GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — An event flyer was making the rounds on social media Friday morning, advertising a Proud Boys Rally in Grand Rapids on Saturday.
"My first thought is that it's not good, but they do have freedom of speech," said Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack during an interview on Friday morning. "So, I'm sure they'll be putting their hate messages across the United States whenever they have the opportunity."
The far-right extremist group, which has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center is expected to rally at noon on Saturday at Ah-Nab-Awen park. A counter protest is scheduled for 10 a.m. that morning.
Womack said he wants no one to engage with the Proud Boys when they arrive or during their rally.
"They’re going to hate us before the rally, during the rally, after the rally. You’re not going to change their mind," Womack said. "What happens when they have confrontation is they get more publicity from the violence because more people in the community will want to know what happened [and] how it started and that’s usually their intent."
Womack's main concern is the possibility of violence erupting like it did last summer in Kalamazoo. In August 2020, the Proud Boys rallied in Bronson Park and then marched through the downtown area where they clashed with bystanders and protesters.
A month later the police chief's contract was terminated by the City of Kalamazoo.
"The City of Grand Rapids did not give them a permit but they will be allowed to meet at that park in the First Amendment rights," Womack said. "They just won’t be able to have vendors. They wont be able to have amplified equipment. They will be able to use bullhorns and things that are protected under the First Amendment."
FOX 17 reached out to Grand Rapids Police for an interview. They were unavailable but they released this statement ahead of the planned event:
"Violence just continues to follow the Proud Boys from city to city," Womack said. "Now the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County as a whole we have to deal with it."
***FOX 17 will have continuing coverage of Saturday's planned event both on-air, online, on our Facebook page and our mobile news app.***