KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Reverend Nathan Dannison remembers Saturday starting off peacefully at Arcadia Park in the downtown area.
He and others held a peace vigil that morning, prayed, and gave away pizza to men and women experiencing homelessness, while other community members warned them about what was to come.
“The day of the rally, we’re all here, sort of manifesting positive energy,” Rev. Dannison said during an interview with FOX 17 at Arcadia on Monday. “It was great to see so many residents of the city come together and declare with one voice that hate has no home here.”
Dannison said they all committed themselves to nonviolent demonstrations.
However, around 1:30 p.m. the Proud Boys showed up and, he said, beat up the first Black person they saw.
He believes that’s was ignited the violence.
“I’m very disappointed that the whole thing happened in the first place. I think it was just terrible,” said Rev. Dannison, a well-known local pastor. “I don’t understand why they were allowed to shut the street down. They didn’t have a permit. They didn’t have a parade permit or a festival permit or anything. You want to have a food truck in this town, you got to have a permit. They didn’t have any of that and they just walked up and they just started beating the tar out of people.”
Dannison said the violence was ‘pretty nasty.’ People from the medical community tried to help the others who were injured in the fights. However, when that happened, the Proud Boys peppered sprayed them.
Dannison was among the group trying to get help for those who were injured.
“I’m not a police officer. I’m just a resident of Kalamazoo and it broke my heart watching residents of Kalamazoo being subjected to violence by outside terrorists and the police stood there and watched,” Rev. Dannison said. “I don’t understand. I’ve got a lot of questions and I want to give the police an opportunity to explain everything.”
Sunday afternoon, the City of Kalamazoo held a press conference at City Hall about the rally. Mayor David Anderson, City Manager Jim Ritsema, and Police Chief Karianne Thomas said they denounce the Proud Boys and their ‘hate-mongering’ views and tactics.
Chief Thomas also talked about the law enforcement plan for the rally, which had officers staged in certain areas that were near the rally and march but not directly next to it. She said they were instructed to intervene if the situation ‘turned riotous, assaultive or physically destructive,’ which officers did, she said, despite a number of videos showing otherwise.
Local activists were in attendance at the presser as well. They said the police could’ve done more that day to arrest the Proud Boys and help the counter-protestors and activists.
Rev. Dannison didn’t attend the presser, considering it was by invitation only and open to the media. However, he agreed with the activists.
“Ninety percent of the terrorist attacks that have taken place on American soil this year are from far-right, right-wing, white terrorists like the Proud Boys,” Rev. Dannison said, his numbers and research stemming from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Most terrorist attacks in America are carried out by white men. And that’s the truth. That’s a fact. So we need to take it seriously. And, I don’t get the sense that our city leadership is taking it this serious.”
Before the Proud Boys left on Saturday, Rev. Dannison said they did the Nazi salute and shouted ‘Sieg Heil,' which is a popular Nazi victory saying.
Dannison detests the group and their ideology, he said. However, because he is clergyman, he sees his work in the fight against hatred and extremist groups as important, even though it can be tiresome.
“It’s exhausting because every single human being is made in the image of God, and that includes the Proud Boys, it includes these sick white men who have bought into a very twisted ideology,” Rev. Dannison said. “The part of me that’s a human being, sees the part of them that’s a human being and I want them to be made well and healed.”
Since Saturday’s Proud Boys rally, members of the extremist group have been reaching out to him, calling him, and sometimes ‘they’re pretty nasty’ he said. However he uses the time to pray with them if they'd like.
“I use it as an opportunity to encourage them to leave hatred behind and to stop being proud boys and maybe consider becoming humble men,” Rev. Dannison said. “You know maybe grow up out of this into somebody who God wants you to be. That’s my prayer for them.”
Rev. Dannison also said that he hopes that parents, especially of young white men between the ages of 15-22, are paying attention to what’s going on and educating their kids on the dangers of the Proud Boys and other extremist groups.
He said it’s one way to combat the power of the Proud Boys and others similar groups.
“Pay attention to what he’s doing on the internet. Make sure that he’s not getting radicalized. Most terrorist attacks in America are carried out by white men,” Rev. Dannison said. “The truth of the matter is that I believe that parents could intercede in their children’s lives if they just would pay attention and wake up to what their young boys are consuming."