martin and another man wearing black clothing were struck by several protesters. They ran away.
Number four was obviously the most significant one. I would say the first three were minor.
Umar Lee, one of the organizers of the "Stop Hate and Racism" gathering at the statue, disputed the idea that Catholics were attacked for praying during the event. Lee said that he had no problem with the priests or the people praying at the statue, but he did have a problem with the inclusion of the Proud Boys and other white nationalist-connected groups at the event:
Yes, there were devout Catholics, yes there were priest, nobody has any problem with any priests or Catholics praying or anything of that nature. But what we are not going to allow is in Forest park, in the heart of the city of St. Louis, we're not going to allow the alt-right to show up, the proud boys to show up, Jim Hoft to show up and have a rally to spread their white nationalism and not get a check back from us.
Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner said that her office would be investigating this incident, as well as another incident in St. Louis involving a white couple waving guns at Black Lives Matter protesters:
Fr. Thomas Haake Was Not Injured at this Protest
After the incident in St. Louis, a photograph circulated supposedly showing Father Thomas Haake with a black eye.
The photograph on the left was truly taken in St. Louis during this incident. The photograph on the right, however, was not. We have not been able to confirm details about the image on the right, but it was originally shared on Instagram along with the claim that it showed Fr. Haake after he was mugged in Washington D.C. The alleged muggers have not been identified. We have reached out to Haake for more information.
Videos and photographs truly show a few violent altercations between two groups of people who disagreed over the removal of a statue of King Louis IX at Art Hill in Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri, in June 2020. While this event was attended in good faith by some Catholics who wanted to pray for the statue to remain, this prayer rally was organized by a hyperpartisan conspiracy website, not a church, and involved several people associated with hate groups and white nationalist ideologies.