In addition to the vigil attendees, two other groups of people gathered on the fringes of City Plaza. Across Virginia Street to the west were people wearing the patches of various motorcycle clubs. To the south, men in camouflage, carrying firearms, gathered on the steps of the Pioneer Center. These people had previously stationed themselves on the north side of the old post office but were told by police to move farther away from the vigil.
This Is Reno spoke first with the armed group near the Pioneer Center. They declined to say to which organization, if any, they were affiliated–saying the group was composed of local residents concerned for local businesses and with no anti-BLM agenda.
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“If you actually take the time—which obviously you’re doing—to go look around and talk to people like us, 99 percent of them, 100 percent support what’s going on right there,” said a man armed with an AR-15 rifle. “We are all Constitutionalists. We support the exercising of our Constitutional rights. And we’re glad to see people doing it. We will shake hands with all of them. If it was safe for us to go in there, and they understood our side, we would absolutely be there with them. The biggest thing is what happens after that. Our families work here. Our families live here. Our families go out here. We don’t want to see the city destroyed. That’s really it.”
Some attendees who were leaving the vigil shouted at the armed men to go home and criticized them for bringing firearms to a peaceful vigil.
Interactions between the vigil attendees and motorcycle club members were less hostile.
Jim McClain, a member of the Marines Motorcycle Club and veteran of the Vietnam War, said the clubs were out in the hopes their presence would help keep the peace and dissuade any potential rioters from damaging downtown businesses. He said the Nevada Coalition of Clubs had helped spread the word to bring bikers out to protect business storefronts.
“This is our community,” he said. “And we [Marines] fought for protesters. We love that, but when you start breaking windows and tearing down our neighborhoods—that’s where we have to … These folks are independent folks, and we’re just here to make sure that they’re safe.”
Unlike the other group that turned out to stand watch over businesses, the motorcycle club members largely chose not to arm themselves with open carry firearms or other weapons. Asked why, McClain spoke for himself, saying, “I don’t particularly want to shoot anyone. I’m hoping that just being here will help dissuade folks from hurting these businesses. … And I don’t think these folks [the vigil attendees] came out to be violent.”
Some attendees also dressed in neon vests and acted as mediators, working to de-escalate the situation. Tony Shafton is the leader of a group of about 20 marshalls, or as he calls it, peace keepers. The group formed in light of the Reno Women’s March in 2020 and came out to the vigil as well.
“The best thing is to keep tempers down on both sides,” Shafton said. “In this case, to my perception, is a matter of keeping the righteous on this side from antagonizing the people on that side, because that’s what can give them the excuse.”
Shafton said he and others formed a line between the motorcycle club members and those attending the vigil and encouraged the crowd to just pay attention to the speakers at the vigil. Some speakers encouraged the crowd to have a dialogue with the motorcycle club members and one even took a photo with the group.
One person from a motorcycle club, who said his name is Artybo No Filter, is a part of No Filter MC (motorcycle club). He said he was also there to support the community.
“We’re out here just to say, ‘Protest peacefully. Don’t tear up our city. We live here. We come down here every day, every other day. Do what you do, but don’t tear it up,’” he said.
No Filter also shared his own criticism of law enforcement.
“All cops aren’t bad, but if you have 10 bad cops and a thousand cops that are good, and they’re watching what goes on, you have 1,010 bad cops,” he said. “They have to be able to stop themselves as well. We’re all out here. It’s not Black Lives Matter, it’s all lives matter. I’ve been through police brutality. It’s happened to me, being black, it happens. However, you understand that they’re out here for a reason, serving [as the] protectors they’re supposed to be, but not all of them do that, and it’s fine, because you have those bad apples, but you have to be able to weed those out.”