PHILADELPHIA, PA—When antifa went to the Thorafinn Karsefini statue – aka, the “Viking Statue” – on Boathouse Row to oppose an annual rally put on by the neo-Nazi Keystone State “Skinheads” (KSS), they were greeted by the statue tagged with antifascist slogans and symbols – and the neo-Nazis were nowhere to be seen.
That is because for the second year in a row, the group held their “Leif Erickson Day Celebration” in a way to avoid the opposition. For the first time in the nine year history of the event, they held it Friday night, and not during the usual time of noon, the time one KSS member actually announced on his Facebook page.
Moreover, the picture they have released is a group photograph of the assembled hatemongers in front of the statue – which at the time of the photograph was untouched.
Until 2012, the Leif Erickson event was publicly announced and regularly brought out upwards of fifty to participate, but that number began to dwindle once antifa began meeting the Nazis at the statue. In 2013, KSS, now a part of the neo-Nazi Blood and Honor network, attempted to use that to strengthen their numbers against antifa when they organized for that year’s event, but antifa brought out overwhelming numbers deflating the assorted hatemongers to the point that the following year they did not publicize the event, only divulging information amongst themselves.
Last week, KSS member Bob Gaus posted a flyer on his Facebook page announcing this year’s event that did not mention a start time or even a location, although Gaus said in the post that it was to take place on Saturday, and in response to someone inquiring about a possible event next year, he replied, “Yeah every year around noon.” Approximately 40 persons waited at the statue for the event, and applauded when it was apparent that the Nazis were not going to show up.
The picture the Leif Erickson attendees posted shows Gaus, along with KSS Philadelphia member A.J. Olsen, Republican Committeeman and KSS founding member Steve Smith and Matthew Heimbach of the Traditional Youth Network (TYN). A tweet from tagging Antifa Philadelphia and One People’s Project attempted to take shots at the groups for not being able to confront them. “Y’all got the wrong time, jackasses. The event was great. Slick move with the vandalism. …stay classy,” the tweet read.
However it is not certain that the Karlsefini statue was indeed tagged by antifa and wasn’t simply a stunt to implicate them in a vandalism case. There is no evidence of the tags prior to the Leif Erickson event Friday evening, and the grafitti was seen by passers by early Saturday morning, hours before the event was expected to take place. A statue of Christopher Columbus miles away on Broad St. in South Philadelphia was also similarly tagged.
As was the case when the statue was doused with red paint in 2008, no one claimed responsibility for the act, which this year also included tagging the gazeebo in nearby Fairmont Park that overlooks the statue and is where KSS and their supporters usually gather before marching down Lemon Hill Drive, which was also adorned with antifascist grafitti.
With the exception of the Leif Erickson event, Keystone State “Skinheads” has not been openly active in Philadelphia over the past year, a departure from a public face it had not too long ago. Many of its key members have since moved from the city or dropped out of the group completely.