Why the Proud Boys visited Kalamazoo – MLive.com

Posted By on September 21, 2020

KALAMAZOO, MI A month after the Proud Boys marched in Kalamazoo, the visit remains a source of public debate and yet a key question remains: why did they come here?

An expert who tracks far-right groups such as the Proud Boys pointed to the fact that Kalamazoo is a college town and has easy highway access, sitting at the intersection of I-94 and U.S. 131.

Kalamazoo has also had a number of marches and rallies in support of police reform and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Kalamazoo did nothing that really invited a hate group like this, said Carolyn Normandin, Michigan regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

The group looks for communities that have had tensions over issues such as policing and Black Lives Matter, for instance, she said. Both issues have been on the agenda in Kalamazoo, though the city is not unique in that regard.

Proud Boys like to spoil for a fight, Normandin said. They look for places with discord and try to sew more discord, she said.

Steve Dorsy, a self described member of the leadership of the Proud Boys in Michigan who helped helped organize the Proud Boys march in Kalamazoo on Aug. 15, said group members were picking between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.

In both cities, there had been Black Lives Matters, Antifa rallies that resulted in some type of destruction of property or homes being burned down and things like that, Dorsy said, pointing to events in the cities in June.

Antifa is a loose organization of far-left, anti-fascists who have been active in protesting far-right organization such as Proud Boys.

Equating Kalamazoo with Antifa is conjured up rhetoric, Normandin said, and a justification for why the Proud Boys chose the city.

Their whole ideology likes violence, Normandin said.

Proud Boys use intimidation during rallies, she said. They have been described as a "right-wing fight club, she said.

Despite the fights that happened in Kalamazoo, Dorsy said the group does not want violence.

Coming to Kalamazoo

Group members also talked about previous run-ins with a member of the Kalamazoo community when deciding on the location, Dorsy said, alleging the person harassed members of the Proud Boys.

Ultimately, group leadership voted to come to Kalamazoo, said Dorsy, who lives in the Detroit area and said he is in his 40s. The Proud Boys arrived on Saturday, Aug. 15, and achieved their goal, Dorsy said.

Our mission was to show that you cant march down a street in Kalamazoo without being assaulted if you have an opposing view. And sure enough, thats exactly what happened, he said on Sept. 15, one month after the event that made national headlines.

Videos show a large group of several dozen Proud Boys marching down Water Street after they parked their vehicles in a downtown ramp where they gathered.

As they marched, they chanted, Whos streets? Our streets! Some members flashed an OK hand gesture, which the Anti-Defamation League says is a white-power signal. One member carried a sign that says, Racism does not exist.

Counterprotesters, anticipating the Proud Boys' arrival, were staged nearby at Arcadia Creek Festival Place.

Violence erupted when the Proud Boys and counterprotesters clashed on Water Street. A cup thrown into the Proud Boys crowd was one of the first acts of aggression, according to Dorsy and police. Soon after, according to Dorsy, Proud Boys were defending themselves from attacks.

The narrative from police and Dorsy differs from a version of events given by Kalamazoo citizens on the street. One account, from the Rev. Nathan Dannison, and another from resident, Andy Argo, said Proud Boys kicked off the violence by assaulting a homeless person.

KDPS Assistant Chief David Boysen said the citizens reporting the homeless person was attacked have an agenda.

I reviewed all of the video from the event and their version is not what happened, Boysen said.

KDPS Chief Karianne Thomas said a review of video evidence shows that counterprotestors repeatedly initiated contact with the Proud Boys as they marched through the city streets leading to several arrests.

Dorsy said the Proud Boys were not the aggressors, and only responded to attacks, defending themselves.

Several people were injured and punches were thrown from either side as police officers were absent from the scene, except for those watching from a distance. Police watched as a man was clubbed over the head. A U.S. Army veteran said he was swept into the crowd and punched again and again in the face by Proud Boys.

One thing that Proud Boys and Kalamazoo citizens agree on, according to Dorsy: Police dropped the ball.

The Kalamazoo police department absolutely, 100% failed, Dorsy said. He pointed out how police responded to Black Lives Matter protests in May and June wearing riot gear," in contrast to the Proud Boys event, when police were not present when violence began.

Officers were wearing the same tactical gear they wore in June whey they did respond to the Aug. 15 event.

Thomas has said they made a tactical decision to initially keep police largely out of view because they didnt want their presence to escalate the situation. Once fighting started, police moved in, Thomas has said.

The decision to keep police back initially has prompted harsh criticism of police actions that day still the subject of an ongoing investigation by city officials.

Dorsy said the Proud Boys received an influx of dozens of applications from Michigan people following the Kalamazoo event.

In response to the Proud Boys' claims that they were not in Kalamazoo to cause violence, Normandin said the way they behaved was threatening.

Theyre marching down the street looking very threatening, Normandin said. If a group is rallying in a peaceful march, theyre not typically carrying guns and wearing camo and acting as if they are going to come to secure things. There was nothing to be secured that day.

She described Proud Boys as a right-wing fight club."

Dorsy said one member of the Proud Boys was openly carrying a gun. Others were carrying concealed guns, he said. Others were carrying flags on sticks.

Police have noted that other armed citizens showed up nearby where the Proud Boys marched and other counterprotesters congregated.

