A clash between far-right Proud Boys and a church-led unity group in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan, led to several arrests and injuries Saturday afternoon.
The duel formed after news emerged of a planned rally by an estimated 50 Proud Boys—deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center—who were interrupted by about 150 to 200 counter-protesters from a local First Congregational Church.
MLive reported that the congregation hosted an anti-racism vigil within Arcadia Creek Festival Place, forming a perimeter around the area.
“Let’s work together to remain peaceful and manifest positive energy with each other, to take care of each other, to take care of our own selves and our own safety, and to defend one another,” Rev. Nathan Dannison told the organized crowd.
That’s when a group of Proud Boys, reportedly bearing American flags, bright yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” banners, and Trump 2020 flags, trekked to the park and allegedly pepper-sprayed the crowd, including the church pastor.
“As soon as the Proud Boys reached the perimeter of the park, they began to assault some of the homeless people who live around there. That’s what triggered the violence," Dannison explained to MLive. "A lot of bystanders saw what appeared to be a lynching about to take place and that’s when it all exploded.”
The confrontation began with mutual shouting and then erupted into a flurry of flying fists and swinging protest signs. The fight then spilled onto Edwards Street.
At least one man was seen with blood streaming down his face and others flushing irritants out of their eyes, according to FOX 17.
“We’re both covered in pepper spray, we both watched people get hit in the face,” Noelle Massey, a Kalamazoo resident who was among the counter-protesters, told reporters.
“I don’t want racists having the freedom to march down our streets without repercussions,” said Darrick Hubbard, another local counter-protester.
Samuel Robinson, a journalist for MLive, was among those detained. The black Michigan reporter filmed his own arrest as dozens of cops in riot gear suddenly descended on the feuding masses.
Robinson, 23, had commented on the lack of police presence during the violence when suddenly a block of law enforcement in black protective clothing emerged.
Filming live for the local news site, Robinson walked among the officers, appearing to approach directly, and telling them he was media as others called the officers “literal Nazis," The New York Post reported.
“Jesus — I’m being arrested!” Robinson suddenly cried, his camera shaking as officers gathered around him.
He repeatedly shouted, “I’m media!” before the live feed cut out.
Robinson was charged with impeding traffic and released from custody a few hours later on $100 bond, Mlive reported.
“The working press must be assured the right to cover public events that clearly are in the public interest, without reprisals,” stated John Hiner, MLive’s vice president of content.
“These situations are difficult for all involved, but media who identify themselves are not a part of the event — they are working it, just like the police," he added.
Kalamazoo Deputy City Manager Jeff Chamberlain claimed that the heavy police presence arrived because multiple groups were visibly armed with various weapons, including firearms.
“Numerous physical fights broke out among the groups,” Chamberlain said in a press statement.
“Once the event turned violent, the officers responded quickly and restored order," he continued. "To restore order to the area, the officers declared a police zone and dispersed the crowds. This is still an unpredictable situation and we encourage the community to remain safe.”
Kalamazoo police told FOX17 that officers did what they were trained to do and “treated people with dignity and respect.”
The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety had developed plans for handling peaceful protests and violent turn of events, which included over 100 officers from 5 jurisdictions.
The church's pastor told MLive that he was “very disappointed in the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety” for their handling of the day’s events.
“I’m convinced if counter protesters were not there, they would have killed somebody," Dannison added.
The craze concluded in Kalamazoo a half-hour after it commenced.