Kalkaska protesters argue about hate and freedom of speech in response to FB posts

Jun 24, 2017

 

Last night, hundreds of protesters gathered in downtown Kalkaska. Two groups stood on either side of U.S. 131 near the National Trout Memorial. The protest was over Facebook posts made by Kalkaska village president, Jeff Sieting.

In the posts and re-posts Sieting refers to Islam as quote “flesh-eating bacteria,”  calls for the bombing of Muslim cities, and encourages liberals to get a "pet Muslim." 

Kalkaska Village President Jeff Sieting frequently posts anti-Muslim rhetoric on his personal Facebook page.

On one side of the street were the people opposing the posts. Their demonstration was called "No Hate in Kalkaska." They held signs that said things like “love not hate,” “hate has no place here” and "views expressed by Jeff Sieting are not those of Kalkaska."

 Michael Henriet, a Kalkaska resident, on that side of the street, holds a broom and is sweeping.

He says he sweeps because, "they suggested on Facebook that we try to clean up the mess that we voted into office." That mess to clean up, he says, is Sieting. Some protesters are calling for the village president’s resignation.

 

 

Counter-protesters and curious villagers square off against "No Hate in Kalkaska" protesters to show their support for Jeff Sieting.
Credit Dan Wanschura

Now on the other side of the street are counter-protesters in support of Sieting and his right to free speech.

"I don’t agree with a lot of what he said," says Steve Ordway, one of the organizers of the counter-protest." You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to like it, but he can say what he wants."

 This sentiment was echoed by many counter-protesters.

 

A biker in support of Jeff Sieting gets in the face of a member of Redneck Revolt, a group that came armed to – they say – protect the "No Hate in Kalkaska" protesters.
Credit Dan Wanschura

These two yelled at each other for awhile, swearing, but they checked themselves when things got too heated saying "no aggression."
Credit Dan Wanschura

A number of counter-protesters crossed the street to talk with the "No Hate" demonstrators. There were a number of heated interactions where people yelled and swore at each other. As one person would get sick of yelling, other people would step in and take over. A strong police presence was there watching. Of course, these altercations are the ones you notice. There were also counter-protesters quietly moving through the crowd, talking to the "No Hate" protesters. 

These conversations were not relegated to the Facebook posts. People argued about Trump, abortion, the second amendment and religion. 

 

Counter-protesters block the sign of Redneck Revolt with their American flags. The sign says in Arabic that Redneck Revolt stands with Muslims.
Credit Dan Wanschura

There were a lot of guns there on both sides of the street. There’s a group called Redneck Revolt carrying a sign in support of Muslims. They have rifles strapped to their backs. They say they’re there to protect the “No Hate” protesters from the counter-protesters.

 

Protesters and counter-protesters square off on either side of U.S. 131 in the Village of Kalkaska.

At one point, everyone chants "U.S.A, U.S.A., U.S.A." on both sides of the street. This is symbolic because there was actually a lot both sides agree on. Most people on both sides of the street said they thought Sieting has the right to say what he thinks, even if they don’t like it. Most counter-protesters were in agreement with the "No Hate" protesters that they don't endorse what Sieting's posts say. They don't think all Muslims are bad and should be killed. The people who got the chance to talk to each other on the opposing sides did figure this out.

"They’re saying the exact same thing, man," Sam Fahl, whose carrying a sign that says "Yes to Trump, No to Hate" says to Tom Steiner. "[The "No Hate" protesters] believe in their guns. They believe in free speech, and they like America."

Mark Rosenberg came as a counter-protester to the "No Hate" demonstration. He crossed the line and had conversations with those demonstrators, and said if you speak to people civilly and with respect, that's what you'll get back. At least that was his experience.
Credit Dan Wanschura
This Facebook repost by Kalkaska Village President Jeff Seiting incited the strongest reactions.