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Cars decorated with “Trump” and “Defend the Police” regalia filled Main Street in Bozeman Friday night, bringing traffic to a near standstill as a group of counter protesters with signs like “Blue lives don’t exist” chanted “You look stupid” at the entourage of at least 100 cars.

People in cars shouted back, “Go back to Portland” and “USA.”

Gallatin County Republicans and Gallatin County Republican Women organized the “Defend the Police” driving rally that led participants through Belgrade and Bozeman. The rally was organized to build “community support for our local police officers in Gallatin County, Montana,” according to a post from organizers.

Participants were encouraged to decorate their vehicles and display American flags and “thin blue line,” and Trump signs and banners.

“Be loud! Be proud! And remember, respect all local traffic laws,” Gallatin County Republicans wrote on its website.

Organizers declined to comment on the rally.

Henry Hardin, organizer of the counter rally that included about 50 people, said he’d been scrolling through social media when he came across a post about the car rally. After gathering feedback from other people, he decided to take action.

Cars decorated with rainbow flags and signs that said “Support Black Bozeman” and “Defund the police” mingled with “Defend the police” rally-goers. However, many counter protesters, most of whom wore face masks, verbally confronted rally attendees from the sidewalk.

Hardin said he received threats through social media after organizing the counter rally.

He shared with reporters a screenshot of a message he claimed he received that read “FYI, your name and profile has been reported to the sheriff and the Bozeman police by MANY people over the last few hours. Good luck tomorrow, you’re in for it.”

Kayla Galgerud of Three Forks said she decided to attend the “Defend the Police” rally because she wanted to support local law enforcement, especially since she’s a member of a military family.

While she sees where people who’ve experienced police brutality are coming from, she worries about what might happen if police were to lose funding.

“They do a lot to protect our rights and keep the peace,” she said.

Phil Olson, a former Gallatin County commissioner, said he decided to participate in the driving rally because he’s concerned about “raging lawlessness” taking over the country.

He referenced recent protests in Portland, where demonstrators and federal agents clashed. “I don’t think you or I would want to live in that,” he said.

Olson said the recent events and the COVID-19 “scaredemic” made him concerned not for himself, but for his kids and grandkids.

“We’re losing our nation as a constitutional republic with freedoms,” he said. “If you don’t have police, you have anarchy.”

Beck Trebesch, who participated in Friday’s counter protests, said that when the government, and therefore police departments, are designed to protect a capitalist system that oppresses minorities, “the whole system is inherently wrong.” Even if individual officers who abuse their power are taken off the force, “These structures continue to be at play,” he said.

Trebesch said defunding the police and diverting more resources to social services like health care and rehab would reduce crime, meaning we wouldn’t need to have a large police force.

“We prioritize the criminal justice system instead of rehabilitative systems,” he said. “Not enough money is going into things that minimize crime.”

Cetan Thunder Hawk, an onlooker who didn’t participate in either demonstration, said he didn’t like the way the demonstrations were causing division among people.

“All people need to get along,” he said. “All we’re doing is spreading coronavirus.”

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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