Police documented counterprotesters carrying weapons. Proud Boys used pepper spray during the skirmish.

In response to questions from MLive, an official at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks groups such as the Proud Boys, said it was noteworthy members were armed and carrying chemical irritants.

That they used some of those weapons against counter-protesters isnt surprising because this is a group with a long history of violent behavior targeted at leftist and antifascist protesters, Rebecca Sturtevant, associate media director of the center.

Sturtevant said it was concerning that police didnt attempt to keep the groups separated and instead allowed clashes to break out.

This failure allows the Proud Boys to continue to claim that they are needed on the streets to maintain law and order, a dangerous step toward normalizing the violence of the far right, Sturtevant said.

Who are the Proud Boys?

The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, who is the co-founder of Vice Media. In November 2018, McInnes announced he was disassociating himself from the group, The Guardian newspaper reported.

On its website, the Proud Boys describe themselves as a pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world; aka Western Chauvinists.

Under the description, a dozen values are listed, including minimal government, maximum freedom, and anti-political correctness.

In a speech posted on YouTube in January 2018 and embedded on the Proud Boys website, McInnes explains that he set out to set up a mens club.

I started a mens club called the Proud Boys and we have one caveat and that is you have to be a Western chauvinist, McInnes said. Now liberals are lazy, so they hear the word chauvinist and they assume male chauvinist and thats why I use that word, because theyre too lazy to look it up. And it just means a nationalist, a patriot. And you have to think the West is the best.

During the speech, McInnes described an incident in New York in which Antifa members protested outside where he was making an appearance.

Im the only one allowed in and my guys are left to fight. And here is the crucial part: We do. We beat the crap out of them, McInnes said as the audience applauded. I couldnt see, I was whisked in but I talked to two of our guys who were arrested and I go, How was that? Are you OK.' And they go: It was really, really fun.

They said, Violence doesnt feel good. Justified violence feels great. And fighting solves everything, McInnes added. So, we said, you know what? Were not going to pick fights. But if they pick fights with us, were going to finish them.

In Kalamazoo, counter-protesters clashed with Proud Boys while a police over watch team watched from a building above the street.

City officials have pointed fingers, blaming different factors on the poor handling of the event. Officials have said the Proud Boys got started earlier than expected, and citizens were on the scene carrying guns, as some factors that played into the outcome.

The police department intentionally handled the event differently than recent Black Lives Matter protests in late May and early June, where the police response including tear-gassing citizens met harsh criticism, according to the city.

The Aug. 15 Proud Boys visit caused further fallout between citizens and police, because police were absent when violence broke out. Police officers arrested Kalamazoo citizens, including a working MLive journalist and a legal observer, and did not arrest any Proud Boys. The chief has apologized, in part, for the response and the city manager has admitted things should have been done differently.

The Proud Boys came to town and completed their mission by creating a divisive situation for the community then leaving, hopefully with the chaos continuing, which is their MO, KDPS Chief Karianne Thomas said following the event.

The city commission has formed a subcommittee to focus on police reform, and is working to hire an independent investigator to look into the police response of both protest events.

Dorsy and some other Proud Boys attended a more recent pro-police and Trump rally in Frankenmuth.

Kevin White, an independent journalist who goes by the name Kevin Live on Facebook, said he attended the Aug. 15 event in Kalamazoo, and also came across some of the Proud Boys in Frankenmuth this weekend.

They antagonize you to the point where any sane person is going to feel threatened, White said. And if you try to do anything, theyll hurt you because you know, they do have a lot of numbers. Or they will mace you.

Dorsy spoke at length about how the group has to fight against the label hate group and he doesnt agree with it. He talked about how members of the groups Michigan chapter have been banned for doing racist things, and racism is not accepted, he said.

Dorsy said the group does not support the Black Lives Matter organization, but he and other members believe Black lives matter.

Londa Gatt, a hairdresser who drove from Oakland County to Kalamazoo to support the Proud Boys on Aug. 15, said Antifa makes her sick.

They dont know how to make their voices heard without destruction," Gatt said.

She realizes she cant join because she is a woman, she said, but she supports them, and the Proud Boys gave her a flag signed by members.

Im tired of conservatives getting bullied, and the bad press has been written about them, to shut them up, to shut us up, Gatt, a Trump supporter, said.

Most of the members want to see Trump re-elected, though its not a requirement to join, like being born a male is, Dorsy said.

We just want like minded individuals we can hang out with it, Dorsy said. You dont have to be like-minded, we welcome again, anybody, but just want to hang out, have brotherhood.

The group has a centrally located dedicated meeting space in Michigan, he said, where they hang out, drink beer and have a good time.

And you have to agree with the ideology that the West is the best, Dorsy said. And the the culture of the West is, is you know, the culture that we that we lean on.

The group is talking about coming back to Kalamazoo, he said, though they know now is not the right time.

Read more:

Counterprotester aggression was catalyst for violence at Proud Boys event in Kalamazoo, officers report says

Why Black Lives Matter to those leading protests in Kalamazoo

Activists say Kalamazoo blew it with preliminary report on police response to Proud Boys rally

City review of police response to Kalamazoo Proud Boys rally finds areas for improvement

Critics continue calls for resignations over Kalamazoos response to Proud Boys event

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Why the Proud Boys visited Kalamazoo - MLive.com

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