Neenah man arrested at Green Bay protest has ties to Antifa
Matthew Banta is also charged with pointing a loaded gun at a police officer during a protest in Waupaca County
GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A Neenah man had a flamethrower, smoke grenades and fireworks during a demonstration in Green Bay Saturday night, according to police and prosecutors.
Matthew Banta, 23, is charged with obstructing an officer and two counts of felony bail jumping.
The criminal complaint says Banta “is known to be a violent Antifa member who incites violence in otherwise relatively peaceful protests.” Police say he’s known as “Commander Red.”
Green Bay police say they were called for “a whole bunch of white people with sticks, baseball bats and helmets headed... towards the police” on Walnut St. near Webster Ave.
“I don’t know who comes to a protest with a baseball bat for anything other than criminal or illegal activity,” said Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith.
A responding officer says he saw four individuals walking towards a protest with baseball bats. One man was wearing a metal helmet with goggles and military-style gear with multiple pouches, and was carrying an Antifa flag. When the officer pulled his squad car in front of the group, they ran away. The officer caught Banta, who was carrying the flag, and says Banta “dropped into the fetal position and began crying.” He accused the officer of lying on him; the officer replied nobody was on him.
Banta acknowledged he was headed to the Green Bay protest but denied he was planning to incite a riot.
A Brown County Court Commissioner set a $2,500 cash bond during his initial appearance on Monday.
Three others were caught trying to get into a house on Walnut Street. The person inside wouldn’t let them in and told officers they didn’t know who the people were. The three dropped what was in their hands. One told an officer they were bringing them to the protest for self-defense.
Banta is accused in Waupaca County of pointing a loaded gun at a police officer and biting and kicking an officer during a protest earlier this month. He’s charged there with second-degree recklessly endangering safety and four other charges (see related story). He posted a $10,000 cash bond. A condition of his bond was that he can’t have a dangerous weapon, according to the Brown County district attorney’s office.
“It’s worrisome when people associated with Antifa come here to Green Bay from out of town for the purpose of protesting here or for the purposes of committing violent acts,” said Chief Smith.
Police arrested 15 individuals total on Saturday after a Black Lives Matter protest took a turn and police deemed it unlawful.
“An unlawful assembly is three or more people who gather in such a manner where property damage, or personal injury is likely to occur. We determined this was happening on Washington Street. What was happening was a large group of people had blocked traffic on the street had engaged in throwing a bottle at somebody, were pulling up manhole covers off the street and were blocking traffic,” said Chief Smith.
Police have helped facilitate a number of peaceful protests over the summer.
Action 2 News asked members of Black Lives United-Green Bay (BLU), a community group with a mission to unite folks of color and allies, if they are discouraged when others use otherwise peaceful protests as a way to incite violence.
“BLU is not discouraged by the way folks are grieving...we are in this together. We don’t see rioting as taking away from our message because it actually reinforces the state of emergency that we are in. Folks out in the streets screaming #BlackLivesMatter and their names - we see you and the risk you are taking on behalf of all of us. We honor the lives of Black people taken from us by law enforcement. We say their names and continue to hold our government, elected officials, allies and adversaries accountable to these murders and attempted murders until there are policies passed that uplift Black folks and invest in our communities. We will eradicate white supremacy. We will build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by state and vigilantes. It is our duty,” reads a statement from the group.
Black Lives United canceled a weekend march in Green Bay due to the overwhelming amount of events that took place since Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha Police Officer on August 23. The group is taking this time “to rest and make plans to mobilize around the continued police brutality happening to our brothers and sisters.”
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