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This story was written in conjunction with staff at the Sierra Foothills Stump. You can the Stump on Patreon here.
This article was updated to include comment from Jaimee Ellison of Turlock BLM.
For the third year in a row, perennial fringe candidate Don Grundmann put on his “Straight Pride” event in front of a closed-for-the-day Planned Parenthood in Modesto, California on August 28th. The annual gatherings have become a defacto show of force for violent, hard-right paramilitary groups in the Central Valley and this year was no different. A counter-rally at nearby Roosevelt Park saw a turnout of about 100 people. Antifascists at the park chased out heads of two of the paramilitary groups who had been invited by a Black Lives Matter organizer against the wishes of the anti-hate event’s organizers. The day ended in the Proud Boys and others assaulting antifascist counter-protestors who showed up to extract a small group who went to stand in across the street from Grundmann’s event with signs and were being surrounded and heckled. Police allowed members of the Proud Boys and others to assault counter-protestors with relative impunity, with only two people arrested—one for assaulting an officer.
Don Grundmann is a chiropractor in San Leandro who’s run for office in the ultra-right Constitution Party and is affiliated with segregationist George Wallace’s American Independent Party. He held the first Straight Pride event in 2019. A Proud Boys-aligned group called “Resist Marxism” gained national media attention at the time for putting on a “Straight Pride Parade” in Boston. That year, Grundmann scheduled his event a week early to try to jump on the bandwagon and continued the bit, making it annual. While the first Modesto Straight Pride event saw at most about 20 attendees and was largely shouted down by over 100 counter-protestors, last year and this year’s events saw a large turnout from local militias and Proud Boy chapters. This year’s Straight Pride event was especially concerning because it had high turnout despite very little public advertising or chatter in local right wing online spaces.
Community groups from around the Central Valley planned an anti-hate rally at Roosevelt Park, a little over half a mile from the Planned Parenthood where Grundmann holds his event every year. The counter-protest was pleasant for the most part. Organizations like Sacramento Punks With Lunch brought food and water, a musician with a keyboard did a great rendition of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” and someone brought a cute little parrot that hung upside down on their caretaker’s finger. There was tension, however.
Sean Kuykendall, leader of the Central Valley Proud Boys, and Jeyna Marie Griffin from the Central Valley Militia and Liberty Belles, an all female auxiliary group that has traveled throughout the Central Valley to give support to Proud Boys and other local far right groups, showed up across from the main event by themselves with a banner that said “We the People” on it lashed between a tree and the fence of a tennis court.
These two paramilitary group leaders had been invited, according to multiple local attendees and organizers LCRW spoke to, by Jaimee Ellison of Turlock Black Lives Matter, who upset local activists by apparently making an agreement with Griffin and Kuykendall without consulting other organizers involved in the anti-hate rally.
The agreement, according to sources, was a sort of truce: Kuykendall and Griffin would keep their people away from the park if counter-protestors stayed away from Planned Parenthood. Other Proud Boys were seen hovering around the park closer to noon.
Ellison later denied coordinating with Kuykendall and Griffin, claiming they have only had “a few civil discourses” with the militia and hate group leaders. A photo of Ellison posing with Griffin and Kuykendall and several interactions between them were publicly viewable on Ellison’s Twitter for over a month before Ellison deleted their account.
“All I told them was to make sure they keep their people away from the park lol,” Ellison told LCRW a Twitter DM.
“We noticed Proud Boys were there so I asked what was up and Jamiee told us they wanted to have a dialogue,” Raven, a volunteer with Sacramento Punks With Lunch, recounted. They told LCRW Ellison didn’t tell anyone beforehand the Proud Boys would be at the anti-hate event and said everyone needed to “share space with them.” Another anti-hate event attendee said another Turlock BLM organizer was on the phone with Straight Pride organizers for 20 minutes during the event.
Raven continued, “Everyone was in agreement apart from Jamiee and Eli (another Turlock BLM member) that [the Proud Boys] were not wanted and they need to leave.”
“[Jaimee] continued to defend them being here and working with them in general,” Raven added.
Groups of protesters began congregating on park benches a few hundred feet away from Kuykendall and Griffin. For about 15 minutes the crowd watched the pair. A middle-aged man playing tennis in the court adjacent to the paramilitary group leaders pointed at their banner and told them to “take that racist shit down.” At that point the counter protesters decided that it was time for Kuykendall and Griffin to leave. The crowd of maybe 15 counter protesters confronted the two. It quickly became a screaming match with Kuykendall on his megaphone. The group’s argued back and forth, Kuykendall telling the protesters that he forgives them (many pointed out that they have nothing to be forgiven over) and the counter protesters yelling that they needed to leave. An antifascist who went by Quinn described the confrontation:
“After first trying to appear collected and calm Sean [Kuykendall]’s temper quickly surged shortly after being shown an image taken of him throwing up a Nazi salute. He rambled and yelled for several minutes on a megaphone before our pressure and presence convinced him to vacate the park. We followed him out, made sure he was gone and returned to listen to speakers and browse booths set up around the park. Sean never came back to the park but several of his buddies were seen doing surveillance of the park throughout the day. It should also be noted that Sean’s banner was liberated from further use.”
