(Editor’s note: The following is a statement sent to the media by the Save the Tower Theatre demonstration organizers. They demonstrate the sale of the iconic theater to a conservative church each Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon on the northeast corner of Olive and Wishon avenues.)
April 13—Fresno Police Department tolerance of Proud Boy intimidation tactics at peaceful demonstrations threatens the free speech rights of law-abiding citizens, say organizers for the Save the Tower Theatre Demonstration Committee, after a tense demonstration Sunday when a large group of Proud Boys harassed demonstrators and one Proud Boy was arrested after assaulting a Save the Tower demonstrator.
“Officers from the Fresno Police Department have repeatedly told us that they view the Proud Boys neutrally as another group of demonstrators and have passively allowed the Proud Boys to physically threaten our demonstrators. There is a huge disconnect between [Fresno Police] Chief [Paco] Balderrama describing the Proud Boys as a hate group and the police on the streets treating the Proud Boys with friendliness and deference,” said Heather Parish, a member of the Save the Tower Theatre Demonstration Committee.
“The Proud Boys are not peaceful demonstrators. They don’t come to our demonstrations carrying signs or expressing an opinion about the Tower Theatre. They come wearing tactical vests, helmets and hard-knuckle gloves, carrying knives and pepper spray, and their only reason for being there is to intimidate law-abiding citizens from exercising their First Amendment right to free speech,” said Parish.
“The Save the Tower Theatre Demonstration Committee calls upon [Fresno] Mayor [Jerry] Dyer and Police Chief Balderrama to publicly denounce the Proud Boys’ presence at these demonstrations and at any public gathering in Fresno. To stay silent in the face of such aggression is to invite more of it. If the Tower District demonstrations are forced to be curbed or canceled due to this city’s unpreparedness to meet this issue head-on, it will indicate that our citizens’ rights are at the mercy of extremist groups and are not protected by this city’s leaders and law enforcement,” said Parish.
At Sunday’s Save the Tower Theatre demonstration, a man wearing a pro–Second Amendment t-shirt who arrived with the Proud Boys and stood with them assaulted a Save the Tower Theatre demonstrator. The assailant and several other Proud Boys briefly scuffled with police, but only the man who had attacked a demonstrator was arrested.
The assailant was part of a large group of Proud Boys attending Sunday’s demonstration whom police struggled to control. The Proud Boys, who wore patches indicating affiliation from Proud Boy chapters from Bakersfield, Placerville and other cities, surged onto the sidewalk to directly taunt, harass and threaten Save the Tower demonstrators.
Officers on the scene requested that Save the Tower demonstrators stand back to allow the Proud Boys to occupy the sidewalk. Toward the end of the demonstration, Proud Boys completely encircled the crowd, preventing Save the Tower demonstrators from leaving while the police looked on.
The Proud Boys have been a frequent presence at the Save the Tower Theatre demonstrations. Neither Laurence Abbate, the owner of the Tower Theatre, nor Anthony Flores, the pastor of the Adventure Church, has given any comment on the Proud Boy presence in the Tower District.
The Proud Boys are a far-right, neo-fascist, White nationalist organization that promotes and engages in political violence. The Anti-Defamation League has called the Proud Boys “violent, nationalistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and misogynistic.” The Canadian government has designated the Proud Boys a terrorist group. Last week, Fresno Police Department officer Rick Fitzgerald was dismissed for his membership in the Proud Boys and the Sons of 1776.