Traverse City News and Events

Commissioner Brings Out Rifle During Online Meeting

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 21, 2021

A Grand Traverse County commissioner retrieved what appeared to be a semi-automatic rifle during Wednesday’s virtual commission meeting and held it in front of the camera as a resident gave public comment about concerns over gun violence and the far-right Proud Boys group.

East Bay Township resident Keli MacIntosh spoke during public comment about recent violence in the U.S. Capitol and the presence of Proud Boys at the event. MacIntosh asked Commission Chair Rob Hentschel to make a public statement denouncing Proud Boys, noting Hentschel oversaw a commission meeting last year about making Grand Traverse County a Second Amendment sanctuary county - a meeting at which Hentschel gave the Proud Boys time to present and defend their beliefs. MacIntosh said the commission’s tacit welcome of the group - and support for Michigan for 2A Sanctuary Counties Administrator Randy Bishop’s plan to “send a message” to lawmakers - emboldened some residents to participate in heavily armed protests in Michigan in 2020 and could contribute to further potential violence.

“Having that message go out has changed the environment in northern Michigan from a hunting culture to that of a gun culture, and I just am really concerned,” MacIntosh said. “I can certainly appreciate people wanting to have their gun rights protected, but...permission has been given to these activists to do more with their guns than go out hunting.”

As MacIntosh spoke, Commission Vice Chair Ron Clous got up from his chair and disappeared off-screen momentarily. He returned with what appeared to be a semi-automatic rifle, holding it across his chest close to the camera as MacIntosh continued speaking. Hentschel began laughing when he saw Clous, with Clous then setting the rifle down on the floor (the incident took place at the 1-hour, 31-minute mark of the meeting). Clous did not respond to email and phone requests for comment Wednesday.

Hentschel addressed the topic of the Proud Boys’ link to the commission during another public comment Wednesday. Long Lake Township resident Kate Dahlstrom decried Proud Boys as a “hate extremist group,” questioning why the group’s members had been allowed to speak longer than public comment rules typically permit at the 2020 commission meeting and asking commissioners to consider revoking their support for the Second Amendment sanctuary county designation. “Why do commissioners continue to add disruptive, ill-advised, non-relevant resolutions to their agenda that waste large amounts of time?” she asked.

After Dahlstrom finished her remarks, Hentschel stopped public comment to address the “insinuation of racism on this board,” which he said he took very seriously. Hentschel said while he himself was not a member of Proud Boys, he knew members of the group. “I’ve met a few,” he said. “I’ve met Black Proud Boys. I’ve met multi-racial Puerto Rican Proud Boys. And they inform me they also have gay Proud Boys. I don’t see how that’s a hate group. And I don’t really appreciate this forum being used to spread misinformation about me or groups. You can do that in your magazines and your editorials, OK?”

Commissioner Bryce Hundley questioned Hentschel’s deviation from board policy in halting public comment in order for the chair to add his own remarks. “Is it appropriate to be commenting on public comment in this manner?” Hundley asked. Hentschel said that if any public commenter called Hundley or other commissioners “racist or insinuated you were associated with a racist group, I would invite you to defend yourself in any way you see fit. And I would give that right to you or a Proud Boy, as I did last year...if somebody’s coming on and spreading lies about you, I invite you to defend yourself.” Hentschel then allowed public comment to resume for the meeting.

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