CLEVELAND — It’s getting warmer here at the Republican National Convention, and tensions are rising. On Tuesday afternoon, right-wing conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones strode into a crowd gathered in Cleveland’s Public Square, drawing the attention of Trump supporters, the media, and members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, who screamed in his face: “Off our streets, Nazi scum.” Caught in a scuffle on the stone steps leading up to the speaker podium at the south end of the square, Jones was quickly and unceremoniously ushered out of the scrum by police.
Jones wasn’t under arrest. “For safety reasons, we escorted Mr. Jones away from the situation,” a very tired-sounding spokesman for the Cleveland Police Department told Gawker. “Cooler heads prevailed.”
“COMMUNISTS ATTACK ALEX JONES OUTSIDE RNC,” blared the headline on InfoWars.com later on Tuesday. “It looks like the communists started to attack Alex,” a videographer narrated, “and he defended himself.” A representative for the site did not respond to a request from Gawker. In another video, Jones says he shoved a demonstrator away who had been throwing punches.
The CPD spokesman said no one else involved in the incident was arrested or detained, and that Jones was the only one escorted out of the square.
In any case, it didn’t take long before the battle lines were redrawn: Communists, anarchists, members of the Industrial Workers of the World, and Black Lives Matter activists screamed across a line of implacable police at religious fundamentalists bearing very tall and wordy signs, demanding that the leftists—and everyone else, presumably—repent.
“America,” a man wearing a shirt emblazoned with a Gospel verse said, “It’s time to build walls—walls against sin, walls against wickedness, walls against inequity.” A black man who was, according to his t-shirt, “Proud to Be an Infidel,” snarled at the protesters, “We know you hate white people. We know you’re racist. We know who you are.”
“Smash the state / smash the state / America was never great,” the anarchists replied.
Periodically, lines of police officers would sprint through the crowd, forming human barriers—sometimes supplemented with bicycles, which were used as improvised shields—breaking groups of demonstrators down into smaller and smaller units.
One IWW member, Pat Mahoney, told Gawker that the Wobblies had held a kind of salon in the square on Monday, engaging with individual Trump supporters on the issues, working to repurpose their political alienation from aimless, xenophobic Trumpism to the international union’s revolutionary industrial unionism.
“But this,” Mahoney said, referring to the people yelling at each other around the square, “you’re not gonna change anybody’s mind with this. This is just a show of force.”
“Individual Trump supporters you can engage with, but when they’re in a big group, surrounded by racists—well, they’re gonna be racist,” he said. “And when Alex Jones shows up and starts shoving, we’re gonna hold our ground. We’re not pacifists.”
As the police took over more and more of the square, the anarchists and other leftists retreated, chanting, “Fuck the pigs, we don’t need ‘em; all we want is total freedom!”
An older, gray-haired man watching the demonstrations shook his head. “You can’t have ‘total freedom,’” he said, half under his breath and half to two passing anarchists, black bandanas covering their faces. “People would be killing everyone!”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have total freedom,” one replied, “if you have murderous tendencies.”
“You’re right,” the old man said.