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The protest near the police station in Lancaster city on Sunday, May 31, 2020. .

The phrase "molon labe" is Greek for "come and take them." Spartan King Leonidas used it to demand soldiers lay down their arms.

It's also become a rallying cry for pro-gun activists, white nationalists and the alt right, a loosely affiliated racist group that emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States.

And it's how Lancaster city police identified the "suspicious white agitators" who infiltrated Sunday’s protests in downtown Lancaster to instigate violence during a largely peaceful demonstration, a member of city council said Tuesday.

They were wearing tattoos with the phrase or symbols for "molon labe," Lancaster city council President Ismail Smith Wade-El said on WITF's "Smart Talk" radio program Tuesday.

"It's popular with certain, in particular, pro-gun groups, certain conservative elements and white nationalists," he said.

"That's not to say that the presence of that tattoo is immediately to say that this person is a white nationalist," he said. "But the presence of the 'Don't tread on me' gear and other paraphernalia, with some fairly unusual and erratic behavior on the part of some of these guys, left a number of us worried that they were not present at the protests for the purpose, or aims of the protests we were having," he said.

The description is the first specific detail of what tipped police off to the possible presence of white nationalists in the weekend protests in Lancaster over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis last week.

Reported The Trace, a nonpartisan newsroom that reports on gun violence:

"T-shirts, bumper stickers, and other Molon Labe merchandise are widely available online; last year, the gun manufacturer American Legacy Firearms offered customers its 'NRA Special Edition Revolver,' an officially licensed design featuring the NRA logo and Molon Labe engraved on the hilt. [U.S. Rep. Allen] West, who made heavy use of the slogan throughout his congressional career, made headlines last year by getting it tattooed on his forearm."

Police Chief Jarrad Berkihiser told reporters Monday that police observed white men wearing body armor, some with guns on hips.

"We also saw definite evidence that we believe white nationalist groups were here," Berkihiser said. "Any time my officers were pelted with rocks or water bottles filled with cayenne pepper, it was coming from Caucasian individuals in the crowd."

There were between five and 15 agitators, all white men in their late 20s and early 30s, Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace told reporters. She said a state police video system is being used to review footage and identify the agitators.