Neo-Nazi demonstrators march in downtown Madison
A group of about 20 neo-Nazi demonstrators waved swastika flags and used the Nazi salute in downtown Madison on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.
MADISON, Wisc. — A group of nearly two dozen people waving flags displaying Nazi insignia and chanting antisemitic rhetoric marched through parts of Wisconsin’s capital city on Saturday, sparking condemnation from state and local officials.
Demonstrators at the march were part of the “Blood Tribe,” a right-wing, neo-Nazi group with hardline white supremacist views. The group, dressed in red shirts with “Blood Tribe” written on the back, marched in downtown Madison and on state Capitol grounds.
Group members chanted “Israel is not our friend,” threatened “There will be blood” and shouted racial slurs at bystanders while marching. According to social media posts, the group also briefly marched on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus and stopped in front of a local synagogue, Gates of Heaven.
While state and local officials condemned the group’s hateful rhetoric, the Madison Police Department said the group had demonstrated lawfully.
“To see neo-Nazis marching in our streets and neighborhoods and in the shadow of our State Capitol building spreading their disturbing, hateful messages is truly revolting,” Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said in a statement Saturday. “Let us be clear: neo-Nazis, antisemitism, and white supremacy have no home in Wisconsin. We will not accept or normalize this rhetoric and hate. It’s repulsive and disgusting, and I join Wisconsinites in condemning and denouncing their presence in our state in the strongest terms possible.”
The group’s march comes amid skyrocketing reports of antisemitism and Islamophobia across the United States as the Israel-Hamas war stretches into its second month. The march is also the latest neo-Nazi demonstration that has made national headlines, including gatherings outside the Walt Disney World theme park in Orlando, Florida, earlier this year.
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What is the ‘Blood Tribe’ group?
The Blood Tribe became a membership organization in 2021 and claims to have chapters across the United States and Canada, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The group “openly directs its vitriol at Jews, ‘non-whites’ and the LGBTQ+ community.”
The group led demonstrations nationwide in 2023, including a hateful protest at a July “Pride in the Park” event in Watertown, Wisconsin, about 40 miles northeast of Madison. Members of the group brandished rifles, displayed swastikas, and hurled homophobic slurs and threats at LGBTQ+ people during the event.
Christopher Pohlhaus, nicknamed “Hammer,” is the Blood Tribe’s leader and a former U.S. Marine. Pohlhaus was one of two unmasked figures at Saturday’s neo-Nazi march.
Pohlhaus, originally from Texas, founded the group in 2021, according to the ADL. He was present at other Blood Tribe neo-Nazi events in 2023.
‘No place that we feel safe’
The University of Wisconsin-Madison criticized the group’s march and Jennifer Mnookin, the university’s chancellor, called their presence in Madison “utterly repugnant” in a statement Saturday.
“I am horrified to see these symbols here in Madison,” Mnookin said. “Hatred and antisemitism are completely counter to the university’s values, and the safety and well-being of our community must be our highest priorities.”
Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, executive director of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, said people living in Madison sometimes have a false sense of security given its reputation as a progressive enclave.
“We’re living in very, very scary times,” Margulis told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network. “The American Jewish community is very scared right now, as is the Muslim community and the Sikh community… There’s no place that we feel safe.”
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Surge of antisemitic, Islamophobic incidents
Federal, state and local authorities have been on high alert as reports of antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents have increased across the United States since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. Last month, FBI Director Chris Wray warned violent extremists could draw inspiration from Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
According to the ADL, the group has documented 832 antisemitic incidents of assault, vandalism, and harassment between Oct. 7 and Nov. 7.
“This represents a 316 percent increase from the 200 incidents reported during the same period in 2022,” the ADL said in a November survey.
And the Council On American Islamic Relations (CAIR) said there has been an “unprecedented” increase in complaints of anti-Muslim or anti-Arab bias in the month since violence escalated in the Middle East. CAIR said it has received 1,283 requests for help and reports of bias between Oct. 7 and Nov. 4.
Contributing: Christopher Cann and Will Carless, USA TODAY; Jessie Opoien, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Tyler Katzenberger’s reporting is supported by the Poynter and Google News Initiative Misinformation Student Fellowship Program.