The Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists that shared the stage with Donald Trump supporters at the “Mother of All Rallies” on Saturday are a “fake” imitation that “does not share our principles, politics, or values,” according to the movement’s official chapter in Washington, D.C.
That might explain why media, attendees, and political observers seemed so surprised by the constructive dialogue and aura of patriotism that ensued — outcomes uncharacteristic of typical BLM disruptions.
By the end of the event, news cameras had captured images of Trump fans — and their children — posing for pictures alongside activists from an organization called Black Lives Matter of Greater New York (BLM-NY). That scenario has created confusion for those unable to differentiate between BLM knockoff groups and official BLM chapters.
“We don’t want handouts; we don’t want anything that’s yours,” Hawk Newsome, President of BLM-NY, told the crowd of mostly Trump supporters gathered on the National Mall. “We want our God-given right to freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Newsome’s reference to the Declaration of Independence drew cheers, but onlookers were less enthusiastic when he spoke out against police brutality.
Nevertheless, Black Lives Matter-DC spurned Newsome’s collaboration, labeling it a “pro-fascism rallying” and “Trump cheerleading.” The official branch apparently took offense to another group speaking in the name of BLM on their home turf.
“I feel like two sides that never listen to each other actually made progress today,” Newsome told NowThis Politics after exchanging ideas with rallygoers. “We really made some substantial steps without any side yielding anything. I hope they understand that one of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement is a proud American, and a Christian, who cares deeply about this country.”
“We really are here to help this country move toward a better place, not to destroy it,” he continued.
Founded in 2016, BLM-NY’s presence sometimes even confuses like-minded progressive groups within the tri-state area. Just last weekend, the Queens branch of the Democratic Socialists of America mixed up BLM-NY with the city’s less visible official chapter, Black Lives Matter-NYC (BLM-NYC).
“The difference between (BLM) Greater New York and (BLM) NYC is that we actually do the work and we’re always on the front lines,” Nupol Kiazolu, who leads BLM-NY’s Youth Coalition, told The Daily Wire. “We are all working toward black liberation and liberation for people of color, but we go about it in different progressive ways.”
“I don’t think we are in competition with the national group or Black Lives Matter-NYC,” said Kenneth Shelton Jr., BLM-NY’s Queens Director. “There’s no rivalry, especially when it comes to organizing black people. I welcome all people to get out here to do the work.”
Since its creation, BLM-NY has frequently organized protests and demonstrations throughout five boroughs. Its membership roster includes pop star, Nick Cannon. Similar to official BLM chapters, many of its activists are police and prison abolitionists seeking to dismantle institutions they believe were built on the concept of white supremacy.
However, there are fundamental differences between the group Newsome heads and the network’s certified 38 chapters. For example, BLM-NY is led by a man, while three women co-founded the BLM conglomerate. Its platform does not emphasize gay and transgender people, which have always been a focal point of the original movement. BLM-NY implements the red, black and green colors of the Black Liberation flag into its logo, while sanctioned BLM chapters tend to use black and yellow.
Also, Newsome’s group often takes its organizing efforts outside of New York City – actions that triggered the disparaging comments from Black Lives Matter-DC.
BLM-NY was part of a contingent of approximately 25 activists that traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, last month to confront an assembly of white supremacists. They were there when an alleged neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring several others. Days later, BLM-NY joined thousands of protesters outside Trump Tower in condemning the president’s reaction to the tragedy.
Newsome’s group might not be bona fide BLM, but it could continue to shape the public perception of the BLM Global Network as its official chapters shift strategies away from traditional street protests. All the while, infuriating authentic branches like BLM-DC.
“It hurt me that they denounced us like that, like we’re not really for the movement, like we’re traitors,” said Kiazolu, who joined Newsome onstage during Saturday’s rally. “They are dismissing all of the work we’ve done. We put our lives on the line. I was almost killed in Charlottesville.”
“We don’t support Trump,” Kiazolu insisted. “Period.”
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.