JEFFERSON CITY — About 250 people attended a unity rally Saturday in response to a National Socialist Movement parade and demonstration originally planned for downtown Columbia.
"Thank you for coming to the real event today," Jefferson City Police Capt. Doug Shoemaker said to the unity rally’s attendees. "This is how we celebrate who we are. While they (the National Socialist Movement) try to divide us because of our diversity, we celebrate that diversity."
The National Socialist Movement rally brought about 50 demonstrators, including women and children — one of whom was being pushed in a stroller — to the steps of the state Capitol for a two-hour demonstration. Shoemaker estimated about 90 people, most of whom were journalists, attended the group’s rally.
"The crowd was nonexistent," Shoemaker told the cheering participants at the unity rally at McClung Park.
At the National Socialist Movement rally, police arrested two people on suspicion of assault and resisting arrest. Both were counter-demonstrators who assaulted National Socialist Movement members and a police officer, Shoemaker said.
Across town at the unity rally, the environment was much warmer and more organized, said Brian Bennett, 26, a Columbia resident who attended both rallies.
"I’m proud of Jefferson City for holding this," he said. "Everybody’s talking about peace, unity and togetherness."
The unity rally featured speeches from Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder as well as representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Anti-Defamation League, Lincoln University and several religious groups.
The National Socialist Movement applied in August to hold a rally and parade in Columbia, but police denied the request, saying they did not have the resources to manage both the rally and a home MU football game against Kansas State University on the same day.
The group marched and held a rally in Columbia on March 10, 2007. The march lasted about 45 minutes and cost the city almost $40,000 in security and supplies. About 500 spectators and counter-protesters attended the 2007 demonstration, according to Missourian archives. As mild disturbances broke out along the parade route, seven people were arrested, and police used pepper spray.
About 3,000 Columbia residents responded to the 2007 parade by attending an alternative event in Douglass Park called "Spark in the Park." The NAACP also held a demonstration outside the Boone County Courthouse.