At the 33rd minute of the Sunday afternoon Minnesota United match against Real Salt lake fans in the supporters section started to sing the Italian anti-fascist resistance song “Bella Ciao,” and displayed the “Iron Front” symbol. 

The Iron Front was a German group formed in the leadup to World War II that stood against Nazis. The group’s logo is striking and simple: three arrows, pointing downward. The group was banned in 1933, hence commencing the singing at the 33rd minute. The symbol’s use at MLS games came about in response to the rise of far-right and white supremacists groups in the U.S. at large, and even within MLS fan groups specifically.

The passionate Minnesota United fan base is organized among various supporter groups, including the Red Loons, who coordinated the display of the Iron Front symbol. Red Loons member Bennett Hartz explained that Major League Soccer’s attempts to ban what they broadly describe as political language and behavior, “may work in other sports but that doesn’t work in soccer, soccer supporters are passionate and intense.” 

For Hartz, “the passion for organizing soccer and the passion for political organizing that I have are one in the same.” Untangling that passion from what the league considers to be apolitical or appropriately political is untenable.

Before the 2019 season, MLS updated its code of conduct to ban any fan signage “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.” 

This summer, clubs began kicking people out of games and banning them from the stadium for Iron Front banners. Major League Soccer recently banned a group of Portland Timbers fans from attending three matches at Providence Park for waving flags that displayed the anti-fascist Iron Front symbol. This last weekend, Seattle Sounders fans walked out of a match in protest of the ban on “political” banners. 

Last week, the Wonderwall, the umbrella group of Loons supporters, met with club officials to clarify the club’s role in the political messaging issue. The club told fans they can wear the images individually, but not on the field for festivities, nor join together in their clothing to make a larger image nor be threatening to other groups. 

A Passionate Fan Base

During games the supporters section is an encouraged place of thunderous cheering and unmitigated excitement. It is a devoted fan base that the Loons have cultivated. However, Hartz argues that, “part of what the league and the team need to recognize is that, if you are going to have independent supporters groups, you don’t get to hold as tight a reign on what they say and do. Of course there are totally logical restrictions on violence, threats, abuse and hate speech.” 

Nora Radtke was escorted out of Allianz field during the end of the first half for wearing a giant shirt emblazoned with the Iron Front Symbol.

Her conviction was rooted in standing up against what she describes and censorship. 

This is typically a space where people can  share their queer identities. There’s immigrant families that come to soccer. We celebrate pride for the entire month of June every year. These are values and this is something that’s been supported and the team has used for their marketing. If they want to use our community for that purpose and they can decide to censor us on the other side, to me that’s exploitation of who we are.

After Radke was removed several other fans were also asked to leave.

Hartz, Radtke, and others see the Iron Front as a symbol against encroaching fascisim, akin to the league’s stance against racism and homophobia.

In a commentary regarding the MLS  in The Guardian Kareem Abdul-Jabbar articulated his support for the protestors:

One of the reasons we embrace sports so dearly is that they can symbolize human interaction at its most noble: fair play, meritocracy, sportsmanship, competitiveness, striving to be better, pushing the limits of human achievement. Curtailing the free speech of athletes or fans is not consistent with our vision of sports. Or our vision of democracy.

MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott will meet with the Independent Supporters Council to discuss this issue in Las Vegas on Thursday. 

Minnesota United ignored repeated attempts for comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.