Thousands of demonstrators were in Gainesville, Florida, on Thursday to protest a speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer, but one tried to counteract the hate with a hug.
It happened when a man wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with swastikas was surrounded by screaming protesters.
The man, later identified as Randy Furniss by the Gainesville Sun, was punched by one protester in a photo that has since gone viral.
But Aaron Courtney, a high school football coach in Gainesville, tried a different tactic. He went up to Furniss and tried to engage him in a more loving manner.
A video posted to Twitter by user Politics 4 Dummies shows Courtney hugging Furniss while asking him, “Why don’t you like me, dog?”
The 31-year-old Courtney told the New York Daily News the moment came after four hours of protesting Spencer’s speech.
“I had the opportunity to talk to someone who hates my guts and I wanted to know why. During our conversation, I asked him, ‘Why do you hate me? What is it about me? Is it my skin color? My history? My dreadlocks?’”
Courtney said he almost broke out in tears as Furniss ignored his questions, but decided that maybe “he just needs love. Maybe he never met an African-American like this.”
That’s when Courtney asked Furniss for the hug, which the man gave despite some initial resistance.
“I reached over and the third time, he wrapped his arms around me, and I heard God whisper in my ear, ‘You changed his life,’” Courtney told the Daily News.
Courtney said when he asked Furniss once again, “Why do you hate me?” Furniss finally answered, “I don’t know.”
Courtney took that as a honest response.
“I believe that was his sincere answer. He really doesn’t know,” Courtney said.