MADISON — A group of nearly two dozen people waving swastika flags and chanting antisemitic rhetoric marched on the Wisconsin state Capitol grounds Saturday afternoon, performing a salute originally used by Nazis at political rallies, often called the “Hitler salute.”
The group was dressed in red shirts with “Blood Tribe” written on the back. The Blood Tribe is a neo-Nazi group that promotes hardline white supremacist views and “openly directs its vitriol at Jews, ‘non-whites’ and the LGBTQ+ community,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The neo-Nazi group’s march in Wisconsin’s capital city comes amid skyrocketing reports of antisemitism and islamophobia in the United States as the Israel-Hamas war stretches into its second month.
The group on Saturday chanted “Israel is not our friend,” threatened “there will be blood” and shouted racial slurs at bystanders while marching and chanting other hateful rhetoric.
According to bystander reports, photos posted to social media platforms and local authorities, the group marched up Madison’s iconic pedestrian thoroughfare State Street that connects the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus with the Capitol Square.
The group stopped outside the statehouse near the building’s south entrance around noon Saturday, where it remained for about 30 minutes before marching toward a nearby Madison park.
Videos posted to Twitter show the neo-Nazi group also stopped in front of a local synagogue, Gates of Heaven, the fourth-oldest surviving synagogue building in the United States. The building is currently owned by the city of Madison and has fallen out of active use as a synagogue, according to the city’s website and a Jewish Federation of Madison webpage.
“To see neo-Nazis marching in our streets and neighborhoods and in the shadow of our State Capitol building spreading their disturbing, hateful messages is truly revolting,” Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said in a statement Saturday. “Let us be clear: neo-Nazis, antisemitism, and white supremacy have no home in Wisconsin. We will not accept or normalize this rhetoric and hate. It’s repulsive and disgusting, and I join Wisconsinites in condemning and denouncing their presence in our state in the strongest terms possible.”
Dozens of bystanders expressed open disapproval of the group while they were stopped on the Capitol Square.
One of the demonstrators appeared to be Christopher Pohlhaus, a former U.S. Marine turned Blood Tribe leader, according to matching facial tattoos.
Multiple other state and federal lawmakers from Wisconsin condemned Saturday’s demonstration.
“This has no place in Wisconsin,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin said in a tweet. “At a time when we are seeing disturbing spikes in antisemitism, it is more important than ever to denounce this hate in no uncertain terms.”
Rep. Lisa Subeck, a Democrat from Madison who is Jewish, said the appearance of a neo-Nazi group at the statehouse is “alarming.”
“Especially right now where we’ve seen a rise in antisemitic activity,” Subeck said. “I think it’s something that we should all be concerned about.”
The group marched within feet of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus Saturday. Jennifer Mnookin, the university’s chancellor, condemned the group in a statement.
“The presence of this hateful group in Madison is utterly repugnant,” Mnookin said. “Hatred and antisemitism are completely counter to the university’s values, and the safety and well-being of our community must be our highest priorities.”
Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, executive director of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, said people living in Madison sometimes have a false sense of security given its reputation as a progressive enclave.
“We’re living in very, very scary times,” Margulis told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The American Jewish community is very scared right now, as is the Muslim community and the Sikh community. … There’s no place that we feel safe.”
Both Margulis and her husband, Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison’s Temple Beth El, encouraged people to “lead with love” and reach out to friends and neighbors in marginalized communities who are likely “feeling very alone and very isolated.”
“The second thing is, there’s so much misinformation and disinformation that you can find online on social media, or even just in conversation with people,” Margulis said. “Speak out. Counter misinformation or disinformation. Or if you don’t know, don’t repeat things just because you heard them.”
Both Margulis and Biatch were at an LGBTQ+ Pride event in Watertown in July where about a dozen men dressed in black tops and khaki pants brandished semi-automatic rifles, did Nazi salutes and displayed swastikas.
“Whenever you see or hear messages of hate, you’ve got to counter them with messages of love,” Margulis said.
Stephanie Fryer, spokeswoman for the Madison Police Department, said police became aware of the group’s presence via calls placed to their office. Officers on bikes were dispatched to determine the group’s purpose for marching.
Fryer said police are continuing to monitor the incident, but the demonstration was lawful.
“Whether you believe that’s what this group is doing or not, it’s First Amendment rights,” Fryer told the Journal Sentinel.
The Blood Tribe is known to be armed at past events, but Fryer said the group appeared to be unarmed Saturday.
Molly Beck and Jessie Opoien of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.
Tyler Katzenberger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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