BEMIDJI, Minn. -- A few dozen people gathered in front of the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues on Saturday -- many attendees openly bearing arms -- for a “Rally for our Rights” event.
While rally organizers said the event was intended to be in support of all constitutional rights, the right to bear arms was most prominently on display.
“We're rallying to show our unwavering commitment to the protection of all the rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution of the United States of America,” organizers wrote on the event’s Facebook page. “The goal of this march is to show our community that we aren't going to give up our rights in the same way we're seeing happen in Virginia, California and Colorado.”
Organizers encouraged those who were legally able to do so to carry firearms openly. Many wore their permits on lanyards around their necks.
Nathan Adams, one of the event organizers said the firearms were an attention-getter, but the group was not there to cause alarm or violence, just to send a message.
“Even if you disagree with us, we want to protect your rights,” Adams said. “We’re defending your right to disagree with us.”
Organizers also said their intention was not to support any specific political candidate, although a man organizers identified as a member of the Trump campaign led the group in a “Trump 2020” chant. Adams said the rally organizers did not condone this.
According to rally organizers the event has been in the works since late January.
Local law enforcement was present throughout the event. In the beginning, law enforcement officers checked open carry permits of attendees and issued stickers indicating they had been checked. While the rally attendees were gathered outside the Beltrami County Courthouse, a few members of law enforcement watched from the roof.
Attendees carried signs advocating for various causes. Some made references to a statement Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz made in the past referring to central Minnesota as “mostly rocks and cows.”
One sign read, “Our rights are not debatable,” while another read, “We the people are not rocks and cows.”
The rally began at Paul Bunyan Park, then moved to Bemidji City Hall where the group was led in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Organizer Devin Pierce said the group did not want to intimidate local government officials by showing up to city hall with guns on a day people were working there, but did want local officials to know they were there.
Pierce encouraged the crowd to take videos and photos of themselves in front of city hall and put them on social media to let them know, “you know where they work and you have rights,” he said.
Attendees continued on and posed for a photo in front of First Presbyterian Church before making their way to the lawn of the Beltrami County Courthouse, where they stopped for lunch and listened to community speeches.
Organizers said nine speakers were going to address the crowd, but many dropped out at the last minute.
Beltrami County Commissioner Craig Gaasvig spoke to the crowd at the event, as did Rob Doar, vice president and political director for the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus. Minnesota District 5 Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, was reportedly scheduled to speak as well but was not in attendance.
Organizers eventually cut off the microphone to avoid losing control of the event. Adams said the group was worried things would get out of hand and wanted to make it clear that they did not condone any sort of violence and that the event was not meant to be strictly a Second Amendment rally.
The group encountered a handful of counter-protesters at the event, but organizers said they received much more backlash online.