Update, July 3, 1:50 p.m.: Moonshine Ink updated the article to black out the profile pictures of those who posted (or attempted to post) on Facebook with threats about the vigil.
The crowd of roughly 1,500 people lining Donner Pass Road on June 2 likely had little idea of some of the conversations taking place in advance of the Say Their Names Vigil. They made signs displaying the names of Black Americans killed by police or lynchings; then they came, they knelt, and they left.
But behind the scenes of the peaceful demonstration, multiple threats were broadcast across social media, making local business owners nervous and leading to increased police security.
Demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement still taking place all across the country were at their most well-attended in the U.S. and world at that point. On the surface level the vigil seemed to go off without a hitch: Truckee police confirmed no issues, arrests, or misconduct occurred during the event, but organizers of both the vigil and ultimately canceled march either received threats and concerns directly or were notified of such by police.
Christa Finn, co-owner of The Pour House, was one of the vigil coordinators and said that in the days leading up to the vigil, multiple opposing parties popped up.
“One thing was a local young person pulled our invitation off Facebook, our [Tahoe Truckee] Indivisible page,” she told Moonshine Ink, “and changed some of the wording … from a peaceful vigil to something that said come to downtown Truckee and violently loot. He changed the wording to be an invitation for destruction.”
Finn and her fellow organizers got in contact with local police, and the post (pictured in this article with the profile name of the author blacked out) was pulled down quickly — though not before screenshotted and spread around to other communities. Finn said eventually people in Incline Village and Kings Beach were mentioning the post and “that thing combined with other more broad-based, kind of hoaxy, scammy things — Antifa coming to small towns, that snowballed in some people’s psyches into real fear and real concern.”
The vigil’s Facebook event page required administrator approval for a comment to be posted, a good decision, said Silke Pflueger, another vigil organizer, because of a user who attempted to list out Pflueger’s personal information.
“There was this post from a woman down in Sparks,” Pflueger explained. “… It essentially said to the people that are planning this, you definitely want to create havoc and riots and the Town of Truckee cannot deal with this, so whoever needs to know who’s doing this, here are their addresses to ensure you go there afterward and smash up their places.”
See a screenshot of this post, as well as a later comment, below, with names redacted. Moonshine Ink reached out to the adults involved in the anti-vigil Facebook posts, but they either declined to comment or did not respond. Truckee police, too, declined to comment on confidential information they received in relation to the event, though two records in the department’s press log were reported in relation: One, a “suspect posted a social media campaign related to the recent riots and was attempting to facilitate additional unrest in the downtown Truckee area” on June 1; the second, a “protest information report” made June 3. Police presence was in fact upped due to concerns for public safety.
ON DISPLAY: An individual attempted to share the personal information of Silke Pflueger, one of the vigil organizers, on Facebook. Additionally, a man expressed his own concern with the potential number of demonstrators showing up. Pflueger said, “In order to diffuse, we added a bunch of people as event organizers.” Courtesy screenshots
“The vigil did not have any outstanding issues, no arrests, or misconduct,” wrote Deverie Acuff of the police department, in an email. “The organizers worked in collaboration with the Truckee Police Department, and a number of law enforcement partners worked to prepare and ensure the events remained safe.”
Another business owner in downtown Truckee, who Finn declined to identify, came to her with concern over what the demonstration might erupt into. Finn says she was told by this person that she and the other organizers “were just inviting destruction and this town was going to burn down. This was just in the hours leading up. There were going to be armed downtown, a group of locals who would have guns and protect their properties, [and] if they saw people they didn’t think belong here, they would take action.”
While the vigil went on, the march was canceled just hours before it was scheduled to take place. Originally, the march organizer, who asked to remain anonymous, planned to start at the Jax at the Tracks parking lot, walk across the train tracks, go past the fire station, and then along the storefronts on Commercial Row.
When she heard some business owners would potentially take up arms that evening, she shifted the route to stay on the south side of Donner Pass Road, across from most of the businesses.
She explained she received a Facebook message the day of the event warning her that certain storefront owners “were devastated that we would hold a demonstration here in Truckee because of concerns of other bad news they’d been seeing of looting, etc.”
This woman, too, was in contact with the police in advance of the demonstrations. The Facebook message, paired with the personal threats sent to Pflueger and phone calls made to the police department, led to her decision to call off the march. She sent notifications out via social media. As a backup, she still planned to swing by the original meeting point, the Jax parking lot, to let everyone know the march wasn’t going to happen.
“Everyone kind of stood there and waited for my lead and then a couple friends spoke up and said, ‘I really think we should still do it,’” she said. “‘That’s what they want, they want to shut us down.’ It felt safe and it felt right … to just continue with everyone who was there.”
Though the threats didn’t yield actual personal attacks on the organizers, the woman behind the march did hear of a man at a bar the following evening speaking about her in a threatening manner.
She told Moonshine about her thoughts regarding complaining or threatening through social media versus in person:
“There’s so much that someone can say behind a screen that they would not act on in person and looking back, I realize that now. But when you are at the forefront of organizing a big demonstration and receiving that kind of negativity, it is super overwhelming. I think a lot of times people act really tough behind the screen and it’ll just be a facade, but sometimes it’s not so you can never be too careful with that.”