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On Sunday, multiple Atlanta United fans entered Mercedes-Benz Stadium carrying banners and flags displaying messages standing against fascism, and messages that called for an end to gun violence. Many of these banners were confiscated by Mercedes-Benz Stadium Staff with minimal conflict. However, according to an Atlanta United spokesperson, four fans were ejected from the match for noncompliance and two more were ejected for their “combative” behavior with stadium staff.
Atlanta United released this statement regarding the banning of two individuals:
The two year-long bans were instated due to the severity of the individuals’ actions toward stadium staff when asked to remove their flags. The remaining bans were related to noncompliance with stadium staff. The incident is still being reviewed, and those individuals will be contacted about future reinstatement.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium takes all claims made regarding stadium events seriously and complies 100% with law enforcement on all complaints.
Those who were ejected or banned during the protest were primarily members of the Atlanta United supporters’ group Resurgence. Resurgence claims that more members were ejected or banned, and that those banned were not given an official reason for the decision.
We can confirm nine (9) of our members ejected, plus one nonmember who was sitting with members. It is still possible there may be more we have not heard from at this time. When documentation regarding ejections was requested from these individuals, this was denied.
We can also confirm that includes five (5) members detained before ejection. Three (3) members were told they would have year long bans and not provided documentation regarding their bans. They were also denied a final, official reason for their bans.
All individuals involved are waiting on official communication from the AUFC Front Office and the Stadium regarding bans.
Some who were ejected from the stadium have received a notice of a three-match ban from the stadium and reinstatement of ticketing privileges upon completion of a four-hour, $250 “fan class” as well as being required to write a letter of apology among other criteria.
Although there have been similar statements against violence and fascism made by supporters in the past, the increase in flags and banners with these statements for Sunday’s match came due in large part as a response two things.
First, a perceived lack of action on the part of NYCFC and Major League Soccer in combating the presence of far-right extremists at NYCFC home games as detailed by The Guardian.
Second, the Major League Soccer fan code of conduct prohibiting “using (including on any sign or other visible representation) political, threatening, abusive, insulting, offensive language and/or gestures, which includes racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist or otherwise inappropriate language or behavior.”
Major League Soccer is the only major sports league in the United States to have a policy banning political signage.
This is the policy under which the banners at Sunday’s match were removed, and the same policy under which the symbol of the “Iron Front”, an anti-Nazi organization created in Germany in the 1930’s, has been banned from Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders banners and flags this season and for the foreseeable future. Sounders fans and fans across the league have taken offense to the Iron Front symbol being associated with far-right symbols by Seattle management, which led to an apology from the team.
“Messages, banners, flags or any other symbols that represent an association to a political group will not be allowed in CenturyLink Field. This includes, but is not limited to, Antifa, Iron Front, Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer,” the letter from team management said.
The Sounders later apologized for equating the groups. Taylor Graham, Sounders vice president of business operations and marketing, spoke to reporters following practice last week, saying: “We first and foremost want to put our hand up and say, ‘That’s not fair, and we apologize for those words,’ putting them in that context.” - The Associated Press
In addition to the statement from Sounders’ management, the Iron Front symbol — three diagonal arrows inside a circle — spread throughout MLS Supporters’ Groups this week in response to a recent incident involving right wingers and Sounders fans.
On August 4 a dozen right wingers infiltrated the Sounders’ family-friendly pre-match ritual, the march to the match against Sporting Kansas City. Some had visible, holstered guns (legal “open carry”) and confronted Sounders fans in Iron Front shirts, at least one of whom was beat to the ground on camera. The video spread and the response was for soccer fans across MLS to redesign their logos to include some kind of three arrow or bar imagery, to refer to the Iron Front and every day antifascism. - The Portland Tribune
Before Sunday’s match, Resurgence redesigned the logo using the railroad spikes that have become associated with the Atlanta United brand, and released a statement declaring their support for the use of the logo and the ability of supporters to stand against fascism. The “AUnitedFront” hashtag has been used throughout the league to show support for and chronicle acts of protest against the MLS policy.
The banners brought into the stadium included:
Witness accounts say that many of those banners were confiscated peacefully by S.A.F.E. management, the event security used by Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Several attendees wearing “Iron Front” imagery were also removed from the section. The league policy on clothing is less clear, and in places like Seattle the policy has apparently been interpreted to not include wearing the symbol. Some of those removed from the section were allowed back in for the remainder of the match.
Although no arrests were made, there were multiple reported instances by witnesses of supporters being removed from the section forcefully, as seen in these videos.
Another angle of the same incident. pic.twitter.com/Q4qZ9XPqPI— Magdalena Maria (@magxmad) August 12, 2019
According to a witness, the fan in this video was allowed back into the section shortly after.
Some supporters said that the force used throughout the section crossed the line.
This physical escorting was no less than physical assault for some individuals. @ATLUTD & @MLS have made their position regarding anti-fascism consistently clear. They would rather ban supporters for displaying signs protesting nazis than ban the nazis themselves. — Complacency is Complicity (@BradysBuzz) August 11, 2019
Other supporters groups throughout MLS displayed imagery against violence and fascism this weekend, including 3252 of LAFC and the Sons of Ben in Philadelphia.
The LAFC banners were reportedly removed but similarly forceful removals and bans did not occur.
The supporters’ groups and the Atlanta United front office will hold their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night.