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City leaders react to neo-Nazi march through downtown Portland

Roughly two dozen members of NSC-131 marched through Portland on Saturday.

PORTLAND, Maine — When around two dozen neo-Nazi members marched through downtown Portland on Saturday, they reportedly called a Black man the N-word and yelled homophobic slurs at counter-protesters.

The protest began with a post on social media, standing in front of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, saying people who are immigrants should go home.

Reza Jalali, the welcome center's executive director, heard the neo-Nazi chants. 

"There's no need for that, and imagine how shocked we were that they had stopped in front of our office... and made statements telling refugees to go home," Jalali said.

Jalali said the statements hurt as Portland sees an influx in the number of people seeking asylum, up nearly 1,000 people since the start of the year.

"I'm really worried about the newly arrived refugees... they come here in search of safety and security and now they're confronted with this group of people who are telling them to go back home. This is their home. They have no home to go back to as this is their home in Portland, Maine," Jalali said.

This is not the first time the group has made appearances in New England — from protesting drag events in Portsmouth and Boston to targeting Somali people in Lewiston. 

The leaders of the group are also facing civil rights charges from the New Hampshire Attorney General's office. But this is one of the only events where the NSC-131 showing turned violent.

Once the neo-Nazi group made it to the steps of Portland City Hall, a confrontation started between the group and counter-protesters.

Video evidence shows an NSC-131 member grabbing and shoving a counter-protester.

That's when Portland police pulled up next to the crowd. One officer reportedly drew a gun and yelled at people to get on the ground.

NSC-131 members left a few minutes after.

Tracking these members is difficult as they mobilize in private chats and wear masks in public.

"It's a very fluid movement where in the past you can join the KKK and stay with it... here we see groups popping up all the time and people move among them," Corey Saylor, research director with the Council for American-Islamic Relations, said.

Saylor said the best way to fight against hate groups like NSC-131 is to get to know your neighbors and community so that when hate groups march again, you can mobilize in a peaceful counter-protest.

"These groups thrive on provoking us and trying to create the worst possible in humanity... they want us to fight with them and we should not give them that satisfaction," Saylor said.

NEWS CENTER Maine reached out to the city of Portland for a response to the march. A spokesperson said it's not a city staff topic, and that any statements from city leadership would need to come from city councilors.

NEWS CENTER Maine also reached out to the Portland Police Department for an interview on how the department handles hate groups when they march, but no one was available.

Portland City Councilor April Fournier said her son is transgender and was at the Equality Maine building when they noticed the march.

Councilor Fournier said the fear the march put in people was downplayed by the city and police department.

"I am not comfortable with just letting it go with, this is what the PD says and it's cool, we're moving on," Fournier said. "Our city is just about to get really busy over the next few months, and so if we don't have a good action plan in place then I am definitely worried about people's safety."

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