After Griffin and Kuykendall were made to leave the park, Jaimee Ellison, co-founder of Turlock BLM, got in an argument with a few of the bloc who had confronted the Proud Boys. One of the people arguing with them told The Stump that Ellison said that they would get in trouble over the confrontation with Kuykendall and Griffin. He and others were simply asking Ellison who they thought they were getting in trouble with. Instead of answering the question, Ellison began questioning the activist’s skin color. The person who told The Stump this was a person of color.
The counter-rally started at 10am and was set to end around noon. A source told LCRW that there were at least a dozen cars and six rough-looking men, one in a Proud Boys cap, in front of the home of Mylinda Mason, a fundamentalist, anti-LGBT organizer that co-organizes Straight Pride every year with Grundmann, around 11:15 AM. LCRW saw the Planned Parenthood taped off and no one there around 11:30, with sources seeing Proud Boys and others, some in combat gear with clubs, starting to gather in different spots along McHenry Avenue closer to noon. As the event in the park packed up, antifascists there began asking around for a count of how many showed up at Straight Pride. A source monitoring the Straight Pride event estimated 30 Proud Boys and others ready to fight with 30 others. Another showed LCRW a screenshot of right wingers on Facebook saying there was an “Antifa rally in Modesto.” Most everyone agreed it was time to pack up. For one thing, Modesto City Council banned people wearing body armor and gas masks at protests, so it was especially unwise and dangerous to go near a group of violent, armed fascists waiting around to attack people. For another, they’d successfully had their event in the park and chased out the fascists. They could call it a win.
But then we saw about ten people across the street from the Planned Parenthood holding a trans pride flag and some signs getting surrounded and heckled by the crowd. Those LCRW spoke to at the time and afterwards said these counter-protestors didn’t tell anyone else their plans beforehand. The people still at the park, mostly antifascists in bloc, decided that although they were outnumbered and were at risk of great personal injury, they had to go extract the counter-protestors from the Planned Parenthood. LCRW only witnessed some of the following melee from a vehicle. Antifascists who went to extract the counter-protestors told us what happened after. They all used aliases for their accounts.
“Knowing that these Proud Boys were riled up and looking for a fight, we quickly made the agreement to get to the scene to prevent any unprepared counter-protesters from getting injured,” Quinn recounted.
“We had no time to plan or get ourselves ready so we quickly all dispersed, in different cars arriving at different times, which screwed us over,” Raven said.
Sal said he couldn’t get to the people waving signs and holding a trans pride flag in front of the Straight Pride event.
“As more people rolled in, more Proud Boys started looking in that direction,” he told LCRW.
“This is the part that drives me fucking crazy—“black bloc” showed up two or three at a time. It took five minutes for even five of them to show up,” Sal said.
“I see a lot of masks. Let’s go take those fucking masks off their faces,” Sal remembers a Proud Boy saying.
“As soon as the Proud Boys saw the bloc, they came charging,” he recounted. Sal says they knocked two people over and one of them “jumped on someone, wraps his arms around and starts wailing on them.”
“Fuck, this is bad. This is going to escalate and we’ve got seven people,” Sal said to another counter-protestor.
The Proud Boys closed in and started yelling at people to take their masks off. People started backing up. The Proud Boys moved, “bull-rushing to knock people over, just started swinging from the fucking get-go. Our side runs forward to grab some people and pull them back. A couple of people go to the ground. Bear mace goes out. I think it came from our side and came back in our direction. I got it basically in shirt-sleeves to fingertips on one side. My mask saved me from most of it, except I had a nice little fucking residue line on my face. I got to discover the joys of cold milk on bear mace.”
Sal says the cops, including undercovers, came out at that point and separated the two sides. The Proud Boys were on one side of the bloc by a Sonic Drive-Thru and the antifascists were by a Chevron gas station. He saw the Proud Boys talking to the cops and then “all of a sudden, the cops’ line opens up and bout eight to twelve Proud Boys come running over while most of us are standing on the other side of the Chevron.”
Sal and those with him ran across the street to the parking lot of a Pep Boys. “Thank god I parked nose-out of that parking spot,” he said. Sal and two others got in the car and shouted “get the fuck in!” to two more. Some Proud Boys who were giving chase were closing in. Sal had his parking brake on and revved the engine, then broke out and left.
“Some of them were behind me doing the while ‘fuck you, communist! Get the fuck out, commies!’” Sal recalled. He went around the area couple of times, dropped people off at their cars and, in his words, “got the fuck out of town.”
