Armed demonstrators confront Breonna Taylor protesters in Louisville before Kentucky Derby

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Though Saturday evening’s 146th Kentucky Derby will lack spectators, the horses, jockeys and trainers will be far from alone in Louisville.

On Saturday afternoon, armed demonstrators organized by Dylan Stevens – an online personality known as “The Angry Viking” – confronted protesters who were demanding justice for the shooting death of Breonna Taylor during a police raid. The Taylor protesters are calling for the Derby to be canceled. 

As Taylor activists chanted, “Say her name: Breonna Taylor,” the armed group, which had convened earlier at a downtown park, responded by chanting: “All lives matter,” “U-S-A” and “Back the blue,” referring to police. Groups exchanged heated words with one another, but there were no major physical altercations.

‘Arms race’:Portland shooting shows protesters on the right and the left are bringing guns

A man who gave his name as 'Bob, concerned citizen' held up a sign at a patriot rally Saturday morning at Cox Park. Sept. 5, 2020

Stevens told protesters he does not oppose them. He said the group was there because, in July, the leader of “Not F*cking Around Coalition” said he would “burn the city to the ground” if justice was not delivered for Taylor.

Video taken by Courier-Journal reporters at the scene showed dozens of predominantly white men, women and children with Stevens’ group marching through downtown Louisville, clad in helmets and face masks. They were openly carrying firearms and holding “Trump 2020” and American flags.

There appeared to be little police presence, reporters said.

Meanwhile, Churchill Downs was taking safety precautions following a police situation in the area, according to Louisville Metro Police Department spokesman Lamont Washington said.

“There is an active police situation near the backside to the track,” Washington said. “Because of that, Churchill is taking additional precautions.”

Washington declined to provide further detail.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer warned people Saturday not to believe everything they hear when it comes to protests, saying there has been a plethora of “rumors” and “misinformation.”

“Since protests began, we’ve seen rumors & misinformation circulating on social media, causing unnecessary worry,” Fischer said on Twitter. “@LMPD has a plan and is ready for Kentucky Derby day,” he said, referring to the Louisville police department.

Fischer linked to a web page titled “Information about the Kentucky Derby and protests.” The release says the city “fully supports First Amendment rights and expects peaceful protests.”

“If activities become unlawful, LMPD has plans in place and is prepared to handle the situation,” the page said.

Breonna Taylor and sports:Naomi Osaka wears a mask bearing Taylor’s name before U.S. Open first-round match

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron took to Twitter Saturday morning to say he recognizes protesters want “answers in the investigation into the death of Breonna Taylor.”

“Today, while we honor a KY tradition with the running of the Derby, we remain cognizant of the community’s desire for answers in the investigation into the death of Ms. Breonna Taylor,” Cameron wrote in a tweet. “We continue to move forward with our investigation, reviewing each fact to reach the truth.”

For 101-straight days, protesters have been demanding that Cameron criminally charge the three officers involved in the fatal shooting of Taylor, a Black woman shot to death inside her own apartment on March 13.

Contributing: Grace Hauck, USA TODAY

Follow Ben Tobin on Twitter: @TobinBen.

Continue reading at USA Today