The last Statehouse protests ended in fistfights. Now officials worry for inauguration violence.

By: - January 15, 2021 1:05 am

Clashing protesters brawl for the second time Jan. 6 on the Ohio statehouse campus. A man in Proud Boys gear winds up a punch with his right fist clenched. Photo by Jake Zuckerman

It was a peaceful protest outside the Ohio Statehouse. Then it was a crowd of Proud Boys wailing on Dejuan Sharp.

The brawl came a few hours later.

Sharp, a Black man, attended the Jan. 6 protest along with other Black Lives Matter activists when, by his account, a Proud Boy in a baseball helmet called him a “n—er.”

At that point, he crossed from the west side of High Street to the east, where the Proud Boys gathered.

Several recordings of events reviewed by the Ohio Capital Journal don’t clearly show who made the first move. Sharp said in an interview he was hit by a whip. Then he swung.

The Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group clad in black and yellow with a reputation for starting fights with liberal activists, can then be seen in a chaotic fistfight with Sharp, knocking him to the ground. Multiple members threw punches while he was down.

An email from an account belonging to the “Proud Boys of Cleveland” disputed an earlier version of this article referring to the group as a ‘street gang,’ stating the Proud Boys are a “fraternal organization.”

A man in a Proud Boys sweatshirt punches Dejuan Sharp. Source: Sierra Mason.

All this occurred roughly 50 yards from the seat of state government just after noon. The Proud Boys joined supporters of President Donald Trump in baselessly claiming election fraud.

Shortly after the fight subsided, separate footage from the Columbus Dispatch shows Sharp talking to a man in the middle of the street as another large man in a tactical vest approaches from Sharp’s blind side and throws a right hook landing on Sharp’s jaw.

A Proud Boy seen Jan. 6 approaching Dejuan Sharp from the side shortly before throwing a right hook. Source: Doral Chenoweth, Columbus Dispatch. Used with permission.

The violent day of protesting ended in a brawl between Proud Boys and Black Lives Matter activists. Mike Linscott-Hill, one activist loosely affiliated with BLM, said his 17-year-old son, who is white, winded up needing stitches in his lip. Separate footage shows a masked Proud Boy throw a left fist at the teenager. He did not appear to be engaged in the rumble.

Watching it all unfurl were throngs of supporters of President Donald Trump, many wielding assault style rifles, shotguns and handguns. Some with the BLM activists were armed but the weapons were much less prevalent.

All the while, a mob of insurrectionists in Washington D.C. was in the process of successfully breaching the walls of the U.S. Capitol as Congress voted to certify the Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election. The violent effort, which left five dead including a U.S. Capitol Police officer, served as a last-ditch effort to overturn the election — an effort fueled on a lie repeated by Trump and his supporters that Biden won by widespread fraud.

No evidence has substantiated claims of widespread fraud. Courts have dismissed a long spread of lawsuits alleging fraud, and elections officials around the country from both major political parties have dismissed the idea of fraud at enough scale to swing any state’s election.

Staff Lt. Craig Cvetan of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said Thursday no charges have been filed in connection with the fights at the Statehouse last week.

Bracing for impact

Officials fear violent demonstrations at the U.S. Capitol and outside all 50 state Capitols this weekend. This is true in Ohio, though Gov. Mike DeWine declined to detail what evidence is raising this concern.

Along with deploying 700 Ohio National Guard troops to assist in Washington D.C., he said guardsmen will be “out in force” in Columbus, as will the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the force that protects the state Capitol grounds.

Through 2020, guns were a fixture at political demonstrations in Ohio. They were simply everywhere: lockdown protests in spring and racial justice protests in summer were pockmarked with long guns. Three members of the “Ohio State Regular Militia” patrolled the Capitol in November the day networks projected Biden won — they would go on to join the Capitol invasion Jan. 6.

Speaking to reporters, DeWine deflected questions about guns at protests and last week’s fistfights at the Statehouse. He declined to share specific details of the purported threats this weekend but said officials are always concerned about security.

“We have other information, frankly, which I’m not going to talk about,” he said. “So we have a heightened sense of concern, but we’ve always been concerned about security. The focus is always on protecting human life.”

The Ohio National Guard stands post in downtown Columbus. Photo by Marty Schladen.

Mary McCord, a Georgetown University law professor and former DOJ official, said it’s difficult to predict right now exactly what will happen this weekend or how real the threat level is. Some on the right say the alleged protests on Capitols are “law enforcement traps” or “antifa” — the go-to boogeyman of MAGA and right-wing extremism.

The law enforcement in Columbus Jan. 6 was perhaps lax because officers sought to avoid the heavy-handed approaches deployed during unrest this summer. McCord said the police response might be more aggressive after the rioters outnumbered and overpowered Capitol Police last week.

“I think in part what you’re seeing now is a realization: ‘We blew it,’” she said.

A reporter received a candid answer from the OSHP chief after asking how many people are expected this weekend.

“We don’t have any idea,” said Col. Richard Fambro.

Cancel culture

Whether unrest will emerge this weekend is unclear.

What’s evident is many are taking the threat seriously enough to cancel a spread of different political demonstrations — a gut punch given the upcoming MLK day and the traditionally celebratory-turned-militant Inauguration Day.

The Columbus Dispatch reports several demonstrations to honor Andre Hill, an unarmed Black man recently killed by police, as well as an MLK Day event have been canceled.

Speaking earlier this week, Sharp said he was thinking he’ll probably stay home and urging his friends to do the same.

“They’re gonna try to put on a show for the cameras, or whatever Parler posts,” he said. “Me going down there and fighting them isn’t gonna change any laws in Columbus.”

In a text Thursday, he said he’s planning to come demonstrate, but not right in front of the Statehouse.

Linscott-Hill said he and some other BLM activists will be buzzing around the Capitol.

Franklin County Clerk of Courts Maryellen O’Shaughnessy closed county court buildings through Jan. 20.

Judi Phelps, a conservative activist seldom seen without a pistol holstered to her thigh, said “that’s a big no” when asked whether she’s planning any demonstration.

Conservative activist Judi Phelps, a pistol holstered to her leg, yells into a microphone Jan. 6 outside the Statehouse. Photo by Jake Zuckerman.

“This is all a false flag, it’s not something that any one of the groups that I’m associated with has any knowledge of,” she said. “To my knowledge, the Proud Boys are not coming out either.”



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Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.