A white couple pointed a pistol and an assault-style rifle at protesters marching past a mansion in St. Louis, Mo., on Sunday, drawing a retweet from the president and fierce debate on social media.
The incident happened on Sunday evening while Black Lives Matter protesters were passing through a lavish gated community on their way to the mayor’s residence to demand her resignation.
Video recorded from the march shows a middle-aged white man brandishing an AR-15-style rifle on the front step of the home, which is located just inside the gate of a private street. A middle-aged white woman is also shown holding a pistol alongside the man.
The video shows the barefooted couple yelling and pointing their weapons at the protesters, who make no move to approach them.
“Let’s go!” a voice in the march can be heard shouting. “Let’s go!”
A second video shows the woman pointing her pistol at protesters from the lawn of the home. The man can be seen standing on the mansion’s porch with his rifle behind her.
The protesters are shown standing on the sidewalk and the street.
The homeowners told local station KSDK that the protesters “broke” the gate into the private community, and that they grabbed their weapons because the “huge and frightening crowd” was coming at them with weapons. They also shared a photo of the broken gate.
Protesters have denied breaking through the gate to get into the community.
A two-minute video recorded during the protest shows the gate intact and the homeowners already patrolling their porch with guns. It’s unclear when the gate was destroyed after that point.
U.S. President Donald Trump retweeted the first video amid a string of other anti-protester tweets on Monday morning. Trump did not add any remarks to the video, but his supporters and opponents quickly read it in two different ways.
Conservative observers suggested that the couple were using their Second Amendment rights to defend their home from “rioters” who invaded private property.
Left-leaning critics described the incident as a case of white privilege and pointed out that people of colour would not be defended so vigorously for brandishing weapons near a crowd.
Many critics described the couple as “Ken and Karen,” playing on the viral “Karen” nickname for white women who bring their trivial complaints to authority figures.
Others mocked the couple as wannabe action heroes, noting the contrast between their weapons and their clothing. The rifle-toting man wore beige khakis, a pink golf shirt and glasses, while the woman brandishing the pistol sported black yoga pants and a striped black-and-white shirt.
The home belonged to a pair of lawyers in 2018, according to a profile published at the time by St. Louis Magazine. Its exterior is made from limestone and marble, and its interior has been decorated to look like various Renaissance palaces from Europe, according to the profile.
Images on Google Street View show the home just inside the gated community of Portland Place in St. Louis. A sign on the gate says “private street.”
About 500 protesters marched past the home on Sunday to reach the residence of Mayor Lyda Krewson. The protesters demanded that Krewson resign after she publicly shared the names of several people who wrote her letters about defunding the police during a Facebook Live briefing on Friday.
Krewson eventually deleted the video briefing and apologized amid the backlash, saying she didn’t “intend to cause distress.”
She was elected as St. Louis’ first female mayor in 2017 after vowing to reduce crime and improve impoverished neighbourhoods in the city.
An online petition calling for Krewson’s resignation had more than 43,000 signatures as of early Monday.
“As a leader, you don’t do stuff like that … it’s only right that we visit her at her home,” said state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, speaking into a megaphone at the protest Sunday.
St. Louis is one of dozens of cities across the U.S. that has seen protests against anti-Black racism in recent weeks following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis last month.
— With files from the Associated Press