Omaha police arrested eight people and used pepper balls to disperse counterprotesters at a Make America Great Again rally Saturday in front of the Douglas County Courthouse.
The 2 p.m. rally drew about 100 people for what was billed as an event to show support for President Donald Trump, veterans, first responders and law enforcement.
An estimated 50 counterprotesters on hand were told to gather at the base of the stairs to the courthouse. A few minutes into the rally, another group about the same size, with people wearing all black and concealing their faces — a tactic known as black bloc — marched past the rally. Many in that group were associated with the group Antifa Nebraska, which calls itself an anti-fascist organization.
More than a dozen police officers, a few on horseback and others with bicycles, attempted to push that group back with a barricade of their bicycles, yelling “Get back!” Moments later, police fired pepper balls at the feet of the protesters, releasing a stinging gas. One woman fell to the ground, saying she had been hit with one of the balls. Minutes later she limped down stairs on the other side of the courthouse. Police called for an ambulance. No one was taken to a hospital.
About a half dozen protesters were pulled from the crowd by officers; some were pushed to the ground and handcuffed.
The people who were arrested were booked into the Douglas County Jail on suspicion of crimes such as disorderly conduct, carrying a concealed weapon, unlawfully throwing fireworks and committing acts tending to incite a riot.
Smoke in the area came from a smoke device deployed by an anti-Trump protester, a police spokesman said.
The commotion did not disrupt the rally. It continued even after the black bloc protesters were dispersed.
Eris Koleszar, 31, didn’t agree with the use of pepper balls. She was among protesters standing at the base of the stairs before the group in black arrived.
“The black bloc protesters are making a strong stance that is much needed,” she said. “But it definitely escalated with police as soon as they arrived.”
Melynda Ream, 27, attended the rally as a Trump supporter.
“It’s very upsetting that neither side can exercise freedom of speech peacefully right now.”
Shayla McShannon, 36, also was at the rally to support Trump. She said she would have liked to have had the chance to talk with the protesters and felt bad for those who were not in the group wearing black.
“I know police maybe couldn’t differentiate between who was causing a problem, but all of the protesters lost their voice because of this,” she said. “Today was a perfect example of how divided we have all gotten.”
Despite the disruption, Jon Tucker, chairman of the Douglas County Republican Party, said the rally was a success.
“I’m just thankful that people showed up on a cold, rainy day,” Tucker said. “A lot of Trump supporters have felt silenced. I hope this was a way to feel heard, too.”
At a Make America Great Again rally on Saturday in Huntington Beach, California, a protester was tackled by Trump supporters after he used pepper spray on the crowd of hundreds of Trump supporters.
Some supporters punched and kicked the protester, then chased the man as he ran off. The protester jumped over a fence and started running along the Pacific Coast Highway, where he was detained by California Highway Patrol officers.
A planned Rally for Democracy at Turner Park in Omaha was canceled Saturday because of wet conditions. Organizers of that event were the Women’s March on Omaha, Indivisible Nebraskans and Suit Up Nebraska.
World-Herald staff writer Emerson Clarridge contributed to this report, which includes material from the Associated Press.