They screamed and shouted their “anti-fascist” and “solidarity” songs and slogans in front of a huge purple banner with the words: “Shut Down Hate.”
But the few hundred professional protesters — who gathered at Nathan Phillips Square to counter the appearance of a far-right, white nationalist group — were not the slightest bit peaceful or welcoming to media or police, the latter of which nearly outnumbered the protesters.
They went apoplectic at the sight of about 15 members of the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) group, who were barricaded in a small pen with two signs and could not be heard above the commotion.
It was theatre of the absurd at its finest, with the rent-a-crowd creating the most ruckus.
“Go home racists,” they shouted.
Some of the counter-protesters I recognized as supporters of the annual Al Quds Day anti-Israel hatefest, including United Church minister Karen Rodman who spoke in favour of AlQuds at City Hall last week.
A masked member of Antifa — when asked for comment and learned I was from the Toronto Sun — told me to “f-off” several times.
“I don’t really give a f— about what the Toronto Sun has to say…it’s a stupid a– newspaper,” he continued before running away.
Another counter-protester holding an OPSEU banner, who would only identify himself as Julius, called me a “fascist” and “racist” who “lies all the time.”
And here I thought Julius and his pals were there to fight against hate, not perpetuate it.
Another hysterical protester compared the 15 rather sad-looking PEGIDA types to ISIS fighters.
But Jenny Hill, who spoke for PEGIDA, said they were there to warn against “Islamism and hate speech” coming out of mosques.
She said she was also “very, very concerned” about Al Quds Day.
Asked whether they were white supremacists, racists and haters as portrayed by the counter-protesters, Hill said they have “no idea” what PEGIDA is about.
“When they say things like that, it’s slander,” she said. “What we stand for has nothing to do with race.”
She accused Mayor John Tory of “inciting” the city to come out against them.
“He is using the tragedy in New Zealand to push this,” she said. “And I think that’s despicable.”
Tory tweeted the following about the rally Saturday morning:
“I strongly condemn the ideology & tactics of white supremacists planning to demonstrate & disrupt today in our city. There is no place for them in our Toronto. I’ve spoken to Chief @marksaunderstps. He assures me police are aware of event & plans are in place to deal with it.”