Update: Sources confirm that the "Open Carry" rally has been cancelled after a request from the Traverse City Police Chief. A protest over George Floyd's killing will still be held in Traverse City Saturday.
Randy Bishop, a radio host in Cheboygan, has called for an “Open Carry” rally in Traverse City this weekend amid planned protests over the killing of George Floyd.
As of Thursday night, one protest over Floyd’s death was planned for 12-2 p.m. at the Open Space in Traverse City on Saturday.
Bishop says the Michigan Militia, a paramilitary group with right-wing ties, and the Proud Boys, a right wing group that came to prominence at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, will hold their rally in Traverse City Saturday as well. He says they plan to be peaceful and that firearms will be holstered.
“They have first amendment rights to peacefully assemble, to freedom of speech,” Bishop said of those protesting George Floyd’s death.
“But if it comes to the point … where certain bad actors are going to step up and co-opt a peaceful protest?” he added. “The guys with the second amendment rights will be there and we will step up and we will react.”
Rumors have been circulating over social media for days that protests this weekend could be disrupted by people from outside northern Michigan and counter-protesters, although IPR could not find any evidence to substantiate them. On Thursday, Traverse City Police Chief Jeff O’Brien said his department has investigated several of those claims, and did reach out to individuals that had made threatening posts online.
“We found no credible threats of any type of disruption that’s gonna happen in Traverse City. There’s been some chatter on Facebook about individuals coming up here and assisting the police,” he said Thursday prior to Bishop’s announcement. “We’ve reached out to them and told them we don’t need any assistance.”
O’Brien did not say specifically who his office has communicated with, but asked that any attendees of protests this weekend not bring weapons.
Bishop says he initially wasn’t planning on attending any protests this weekend, but changed his mind after seeing a flyer allegedly passed out to business owners in downtown Traverse City.
The flyer, a picture of which was posted to social media, called for peaceful protests and urged shop owners to put signs in their windows declaring that they’re minority-owned or “white allies” to prevent rioting or looting from violent protesters.
“I know there is concern of vandalism, rioting and looting. I want to prevent this from happening in any way that I can!” the flyer reads. “For this reason, if your business is MINORITY-OWNED, please put signs in your windows stating this!”
Organizers in Traverse City say the flyer was passed out by a group that was planning a peaceful protest, and was intended to prevent damage and looting to Traverse City stores. But Bishop insists the flyer was passed out by “bad actors,” saying it could be from the Black Lives Matter movement or ANTIFA, a left-wing, anti-fascist political movement. IPR found no evidence to support that claim.
Bishop has been involved with Second Amendment protests and resolutions passed by several northern Michigan counties, including Grand Traverse.
Prior to Thursday, protestors and law enforcement officials called for peaceful demonstrations in town. Protests throughout the week in Traverse City, Petoskey and Gaylord have been peaceful, according to attendees and media reports.
Traverse City Police Chief Jeff O’Brien held two impromptu press conferences this week, one with Traverse City’s Mayor, Mayor Pro Tem and City Manager, to dispel online rumors and urge for peaceful protests. He said he understands the frustration over Floyd’s death.
“I speak for everybody in law enforcement: we do not condone the actions of law enforcement officers in Minneapolis," O'Brien said.
On Tuesday Mayor Jim Carruthers also echoed calls for protests in Traverse City to remain peaceful.
"We welcome people here, we just want people to be safe and to share their opinions and not do damage to our city," Carruthers said.
A peaceful protest was scheduled earlier this week in Cadillac, but it was cancelled due to threats, according to an organizer.
“It has become apparent that our collective vision for a peaceful demonstration has been undermined. We have received a number of credible threats from outside sources to hijack our community event and diminish our movement and our message,” the event’s organizer told attendees on Facebook.
A clerk at the Cadillac Office of Public Safety said the protest was simply rescheduled, but could not name a time or place.