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How the news media reported on Proud Boys violence in Kalamazoo on Saturday

August 17, 2020

Most major Michigan news outlets reported on what happened in Kalamazoo on Saturday, with the Proud Boys violence. However, most news outlets also chose to frame the violence as equally distributed by the right and the left, or with no clear source of the violence with headlines like the one from MLive, Rally turns violent as Proud Boys met by counter-protesters in downtown Kalamazoo

The problem with this reporting is that it is only reactive. It was known for at least a week that the Proud Boys would be coming to Kalamazoo to spew their White Supremacist propaganda, yet the news media didn’t really make an effort to report on who the Proud Boys are, what their ideology is and what their history of violence has been. Several of the news outlets that reported on this did mention that the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified the Proud Boys as a Hate Group, but this reference is vague and frankly, a lazy form of journalism. Sure, most news sources provided a link to the Southern Poverty law Center information on the Proud Boys, but they should have included at least an except within the coverage. 

An additional source on the Proud Boys comes from Emily Gorcenski, writing for another group that monitors the far right, the Political Research Associates

The Proud Boys, launched in 2016, had managed to stand apart from many of the other groups that attended and organized the fatal Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Compared to the White supremacists they sometimes marched alongside, the Proud Boys—self-declared “Western chauvinists” whose core ethos is that they won’t “apologize for creating the modern world”4—enjoy comfortable proximity to the conservative mainstream. Existing almost entirely to antagonize left-wing and Democratic opposition, they effectively serve as the Republican Party’s militant arm.

I would also recommend the recent book, Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right Is Warping the American Imagination by Alexandra Mina Stern, as a good source on unpacking who the Proud Boys are.

So, since the Proud Boys have a history of violence against marginalized communities, to not report on them ahead of the rally on Saturday, not only does a dis-service to the community of Kalamazoo, it makes the news media complicit in the White Supremacist violence.

One independent news source, Community Voices, did report ahead of time on the Proud Boys coming to Kalamazoo, with information about their planned rally and information to assist people in identifying far right White Supremacist groups. 

However, most of the commercial news media ran headlines like:

Rally turns violent as Proud Boys met by counter-protesters in downtown Kalamazoo 

Proud Boys, counter-protesters clash in Kalamazoo 

Far right Proud Boys group clashes with counter-protesters in Kalamazoo 

Violence erupts at Kalamazoo rally and counter-protest 

Proud Boys, counter-protesters clash in downtown Kalamazoo 

Far-right group, counter-protesters clash in Kalamazoo 

You can see from each of these headlines that the news media frames the violence as stemming from all parties, without really acknowledging the fact that a far right White Supremacist groups came to Kalamazoo with the specific purpose to intimidate people, do real harm to people and to spread their propaganda.

The articles themselves don’t provide much insight into what happened and both the print and broadcast news included lots of short videos of interactions between Proud Boys and “counter-protesters.”

There was a fair amount of social media commentary from people who were there and were there specifically to force the Proud Boys to leave. One person commented:

“The police SPECIFICALLY PROTECTED the proud boys, CLEARED SPACE for them to leave, and then began ARRESTING Black counter protestors as well as the Media outlet reporting in this video. State police/Portage police/and Kalamazoo police are all complicit.”

Several other activists confirmed this observation about how the police seemed to be providing cover for the Proud Boys, which led to activists showing up outside the police station in a separate demonstration, as was reported on by WZZM 13

Furthermore, the City of Kalamazoo, which included the Police Chief, held a press conference on Sunday, which was reported on by MLive, with the headline, Police chief says Proud Boys completed their mission by causing chaos in downtown Kalamazoo.

What is instructive about the Sunday Press conference by the Kalamazoo Police Chief was that they admitted that they knew that the Proud Boys were coming as early as July, that they had “a plan in place” and that the Police Chief said they,  had officers in an unmarked vehicle on scene and that the department was using aerial surveillance and deployed law enforcement officials immediately upon the initial clash occurring a half-hour earlier than expected.”

What is equally instructive is the fact that while there were 111 police officers present, they did not really prevent any violence, yet arrested 9 people, NONE of which were members of the Proud Boys.

It would be very interesting to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to see exactly what the police knew and why none of the Proud Boys were arrested.

The fact that the police presence was massive and it resulted in no arrests of Proud Boys is consistent with what we have seen all across the US when White Supremacists come to communities and are met by resisters like antifa. In fact, a very similar situation happened in Kalamazoo in 2007, when White Supremacists came to Kalamazoo and were outnumber by anti-racist activists three to one. As someone who was involved in that action, the police not only created free speech spaces for the White Supremacists, they always faced those were were there to confront the White Supremacists and not the White Supremacists themselves, as was reported on by the indy news source Media Mouse

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