TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — A county official in northern Michigan displayed a rifle during an online meeting in response to a citizen’s comments about a far-right extremist group, drawing outrage from some local residents.
Ron Clous, an elected member of the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners, was at home during the livestreamed meeting Wednesday, the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported.
During a public comment period, a local woman, Kelli MacIntash, criticized the board for allowing self-described members of the Proud Boys to speak at a commission meeting last year and urged commission Chairman Rob Hentschel to denounce them. The neo-fascist group is known for engaging in violent clashes at political rallies and some of its members took part in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
At that point, Clous stepped away from his webcam and returned with a rifle. MacIntosh told the Record-Eagle she felt threatened.
“This guy is in the middle of a government meeting brandishing a weapon,” MacIntosh said. “Why would I not think they were trying to harm me?”
MacIntosh, 74, told The Associated Press on Thursday that she planned to file a report with the Michigan State Police.
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“I didn’t think he was going to shoot me, obviously, but I do think his whole point was to intimidate me and threaten me and anyone else who’s going to speak out … and see if he can stir up masses of people who are just looking for things to fight about,” she said.
Clous told the newspaper he retrieved his rifle in response to MacIntosh’s request.
“I was going to chime in as well,” Clous said. “I was just going to show the rifle and show that I fully support the Second Amendment, but then I opted not to … I was in my home.”
Two self-described members of the Proud Boys spoke to the county board last March in support of a pro-Second Amendment resolution the panel adopted.
Clous said he won’t denounce any group, including Black Lives Matter, the NFL, or LBGTQ organizations.
“The only thing I know about them (Proud Boys) is when they came and spoke to us,” Clous said. “They were probably the most respected folks that got up and talked. They were decent guys and they treated us with respect.”
Proud Boys has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and an extremist group by the FBI.
Hentschel, the board chairman, laughed in response to Clous’ actions and said he had no problem with what Clous did.
“I saw it across his chest and I thought it was ironic of him to do that,” Hentschel said. “The person was talking about guns and he had one across his chest. I didn’t see him do anything illegal or dangerous with it. He wasn’t threatening or brandishing. He was just holding it.”
Holly T. Bird, a local attorney and activist, was appalled when she watched the recorded meeting.
“Everyone knows that if you’re walking down the street and someone flashes a gun at you, it’s a threat,” Bird said. “To have a public official do that during a public meeting is horrendous.”
Betsy Coffia, a fellow county commissioner, labeled Clous’ action “deeply disturbing.”
The largely symbolic resolution approved by the board in March 2020 says the county cannot use public funds to restrict Second Amendment rights or to enforce measures contradicting it.
“I am not a member of Proud Boys,” Hentschel said Wednesday. “But I do know a few Proud Boys. I’ve met Black Proud Boys, I’ve met multi-racial Puerto Rican Proud Boys and they inform me they also have gay Proud Boys. I don’t see how that’s a hate group.”