Michigan county official asked to speak out against Proud Boys throws gun

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Keli MacIntosh was planning to speak before the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners this week with a direct request: Would the board openly denounce the Proud Boys after the Jan. 6 riot at the United States Capitol?

Members of the far-right group had approached the Michigan body last year as it considered a gun rights proposal, she said, and more recently, other Proud Boys were identified as part of the mob that stormed Congress. So MacIntosh wanted his own elected officials to stand up.

As she addressed the virtual meeting on Wednesday evening, commission vice-chairman Ron Clous (R) stepped out of frame. When he came into view, he was carrying a semi-automatic rifle.

MacIntosh, a 74-year-old retired nurse, became terrified, she told The Washington Post.

“He’s supposed to look out for the best interests of the community,” she said of Clous. “What is the message he is trying to convey? That if someone speaks against us, we’ll just threaten them with a gun? »

Clous did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post. But speaking to the Traverse City Record-Eagle, the commissioner said he took his gun in response to MacIntosh’s request.

“I was just going to show the gun and show that I fully support the Second Amendment, but I chose not to,” he told the newspaper. He also said he would not speak out against the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violence, saying they “were decent guys and treated us with respect”.

The explosive incident underscores how a widening political divide — between those who spoke out against the rioters and those who might turn a blind eye — has reverberated far beyond Washington. In this case, it’s a pocket of northern Michigan known as the nation’s cherry capital, not government matters.

For a country divided, a riot at the United States Capitol becomes one more flashpoint

Months before President Donald Trump sadly told the Proud Boys to “step back and get ready” during a debate in September, members of the group showed up at a county commission meeting in the Grand Traverse County.

The commission was created in early March to consider a proposal to turn the county into a “Second Amendment sanctuary,” a symbolic move that stops the county from using public funds to restrict gun rights. According to the Record-Eagle, two self-identified Proud Boys spoke out at that meeting in favor of the plan, which passed 4-2.

Clous denied knowing anything about the organization, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, beyond testimony he heard in March. The commissioner told the newspaper this week that the Proud Boys at the meeting “were probably the most respected people who stood up and spoke.”

In the spring, MacIntosh openly challenged the group’s appearance before its county commission. Later in the year, she noted, the influence of far-right groups only seemed to grow in Michigan and beyond.

In April, a crowd of armed protesters packed into the Michigan Capitol in Lansing, demanding an end to coronavirus restrictions. Months later, some members of that mob were charged with an alleged conspiracy to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D).

Suspected Michigan plotters attended several anti-lockdown protests, photos and videos show

But the last straw for MacIntosh was seeing a crowd of Trump supporters knocking in the US Capitol, temporarily preventing Congress from confirming Joe Biden’s election victory.

The county commissioners’ vote to become a Second Amendment sanctuary — and their decision to hear testimony from the Proud Boys in favor — was a form of “subtle encouragement” that could have fueled more violent incidents over the course of the year. the past year, she said.

“We must do everything possible to mitigate this terrorist attitude which really seems to be growing in our country,” she said.

So MacIntosh, who is involved with the local chapter of the liberal advocacy network Indivisible, signed up to speak during a public comment period at Wednesday’s meeting. Another activist from liberal circles spoke before her, challenging the commission members to say they were not members of self-proclaimed militias.

Commission Chairman Rob Hentschel erupted in response, singling out the woman.

“I’m not a member of the Proud Boys,” he said. “But I know a few Proud Boys. I met Black Proud Boys, I met multi-racial Puerto Rican Proud Boys and they informed me that they also had gay Proud Boys. I don’t see how this is a hate group.

By the time it was her turn to speak, MacIntosh was so shaken her hands were shaking, she said. She dropped her prepared comments and spoke off the cuff.

“You can say we don’t have any problems with the Proud Boys in our area, but obviously there are problems with the Proud Boys all over the country,” she told them. “For them to have been invited to speak [means that] permission was given to these militant groups to do more with their weapons than go hunting.

It was then that Clous left and reappeared, silently bringing his rifle into view.

Hentschel, who laughed on camera upon seeing the gun, later said he did not dispute his fellow commissioner’s response.

“I saw it on his chest and thought it was ironic of him to do that,” he told the Record-Eagle. “The person was talking about guns and he had one on his chest. I haven’t seen him do anything illegal or dangerous with it. He wasn’t threatening or brandishing. He just held it.

But as the incident draws more attention to Grand Traverse County, MacIntosh fears things will only get worse.

Instead of ending with a statement from the commissioners that might dampen the rhetoric, “the meeting ended up stirring people up,” she said. “Pushing the bear with a stick is not the best way to solve our problems.”

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