The Proud Boys marched through parts of Roosevelt Row during First Friday on May 3, according to a Phoenix Anarchist blog post the next day. The Proud Boys have been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based nonprofit that fights racial and social injustice.
Phoenix New Times reached out to Proud Boys Arizona to confirm details of the Friday night march, but had not heard back as of this writing. A photograph posted on social media shows about two dozen men in black T-shirts walking past Carly's Bistro, heading east on the north side of Roosevelt Street. At least one shirt featured the Proud Boys Arizona logo, comprising a skull flanked by two pistols and wearing a cowboy hat and neck bandanna.
The unnamed blog post author likened gentrification in Roosevelt Row to the "proud boys ethos" and reflected on ways the area has changed in recent years. "Also, the people that were policed out of the so-called arts district 10 + years ago by Roosevelt Row gallery owners and downtown developers would never have let that march happen."
Musician Andy Warpigs saw Proud Boys Arizona marchers that night as well. Warpigs was at FilmBar for a documentary called Afro-Punk, which explores the experiences of black punk rockers. The next day, he was one of several dozen people who commented on the Proud Boys sighting on Facebook. FilmBar sits on the east side of Second Street, just south of Roosevelt Street.
Even so, not everyone in the area saw the event take place that night. Artist Miguel Monzón, director and curator for the Modified Arts gallery situated on the south side of Roosevelt Street, east of Third Street, didn't see the Proud Boys march in front of the gallery. But he's seen others gathered outside the art space in the past wearing red shirts and red Make America Great Again hats, and carrying a pro-Trump banner on a long pole.
Monzón recalls seeing them during receptions for two exhibits. "Americana," which ran from mid-February to mid-March, was a group show addressing black identity in a politically charged world. "Everyday Sacred," which ran from mid-March to mid-April, featured photographs by indigenous artist Douglas Miles. Monzón recalls people in red shirts gathering one night near a new Fortoul Brothers mural across the street from the gallery, where he says a scuffle broke out. During Miles' show, police escorted them away from the gallery, Monzón says.
Several months ago, staff at Jobot Coffee & Bar took a different approach, following an unpleasant encounter with someone wearing a red MAGA baseball cap. Bar manager Mike Cosentino took to wearing his own red cap, which reads "Make Red Hats Wearable Again." Last year, a small contingent of Trump supporters protested near an anti-Trump mural in another arts enclave along Grand Avenue. So it's possible a pattern is emerging here.
Now, it's worth considering whether at least one hate group may be targeting its demonstrations to affect artists of color, and how the arts community should respond. "That would be horrible if they're targeting artists," Monzón says. "We have to have each others' backs."
UPDATE: The leadership of the Arizona Proud Boys responded with a statement more than 26 hours after the organization was originally contacted. An excerpt:
"The misconception of what the Arizona Proud Boys stand for is simply due to biased MSM [mainstream media] reporting. We are Constitutionalists that believe every person should have the right to express their freedoms given to us by the founding fathers of this great country. ...
"Your mention of a group targeting specific artists because of color couldn’t be further from the truth. As mentioned before, we were represented by multiple ethnicities including Hispanics, Asians and African Americans, as well as members of the gay community. We were not there to intimidate anyone and hence kept our public personal communication to a minimum, unless it was civilized debate or simply answering questions. We have actually done many good things for the local community. ...
"I find it amusing that the organizers of First Friday allow groups like Antifa, currently being investigated by the FBI for links to the Cartel, to set up an actual recruiting booth without repercussions, or have a Bernie Sanders booth for Socialism there, but as soon as a Trump supporter comes through with a group of Patriots, its stated that the organizers would have never allowed such a march. Doesn’t that sound like fascism at its best? Does that sound like the American way? I will not be sharing any of our future events with you in order to protect myself and our members. We will continue to make our presence known in Arizona and hope to continue to have a positive impact on our community whether reported on, shared with the public or not."