Flag Burned, Gates Stormed As Protesters Unleash Chaos Outside DNC Arena

Above Photo: America signs fill the crowd as Bill Clinton takes the stage during the Democratic National Convention Tuesday, July 26, 2016. James Robinson, PennLive.com

In the end, Bernie Sanders’ peace and love movement went away angry on Tuesday night, very angry.

Minutes after his one-time political rival in the race for president clinched the Democratic Party’s nomination, supporters of Sanders stormed the gates at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, overpowering officers, scaling a security fence and at times lobbing plastic bottles at a phalanx of assembled lawmen. The activity was enough to draw a spraying of mace but little more.

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America signs fill the crowd as Bill Clinton takes the stage during the Democratic National Convention Tuesday, July 26, 2016. James Robinson, PennLive.com
James Robinson | jrobinson@pennlive.com
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on July 26, 2016 at 11:42 PM, updated July 27, 2016 at 12:26 PM
In the end, Bernie Sanders’ peace and love movement went away angry on Tuesday night, very angry.

Minutes after his one-time political rival in the race for president clinched the Democratic Party’s nomination, supporters of Sanders stormed the gates at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, overpowering officers, scaling a security fence and at times lobbing plastic bottles at a phalanx of assembled lawmen. The activity was enough to draw a spraying of mace but little more.

Protests intensify at DNC, overrun police
What had started as a loose collection of Sanders supporters watching that afternoon’s roll call vote broadcast live from the convention floor on big screens erected in a nearby park, quickly became a massive and contentious march down a main thoroughfare in this sweltering and increasingly tense American city. This after Sanders lost the delegate count to Clinton — 1,865 to 2,842 — that afternoon.

After the vote, irate Sanders supporters marched from the viewing area in FDR Park to the convention hall’s fortified security perimeter nearby. There were bullhorns produced, and vows to “lift the gate.” At one point the demonstrators succeeded in forcing police back from a secure area that had been off-limits all week.

Overrun, the officers retreated behind the perimeter’s fencing. As they attempted to close an opening behind them, protesters worked to force it open. They were ultimately unsuccessful.

After more than an hour spent there, banging on the gates and waiting for Clinton delegates to exit the arena, the group eventually migrated north on Broad Street, where they met a separate Black Lives Matter march already in progress and already headed toward the convention hall.

The merger, born near the intersection of Broad Street and Oregon, created the largest and most volatile demonstration seen in the city so far this week, with police vastly outnumbered and increasingly the subject of communal anger.

There were skirmishes between members of the crowd at times, and officers were repeatedly shouted down or forced to retreat on their motorcycles and in their vehicles as the hybrid march grew in size, dwarfing the somewhat casual law enforcement presence in the streets.

Throughout the week, officers have chosen a retreat-rather-than-engage approach, likely looking to avoid an ugly spectacle played out on the world’s stage. That approach continued during Tuesday’s demonstrations as well, and only a handful of arrests were reported or spotted. Almost all involved demonstrators who had scaled the security fence outside the DNC in front of a waiting officers.

Once the hybrid march reached the convention hall gates, it quickly fizzled out, with groups splintering off in different directions.

Only scattered collections of people remained as of 11 p.m., while a sizable yet calmer candlelight vigil — one marking the “death of democracy” — continued as of midnight in the park.

But the frenzied activity that touched off hours earlier had revealed deep divisions among the protesters here, divisions that only worsened as the day and demonstrations wore on.

Police push back protestors during a Black Lives Matter march on day 2 of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. in Philadelphia. Sean Simmers, PennLive.com July 25, 2016 Sean Simmers | ssimmers@pennlive.com

Police push back protestors during a Black Lives Matter march on day 2 of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. in Philadelphia. Sean Simmers, PennLive.com July 25, 2016
Sean Simmers | ssimmers@pennlive.com

Some Sanders supporters were visibly angered over the aggressive tone of Tuesday’s protests after days spent thanking police and extending the olive branch.

At one point, a female Sanders supporter was shoved after confronting a group of masked demonstrators who had burned an American flag in a small fire on the ground outside the Wells Fargo Center’s security fence, feet from on-looking officers.

She accused the fire starters of being outside agitators and of “hijacking the [Sanders] movement,” before walking away in disgust.

Others called similar shows of force necessary. In doing so, they have revealed a tug-of-war now underway for the soul of the movement itself.

“People are restless. We don’t know where we are going and we know fraud has been committed in there [the DNC],” said a marcher from Tennessee who identified herself only as Rosa.

“And I don’t say that because I’m a Bernie supporter. I say that because the whole system is corrupt, and a lot of us are waking up.”

Even among those protesters disputing each others’ tactics, all agreed they were angry.

Jill Stein, Green Party Presidential candidate, meets up with protestors on Broad St. during day 2 of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. in Philadelphia. Sean Simmers, PennLive.com July 25, 2016 SEAN SIMMERS

Jill Stein, Green Party Presidential candidate, meets up with protestors on Broad St. during day 2 of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. in Philadelphia. Sean Simmers, PennLive.com July 25, 2016
SEAN SIMMERS

That same sense of resentment is now also fueling the popularity of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein among a particularly rigid segment of Sanders’ base — one refusing to embrace his former opponent, Hillary Clinton, even with Sanders himself repeatedly urging them to do so.

It was against this backdrop that Stein joined Tuesday evening’s hybrid march on Broad Street as it wound its way south toward the convention hall gates. Once it arrived, she addressed the crowd.

“I heard the delegates had walked out [of the convention] and I wanted to support them in the vision of this ‘Bernie or bust’ campaign that is leading the way forward,” she said minutes earlier.

Stein had addressed a similar crowd of supporters that afternoon in a rally outside City Hall, and she was welcomed into the fold Tuesday evening with cheers of “Jill, not Hill,” before being swarmed by supporters and members of the media at the gates.

Soon after she finished speaking there, the crowd began to disperse. Some loitered, others walked into the nearby park or headed for the subway.

Calm was restored, but a driving anger remains here. Protesters say it is unlikely to fade anytime soon.

“We tried to believe in it [the system],” the marcher calling herself Rosa said. “But it’s a bunch of bullsh–.”

Behind her, fellow protesters continued their chants of “Burn it down,” directed at the convention hall. But their voices had begun to sound tattered and thin.

They will likely return, however, with more protests scheduled throughout the week and culminating in Clinton’s acceptance of the Democratic nomination on Thursday.

“The movement has to keep on moving,” one explained.