The Proud Boys made their presence known at the Close the Camps Rally at the Holocaust Memorial Center.
Photography by Anthony Lanzilote
With the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills as the backdrop, a rally Tuesday evening protesting conditions in U.S. detention centers organized by the Close the Camps Detroit Coalition attracted a counter-protest by Metro Detroiters Eugene Greenstein, Linda Stulberg and others. Unexpectedly joining the counter-protesters were approximately 15 members of the black-attired, all-male group Proud Boys.
Greenstein said he was uncertain how the Proud Boys learned of the event, noting they were not invited by the organizers of the counter-protest. Farmington Hills police estimated approximately 200 people were in attendance, with most listening to the Close the Camps Detroit program.
A representative of the Proud Boys who gave his name as Columbus said his group “heard about this (the counter-protest) through some of our friends, and we thought it was pretty disgusting that they (the Close the Camps Coalition) were out here politicizing the Holocaust. We wish that it was anywhere but the Holocaust Memorial Center, but we thought standing with them was more important than politicizing it.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) defines the Proud Boys as “a right wing ‘fraternity'” who present themselves as defenders of conservative values and put a premium on confronting or attacking leftists.”
Rabbi Brent Gutmann from Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield was one of the voices heard at the Close the Camps rally.
“We are led by many different people from many places with different associations, but everyone is here as an individual representing his or her own conscience,” Gutmann said. “For me, the goal of being here is to demand that every human being deserves and receives dignity from our government.”
Rene Lichtman, a Hidden Child during the Holocaust, told those assembled at the Close the Camps rally, “We are against what is happening with ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the influence of (President) Trump,” Lichtman said. “I empathize a lot with the children who are being separated from their families because that is what happened to me during the Second World War. I barely knew my mother.”
The choice of location by Close the Camps was a source of contention among counter-protesters.
“As a Jew, I find it difficult and as an American, too,” said Rabbi Aryeh Spero of the Conference on Jewish Affairs, who was the primary speaker to those assembled with the counter-protesters. “It is just terrible to use the backdrop of the Holocaust Memorial Center to somehow portray to the public that there is no difference between the real concentration camps and the detention centers.”
“People should not be using the Holocaust Museum and the Holocaust as a prop for their political agenda,” Greenstein said.
Lichtman felt differently, claiming it “is a very appropriate location because this museum stands for what happened and what could happen.”
The HMC released a statement on Tuesday regarding the rallies:
“The Holocaust Memorial Center is not affiliated with the rally activity taking place in front of the building. The Holocaust Memorial Center is proud to be a museum of history and an educational institution. We are dedicated to our mission to engage, educate and empower by remembering the Holocaust. We encourage everyone to draw thoughtful conclusions from the lessons we teach.”
Regarding the presence of the Proud Boys, Rabbi Spero saw them as “eclectic.”
“I think a lot of them are not aligned with fascist groups; there are a lot of different chapters and to be fair to them, you have to judge them based on their particular chapter,” he said.
Lichtman had a different opinion about the presence of this group.
“It was very surreal to me and everybody on our side to see them at the rally,” he said. These are exactly the folks that Trump will use, regardless if he wins or loses the upcoming election, to harass, intimidate and beat up people.”
Members of the Farmington Hills Police Department provided protection for both sides of the protest.