Proud Boys, counter-protesters clash in downtown Kalamazoo

Chris duMond, Special to The Detroit News

Kalamazoo — Members of the far-right Proud Boys group and counter-protesters clashed Saturday afternoon at Arcrobinadia Creek Festival Place in downtown Kalamazoo, resulting in arrests, police said.

Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety said a few people were arrested but didn’t know how many.

“A fight occurred, people were fighting, and that’s when we stepped in,” Coakley said.

Journalist Samuel J. Robinson, 23, was arrested and charged with impeding traffic while reporting live on Facebook for MLive. According to MLive, Robinson was later released from custody on $100 bond.

"I'm media," he told officers, as he was pushed to the ground. 

A counter-protester puts a hand up to stop a fellow counter protester from going after Proud Boys members with a stick during a skirmish at Bronson Park in Kalamazoo.

The Proud Boys had planned a rally and counter-protesters, described as the anti-fascist leftist group Antifa by protesters, staged their own event in the area at the same time, according to local media reports.

At about 2 p.m. Saturday, members of the Proud Boys marched past Antifa members armed with assault weapons. Fighting erupted with combatants wielding sticks and batons and throwing things.

The Proud Boys released a chemical irritant, dispersing the counter-protesters, and continued marching down Michigan Avenue to Bronson Park, where they were confronted by more counter-protesters.

Some fistfights occurred before police arrived and ordered the crowds to leave. Robinson reported that some of the Proud Boys also used pepper spray on people.

A Proud Boy has cuts on his face after clashing with counter-protestors.

The male-only Proud Boys has been called an extremist group by the Anti-Defamation League and described as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Proud Boys dispute those descriptions.

“The Proud Boys, they not only have hatred for Jewish people and Muslim people, but they’re also very hateful of anybody who doesn’t look like them or act like them,” said the Rev. Nathan Dannison, pastor of the First Congregational Church, which hosted a vigil by counter-protesters.

A Proud Boys member, who identified himself only "Mack," which is not his real name because "a lot of people out there that want me to lose my job and lose everything ..." later said the group bypassed the park where the other group was rallying because "they have as much of a right to assemble."

"We attempted to go around the park, and "at that point, we basically got rushed," he claimed, "by several who appeared to be Antifa and BLM."

"We were approached, words obviously were exchanged, and ... a member of the group at the park was the first one to throw a punch." 

He claimed that the first blow exchanged was on video and that it is a Proud Boy law that "we not throw the first punch."

"We'll defend ourselves ... and we had to do what we could do to make ourselves safe," he said. 

Mack had no comment on weapons the group carried during the march and said reports that "pepper spray was used" as a "last-ditch effort to bascially stop the fighting that was going on." 

After the confrontation, members of the Proud Boys went to a nearby garage where their cars were parked and left the area. 

Proud Boys cross Michigan Avenue on Rose Street in Kalamazoo, Saturday.

Kalamazoo City Police gave an order to clear the area and began making multiple arrests of people who refused to leave. Police also used chemical irritants to move counter-protesters out of the area.

Kalamazoo Police were joined by Portage Police and Michigan State Police to push the crowd back down Michigan Avenue to Arcadia Creek Festival Place. The crowd eventually dispersed on their own without further incident. 

Several members of the group who identified themselves as Antifa declined to give their names.

Associated Press contributed.