PRINCETON — A negative turned into a positive on Saturday when a white supremacist group backed out of a planned protest, Princeton officials say.

Law enforcement and retailers braced for thousands of protesters -- among them, counter-protesters opposing the white supremacists -- descending on Palmer Square, setting barriers and road closures.

But late Friday afternoon the organizers posted "you've been punk'd" on their social media accounts and called the event a hoax. They denied there was ever an application filed for their event, which had already garnered media attention from several New Jersey news organizations.

An estimated 1,200 to 1,500 people showed up anyway on Saturday morning with a completely different message, according to Princeton police spokesman Sgt. Frederick R. Williams.

"In the end it turned out to be a wonderful expression of community solidarity, and Princeton sent a loud and clear message that we stand for love over hate," Princeton mayor Liz Lempert told New Jersey 101.5.

 

Lempert was also grateful to police for their quick turnaround in planning.

"I’m also extremely thankful to Princeton’s merchant community, who also mobilized quickly with offers to help the police and a show of support for the counter-protestors via fantastic storefront displays celebrating love and inclusion,' Lempert said.

It doesn't mean the end of protests in Princeton.

"We always conduct a review after a major event, and this will be no different," Lempert said.

The mayor said she she'll ask the town council to look into whether it can bill the New Jersey European Association, the group that had originally announced its white supremacist demonstration, for the overtime and preparation.

"My understanding is that First Amendment protections are quite strong, even in cases like this, unfortunately," Lempert said.