A veteran officer with the Fresno Police Department was placed on leave over the weekend when it emerged that he had joined a group of Proud Boys in counterprotesting local citizens who oppose turning over a local theater to an anti-LGBTQ church. But it also turned out that this was nothing new: The officer, a veteran of over a decade named Rick Fitzgerald, had been marching with the hate group for over three years.
It went unnoticed largely because modern police culture, over the past four years, developed an extremely tolerant and often benign approach to dealing with far-right street brawlers like the Proud Boys. As The New York Times explored in depth this weekend, it took their prominent role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol for law enforcement to recognize that these proto-fascist organizations are a public menace, and the involvement of law enforcement officers both in the groups themselves, and in enabling their violence—often by turning a blind eye to it, while charging their victims with crimes—is a serious problem that police agencies around the country must confront.
From the very outset—beginning with their first public event, in April 2017 in Berkeley, California—the Proud Boys’ entire brand has revolved around generating extraordinary street violence. Yet even as its track record for extremism mounted with each “free speech” and “pro-Trump” event held in a targeted liberal urban center—particularly in Portland, Oregon, and other West Coast cities—the kid-gloves treatment they received from police forces dealing with them became a documented trend.
If local authorities are indeed now taking involvement with the Proud Boys by their police officers seriously, that would mark a significant sea change. There is a long history of city officials dismissing those concerns.