Hundreds join call for Grand Traverse Co. officials' resignations after rifle display

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

Hundreds of people are calling for the resignation of two Grand Traverse County officials after an online meeting was disrupted when one displayed a rifle this week while a citizen expressed criticism of county commissioners. 

Ron Clous

During a livestreamed Grand Traverse County Commission meeting on Wednesday, Commissioner Ron Clous showed his rifle as a local woman criticized the board for allowing members of the Proud Boys to speak at a previous commission meeting.

On Friday, a letter was sent to the board of commissioners, the county administrator and the county clerk's office calling for Clous to resign, along with commission Chairman Rob Hentschel.

"Holding an elected office is an absolute privilege, you forfeit that privilege when you brazenly violate someone's constitutional right to free speech," said Michael Naughton, the Traverse City lawyer who wrote the letter.

Rob Hentschel

The 33-page letter has received nearly 500 virtual signatures, including from Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers and all of the city council's members. 

The letter calls for Hentschel to resign or "at the very least to publicly apologize for not handling this matter appropriately."

During public comment Wednesday, local resident Kelli MacIntosh criticized the board for allowing self-described members of the Proud Boys to speak at a meeting last year and urged 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 one point, Clous stepped away from his webcam and returned with a rifle. MacIntosh told the Traverse City Record-Eagle she felt threatened.

In this screen grab taken from a Zoom meeting provided by the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners, Grand Traverse County Commissioner Ron Clous holds a rifle at his home during a county commissioner meeting Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Michigan.

“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?”

Hentschel had laughed in response to Clous’ actions on Wednesday 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.”

Naughton said the incident was not a Second Amendment issue but instead a First Amendment issue because Clous displayed a firearm while a citizen was speaking.

"I talked to a lot of gun owners and they're absolutely appalled, because really this cheapens what the Second Amendment means. Using a firearm has become a respected responsibility. This was not that," Naughton 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.

Proud Boys has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and an extremist group by the FBI.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.