By Sergio Cortes
May 12: Home of Miguel Arias
Ben Bergquam and a dozen of his supporters arrived at Fresno City Council Member Miguel Arias’s apartment door.
Bergquam runs a Facebook page called Frontline America, where he espouses xenophobic and anti-government messages including claims that “hundreds of illegal aliens ruined [Fresno]” and calling Gavin Newsom a “dictator.” In Instagram posts, he complains that Netflix is making him watch “gay sex” and he likens Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to MS-13 gang members.
Many community members identify Bergquam as a White nationalist, although the Fresno Bee reports that Bergquam “flip flops” on his affiliation with the Proud Boys—a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center names as a White supremacist hate group. Bergquam has appeared in photographs with people holding up the “OK” hand gesture used by White nationalists.
In a press release, Arias says the group attempted to “force their way” into his residence. Arias claims Bergquam’s video from the incident is heavily edited and that it “depicts a small fraction of a much longer incident.” If true, it evokes the hallmark tactic of alt-right instigator James O’Keefe, whose undercover video “exposés” feature heavily edited footage designed to embarrass supposed liberal misdeeds.
Here’s some context to what happened:
May 6: Fresno’s Freedom Rally
A few hundred people attended “Fresno’s Freedom Rally” led by Bergquam and hosted in front of Fresno City Hall. Fresno Chief of Police Andy Hall, Fresno City Council Member Garry Bredefeld and Fresno County Supervisors Steve Brandau and Nathan Magsig attended according to photos taken at the event.
The organizers did not have a permit. A city spokesperson told the Fresno Bee that the crowd didn’t need a permit unless they were blocking a public street or sidewalk, per Article 24, Section 14-2404 of the city code. Photos circulated online show a vehicle and tents blocking a public sidewalk and fire lane.
Community activists claim this was a case of selective enforcement: National Lawyers Guild legal observer Mariah Thompson tweeted that the city has cited Black Lives Matters protestors and has arrested ICE protestors over a bullhorn. During my previous work with a tenants rights advocacy group, No More Slumlords, a city hall security guard threatened to shut down our protest if our group blocked the sidewalk.
May 10: Protest at the Waffle Shop
A code enforcement officer accompanied by police attempted to deliver a citation to the owner of the Waffle Shop, a northwest Fresno restaurant that had been rejecting city and state orders by opening for dine-in service. As a police officer tried to enter the building, patrons outside the restaurant blocked the officer; a police spokesperson claimed one person grabbed the officer. That person was briefly detained, but no arrests were made. The police chief issued a statement questioning the officer’s handling of the situation.
May 11: Bredefeld Press Conference
Council Member Bredefeld held a press conference in front of the Waffle Shop. Bredefeld criticized Mayor Lee Brand and other members of the Fresno City Council, saying that Fresno residents were all under “house arrest” by a “tyrannical and authoritarian government.” He compared the actions of code enforcement the day before to the Gestapo.
Bergquam and his supporters were there. So were a variety of local media outlets. Fresno Bee photographer John Walker wrote in a Facebook post that there was a “nearly physical confrontation between a reporter and three protestors—who accused him of being in front of one of them.”
ABC 30 reporter Corin Hoggard commented on that post: “I walked a female competitor [from another news outlet] away from a confrontation and got followed, harangued and then shouted at by a growing group of people.”
Bergquam and his supporters make me scared for my family’s safety. Hours after Bergquam and his supporters showed up to my City Council member’s door, I heard someone repeatedly ring the doorbell of my Fresno apartment. I froze, then peeked out the window to see an Amazon delivery person walking away.
I was worried that Bergquam had come for me. He and his supporters have escalated their activities: staging the freedom rally and physically intimidating law enforcement and journalists around the Waffle Shop incident.
Bergquam says he isn’t a White nationalist, but all of his actions tell us otherwise. His group represents hostility toward immigrants and our Latinx community. What makes me scared for my family and my community is that they appear to operate unchecked—perhaps even endorsed—by the people who are supposed to keep us safe.
Something is terribly wrong. ¡La lucha sigue!
Sergio Cortes is a community correspondent and visual storyteller for uSpark.
Southern Poverty Law Center: https://www.splcenter.org/…/extremist-files/group/proud-boys
Rep. Devin Nunes called out by rival over Proud Boys photo: https://sacramento.cbslocal.com/…/21/devin-nunes-proud-boys/
Fresno Municipal Code: https://library.municode.com/…/fr…/codes/code_of_ordinances…
About James O’Keefe: https://www.snopes.com/…/18/project-veritas-election-videos/
Central Valley Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild director’s statement: https://twitter.com/_mcthompson/status/1260414919264006145
Bredefeld, Crazy Bernie highlight Fresno Freedom Rally outside City Hall: https://www.fresnobee.com/news/local/article242543411.html…
Fresno Bee photographer post:
Council Member Miguel Arias’s press release: https://www.facebook.com/…/a.56677137344…/2993849580736351/…