TRAVERSE CITY — A Grand Traverse County commissioner drew immediate backlash after he displayed a rifle in response to a public commenter during a livestreamed public meeting.
Ron Clous was in his home during the Wednesday meeting and said he was responding to a Traverse City woman, Keli MacIntosh, during her public comment regarding a Second Amendment resolution passed by the board in March. MacIntosh questioned what she called the board’s support of the Proud Boys, and asked commission Chairman Rob Hentschel to make a statement denouncing the group.
That’s when Clous stepped away from his webcam and returned with a rifle. MacIntosh said she had a visceral reaction. She felt threatened, she said.
“This guy is in the middle of a government meeting brandishing a weapon,” MacIntosh said. “Why would I not think they were trying to harm me?”
When contacted by the Record-Eagle, Clous said he hauled out his rifle in response to the board being asked to denounce the group.
“I was going to chime in as well,” Clous said. “I was just going to show the rifle and show that I fully support the Second Amendment, but then I opted not to ... I was in my home.”
Clous said he won’t denounce any group, including Black Lives Matter, the NFL, or LBGTQ.
“The only thing I know about them (Proud Boys) is when they came and spoke to us,” Clous said. “They were probably the most respected folks that got up and talked (at the March meeting). They were decent guys and they treated us with respect.”
Proud Boys has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and an extremist group by the FBI. They were in the national spotlight in September when former president Donald Trump asked them during a debate to “stand back and stand by.” Trump backtracked and denounced the group several days later.
Hentschel, who laughed in response to Clous’ actions, said he had no problem with what Clous did.
“I saw it across his chest and I thought it was ironic of him to do that,” Hentschel said. “The person was talking about guns and he had one across his chest. I didn’t see him do anything illegal or dangerous with it. He wasn’t threatening or brandishing. He was just holding it.”
Hentschel said there is no board policy against open carry or concealed carry of firearms at board meetings that take place at the Governmental Center.
He said he isn’t even sure it would be legal to have such a policy, though someone open-carrying at a public meeting might scare some people.
“It’s not a great idea,” he said. “Personally, I would not feel unsafe.”
Holly T. Bird, a local attorney and activist, said she was appalled when she watched the recorded county meeting.
“Ron Clous was seen to hold up a rifle to the camera, which I think is supportive of the Proud Boys and the insurrection, but also a threat,” Bird said. “Everyone knows that if you’re walking down the street and someone flashes a gun at you, it’s a threat. To have a public official do that during a public meeting is horrendous.”
Bird said it doesn’t matter that Clous was in his home.
“You don’t have to be next to someone to make a threat. You can communicate in other ways, including over the internet,” Bird said.
Commissioner Betsy Coffia said as the incident unfolded, her phone erupted with constituent calls.
“It was deeply disturbing, wildly inappropriate and needs to be investigated,” Coffia said.
The board was in the midst of being asked to denounce a hate group, and such behavior is unacceptable, especially in light of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and what happened earlier this year at the state capital, Coffia said.
“His response to that was to go get a gun and wave it at the camera,” Coffia said.
When contacted, county Administrator Nate Alger said he did not see the incident and had not had time to review a recording of the meeting.
“I can’t think of any laws that were violated and I don’t know of any policies that were violated,” Alger said. “It got people’s attention. If we have to look further into it, we certainly will.”
The largely symbolic resolution in question during Wednesday’s meeting, passed by the board in March, says the county cannot use public funds to restrict Second Amendment rights or to enforce measures contradicting it.
Randy Bishop, who is not a Proud Boy member, according to Hentschel, was invited to the March 4 meeting as the organizer pushing commissioners to adopt the resolution. Two self-proclaimed members of the Proud Boys group were at the meeting and each spoke for three minutes. Bishop was given 20 minutes, Hentschel said.
Kate Dahlstrom recently sent board members an email asking them to confirm they were not members of the Proud Boys. During public comment at Wednesday’s meeting she asked the board to rescind the resolution and asked for an apology from Hentschel for inviting them to the meeting.
“I am not a member of Proud Boys,” Hentschel said. “But I do know a few Proud Boys. 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.”
Bird said Clous’ behavior during Wednesday’s meeting was not funny and that elected officials need to be held to a higher standard.
“This is not how you represent your community,” Bird said.