Quinn was part of the bloc that day. They summarized how the confrontation went for them:
“Initially a few of us tried to get behind the Proud Boys line but they quickly spotted us. There were 4 of them for every one of us and more coming down the street, so we decided to reposition. We joined with several other antifascists and moved towards the Proud Boys in an attempt to keep them in place to minimize their damage. Before I could even get in place a Proud Boy swung a punch at one of ours and the fight was on. Cops were quickly on the scene so several of us ran back towards where we came from after the scuffle. I applied water to several of ours who got maced and as I was preparing to help others I noticed that only a short ways behind me several Proud Boys had gotten through the police line and were running at me threatening more violence. Me and several others were outnumbered and were forced to sprint across the street. They followed and a short scuffle ensued which consisted mostly of projectiles being thrown at us. Being backed into a corner, outnumbered with no support we jumped in vehicles and got out of the area.”
When Kellen Walsh got to the Planned Parenthood, the counter-protestors waving signs and trans pride flags were getting thrown out by the Proud Boys. They walked over on the sidewalk with others toward the confrontation. Walsh and their companions were heckled and intimidated and decided to walk back a bit to regroup when Walsh saw a fight breaking out. Walsh ran over to protect someone who was knocked down on the pavement and being kicked.
“So I jump on him so they would stop,” Walsh recounted, but Proud Boys and their associates “maced and kicked or possibly punched” them and they got up. Walsh then went to help some others getting chased by Proud Boys, but they were followed. When Modesto PD intervened, police told Walsh and most of the other antifascists present to wait in the parking lot of a Chevron gas station near the melee before being allowed to leave.
Kirk ended up on the front line confronting the Proud Boys. Here’s what they recounted after they tried to rush towards the group of protesters the fascists had surrounded:
“Before we could reach them, we were attacked by a group of Proud Boys. They approached us, called us “commies”, “pieces of shit”, “beta-males” etc. They approached with much more numbers than we had (at least double) and then they started swinging. They attacked several people who weren’t in bloc as well, including a black woman who was knocked on the ground and beaten. One person on our side was assaulted by a man three times his size who punched him in the face and when he dropped was kicked in the face. All the while, we were fighting off the Proud Boys directly in front of us. There wasn’t any way to reach them to help. That’s when someone began spraying bear mace. One of ours was tackled to the ground by a large Proud Boy and beaten on in the middle of the parking lot entrance. We ran up and tried to get the Proud Boy off of him and then finally got him out. We ran through the gas station parking lot next door and crossed the street to our cars but we were followed by four Proud Boys. At least half of the people with us couldn’t see because of the mace so we couldn’t defend ourselves. We had to jump into cars and speed off.”
Raven, who was with Kirk during these assaults, recounted being left behind by other antifascists.
“By the time I got there I saw people running away so I and a comrade jumped out and the person who brought me in left,” Raven recounted.
“I was then punched by fash and the rest of my group all piled into cars, almost hitting me with their cars on the way out and left me alone with 4 PBs,” Raven continued. “I was chased a couple blocks then thrown down and beaten, the fash left and a random person in a truck evacuated me and I got to my car and met up with other comrades at a park.”
Raven felt betrayed by the people who left them behind at first, but understood their actions better once the initial wave of feelings passed.
“The people who bolted were scared and apparently some had just been maced, they needed to get out and didn’t mean to leave me behind,” Raven said.
At the end of the day, two Straight Pride attendees were arrested—one Proud Boy who threw a tantrum when police initially formed a line between them and the black bloc and was later cited and released, and former Proud Boy and Sacramento County Republican Party Central Committee member Jeffrey Perrine, who got in a fight with a cop after screaming “Fuck the LGBT! Fuck ‘em all!” into a megaphone.
“The day started great because we held space without any fights and did our pride event and kicked fash out,” Raven said, adding they were ultimately disappointed in the poor planning that lead to the violence later. They also said they felt betrayed by the Turlock BLM organizers who later had an event with the Proud Boys.
Turlock BLM’s name appears on the flyer for a September 4th back to school supply drive alongside the Central Valley Militia and Proud Boys. Ellison confirmed to LCRW they participated in the event, but claimed they “didn’t make the flier” and “we all agreed to do a back to school drive as people lmao. Like I don’t talk to Proud Boys.”
“The [anti-hate] event didn’t take into account that there was going to be confrontation. There were no medics. I just feel that many people no longer fuck with Modesto leadership after them working with Proud Boys and their ‘allies’ fucking us up today,” Kellen Walsh reflected.
“I think groups like the Proud Boys are going to continue to grow and we need to keep our numbers up and stay together in groups when there’s a protest. If not, this will happen again.”
“In the end we were outnumbered at least 3 to 1, we got a bit banged up but so did they and ultimately their rally got shut off. That is our job and in my book we accomplished that. We may not have had the support we needed or the perfect execution but we managed to cancel their event on their playing field,” Quinn concluded.
“It needs to be clear that three dickwads can’t go run off ‘cause they want to make sure that the Proud Boys know Modesto doesn’t like hate or whatever and draw out thirty people to go out and get fucked trying to rescue them,” Sal said.
“It was so god damned dumb,” Sal said, “and we cannot do that again.”