An armed counter protest to “restore order” in Louisville scheduled for Saturday is organized by a member of the Kentucky National Guard, according to social media posts.
“On the morning of June 27, armed freedom fighter patriots will march upon Louisville Kentucky to restore order,” the original post reads. “These Patriotic Americans will remain peaceful unless they find it necessary to defend themselves from opposition.”
The rally comes after weeks of protests against racism and police violence in Louisville after Louisville Metro Police officers killed 26 year-old Breonna Taylor in her home while serving a warrant. Gov. Andy Beshear activated the National Guard and sent members to Louisville to assist local law enforcement with the protests from May 31. The National Guard was withdrawn on June 2, the day after LMPD and Guardsmen shot at local restaurant owner David McAtee while enforcing a curfew. An investigation later determined McAtee was killed by a round fired by a member of the National Guard. Officials say McAtee fired first and law enforcement officers returned fire.
The event Saturday appears to be organized by a Facebook group called “American Freedom Fighters.”
In a Facebook comment, Eli Eaton identifies himself as the creator of the Facebook group and organizer of the march. Eaton’s LinkedIn account lists his occupation as a member of the Kentucky National Guard, as did his Facebook account, which has been deleted this week.
Eaton said via text message that the National Guard has no ties to Saturdays event and that LMPD has been notified but is otherwise not connected. Saturday’s event is neither a protest nor a strategic mission, Eaton said. “We are going politically neutral and in complete peace, however, we will be equipped to defend ourselves shall it become necessary to do so,” Eaton said.
Eaton said the group supports any peaceful protesters. “We only stand in opposition to any and all who create and support destruction or violence.”
Eaton declined to answer other questions, including if or when the members of the “American Freedom Fighters” group would turn to violence.
Maj. Stephen Martin, the director of the Kentucky National Guard’s Public Affairs Office, confirmed that Eaton is a member of the Kentucky National Guard but was not part of the deployment to Louisville earlier this month. Martin said the Guard was aware of the posts and has spoken to Eaton. Martin said Eaton was “not acting on behalf of the Guard, nor was he in uniform. So he’s exercising his right as a private citizen.”
Martin said the post was not reflective of the National Guard, but that the National Guard informed Eaton his posts may be “bringing attention he may not want” to the gathering.
Eaton also posted a video to the Facebook group where he claims to have spoken to a Major with the Louisville Metro Police Department. Eaton said the LMPD was “one hundred percent in full support of what we’re doing” and that he would continue to coordinate with the agency.
“We’re going to do what we can, but we’re going to take direct orders from them. They tell us to do something, we’re going to do it,” Eaton said in the video.
LMPD spokesperson Jessie Halladay said in an email that LMPD has been in contact with the organizers of Saturday’s planned protest.
“LMPD personnel did reach out to organizers of this group planning to counter-protest this weekend to get information for our planning purposes, but in no way did LMPD express support for any disruptive actions being taken by this group or any other,” Halladay wrote. “We support everyone’s right to free speech and expression. Our role is to make sure that takes place in as safe an environment as possible.”
Mayor Greg Fischer also responded to the posts in a tweet Thursday afternoon.
“We are aware of rumors suggesting that armed militia are coming to downtown Louisville this weekend,” the tweet says. “Our message is simple: We don’t need you here. Our focus is on facilitating peaceful protests.”
This post has been updated to include Eaton’s comments.