Demonstrators with the Twin Cities General Defense Committee hold a banner outside of the Minneapolis Institute of Art on Saturday. (photo courtesy Twin Cities General Defense Committee)

A group of anti-fascists clashed with a handful of self-described members of the “alt right” at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) on Saturday. The altercation included a physical fight in the museum’s galleries that last as long as eight minutes, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. No artworks were damaged, and no arrests were made.

The sequence of events began on the afternoon of February 25 with a rally held outside of the museum by the Twin Cities chapter of the General Defense Committee (GDC), a group within the Industrial Workers of the World union. Several dozen protesters chanted near the museum entrance and held a banner with the slogans “Una clase, una lucha — contra fronteras!” (One class, one struggle — against borders!) and “Don’t deport our fellow workers.” At some point, two or three men begin arguing with the protesters, according to the New York Times. One of the men shouted “Heil Trump” and made a Nazi salute, a bystander named Jon Jacobsen told the City Pages. A photo from the GDC captures that moment, and a video shot by Jacobsen shows police officers talking to the man just afterwards.

A man raises a Nazi salute outside the Minneapolis Institute of Art (photo courtesy Twin Cities General Defense Committee)

Meanwhile, two or three people who “appeared to be neo-Nazis” entered Mia’s galleries, where they allegedly took it upon themselves to “guard” a gallery of classical European art — coincidentally located near a temporary exhibition of protest photographs, as the City Pages noted. A handful of GDC protesters followed the alleged neo-Nazis inside and confronted them. It’s unclear who instigated the physical fight, but witnesses described punches being thrown. “They were getting in each other’s faces and quickly started pushing each other,” a visitor named Vijit Nanda told the Star Tribune. A security guard intervened, Mia Director Kaywin Feldman told the Times. “She was terribly brave.”

Security guards were eventually able to break up the fight, and police also arrived on the scene. They made no arrests, but confiscated a knife from someone.

Although the clash between the two groups may seem like a coincidence, the GDC had in fact gone to the museum specifically to confront the white nationalists. The committee released a statement today, claiming that “fascists attempted to hold a ‘White Lives Matter’ rally at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts” and thus an “anti-fascist coalition exposed them and prevented them from organizing, facing fascist violence in retribution.” In heading off the extremists directly and being unafraid to resort to violence, the group was working in the tradition of antifa, or anti-fascism, which “is a set of tactics and practices that have developed since the early 20th century (and the rise of fascism in Italy) as a confrontational response to fascist groups, rooted in militant left-wing and anarchist politics,” writes Natasha Lennard in The Nation. The antifa approach received a wave of attention in the US just last month, when a member of a black bloc punched neo-Nazi Richard Spencer on Inauguration Day.

Spencer is the man who invented the term “alternative right,” and today a group called Alt Right MN released its own statement, claiming that its members were the ones “attacked” at Mia. “We were there only to meet a few new faces and enjoy the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s beautiful collection,” the statement reads, attempting to counter the GDC’s claim of a planned white nationalist rally at the museum. The statement appears to have been altered, though, as the City Pages original quote of that line includes the Nazi-associated phrase “traditional art,” which has since been scrubbed. The group also scoffs at being called neo-Nazis, and Mia Director Kaywin Feldman commented to the Times that no neo-Nazi or white-nationalist symbols were visible in the security footage of the incident. But a photo taken in the museum gallery shows the aforementioned security guard on the ground with a stunned man whose shirt bears a symbol reminiscent of the Nazi eagle.

Alt Right MN appears to be a new organization, at least judging by its online presence — there are no other posts on its website, and its Twitter account was created just this month — but this incident follows a trend around the country, including in Minneapolis, of the increasingly public appearance and actions of right-wing extremist groups. City Pages notes a recent rash of anti-Semitic incidents at the University of Minnesota.

Hyperallergic reached out to Mia for a comment on Saturday’s events. “The safety of Mia visitors, staff, and volunteers is our top priority,” a spokeswoman said. “Our security team did exactly what they were trained to do. While we’ll continue to be on high alert, our current policies and procedures have proven very effective.”

Update, 3/1: The Twin Cities GDC has written to Hyperallergic to say that the anti-fascists who entered Mia were not a part of their group. “We don’t actually know the identities of the community antifascists who entered the museum,” they wrote. “At any rate, they didn’t come from the group of GDC-organized protesters outside the museum.”

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...