Competing protests bring crowds, flags, signs but not feared violence

A Black Lives Matter rally and a wave of counter-protestors filled sidewalks and part of Berkeley Springs State Park on Friday, August 21 with hundreds in attendance. The events wound down without violence or injuries as darkness fell. A heavy police presence around the park served, at times, as a physical barrier between the two groups — those who rallied in favor of the Black Lives Matter movement and crowds of people who shouted out competing slogans and heckled speakers at the Berkeley Springs State Park gazebo. Worries about potential conflict and violence downtown led the county to close the courthouse early on Friday, and caused many local residents to avoid the downtown area.

Rally organizers Larry Schultz, Katie Spriggs and speaker Kate Lehman lead the crowd in chants.

Black Lives Matter speakers were partially drown out as counter-protestors shouted for speakers to “Go home” and “Shut up.” Shouting and verbal sparring between the protestors once or twice escalated into shoving, but police officers moved between parties, separating them without force.

The majority of Black Lives Matter supporters stayed to the north of the gazebo as counter-protestors moved into the park at the start of the event, many waving American flags and several hoisting Trump flags in the air. Organizers of the counter-protest appeared to be members of motorcycle groups, some of which had set out for the rally from Martinsburg. One rally attendee said he was one of 30 to 40 vehicles in a caravan from Martinsburg to Berkeley Springs on Friday afternoon.