Residents of Placerville, California are up in arms after a group wearing attire bearing the name of the far-right extremist group, Proud Boys, was allowed to crash a Christmas toy drive and take photos next to police vehicles, according to The Sacramento Bee.
Placerville has about 10,000 people but made national news on Saturday when members of the Proud Boys shared photos and videos of themselves overrunning a Christmas event created to provide toys to underprivileged kids.
Police chief Joe Wren and city manager Cleve Morris have since released a statement denying that the police department has any affiliation with the hate group and denouncing their actions at the event on Saturday.
But the message has done little to tamp down the furor over what happened at the toy drive.
@placervillepd You should be ashamed of allowing white power hate sign photo ops in front of a patrol car and police tent.
This is despicable, an absolutely unacceptable display of hatred and indecency. pic.twitter.com/eqYyFNwJSl
— matt beatty (@mooncowboy) December 7, 2020
According to local news outlet KCRA, police were assisting with the Marine Corps Toys for Tots event that was run in the town square on Saturday and Sunday.
But on Saturday, a group of about 20 people in Proud Boys attire showed up at the event wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the words "Hangtown Proud Boy" and featuring the city's official logo, which is a noose.
Historians say the town was the site of many hangings in the 1800s. The town changed its name from Hangtown to Placertown in 1854 but has never changed the official logo, despite public anger over it in recent years.
The sweatshirts had an image of a noose hanging from a tree.
Video of the Proud Boys shows them crashing the event and taking photos while flashing a white power hand sign that has become popular within far-right circles in recent years.
“It’s not the city logo, but it’s some take on the term ‘Hangtown.’ It’s unfortunate. We’re gonna have this conversation on the city logo and the noose,” Placerville Mayor Michael Saragosa told The Sacramento Bee in a phone interview before bashing the group.
“We do not want the Proud Boys here in Placerville. Their presence is actually making it very uncomfortable for tourists and businesses alike. If they really wanna help us, don’t show up in a group wearing Proud Boys outfits and throwing up signs as if they were a gang around town,” he added.
After massive public outcry online and in the town itself, both Wren and Morris released a statement on Facebook denouncing the group and denying any ties between the town's police force and the Proud Boys.
"On Saturday December 5th, as the event was nearing the end, a group with a political agenda took a photo and video near our police vehicle, which was staged near the bell tower for public safety," the two wrote.
"This picture and video produced comments accusing both the City of Placerville and Placerville Police Department of partnering with this group. To be clear, neither the City of Placerville nor the Placerville Police Department invited, associated with or supports this organization. We were there to support the Toys for Tots Program. When our police vehicles are parked in public view, we have no authority to disallow anyone from taking a photograph of it or near it," they added.
"We want to assure our Community no officer from the Placerville Police Department was involved with this group or the photograph taken. It is unfortunate some chose to use the Toys for Tots event to push a personal or political agenda. This event was about supporting the kids in our community," Wren and Morris wrote.
Stacie Wall, a local coordinator for Toys for Tots in El Dorado County, told The Sacramento Bee that the organization was also dismayed that the white supremacist group would try to disrupt an event meant for children.
"We have no affiliation with the Proud Boys,” Wall said. "It is unfortunate that while we were conducting our drive-thru donation event, that others chose to use a charity that benefits children to further their own political or personal agenda.”
Many local residents are calling for city officials to release a more forceful denunciation of the group and its racism.
The Sacramento Bee obtained a flyer being circulated in the town that said the images from the event need “to be denounced by our city immediately.”
“While it is true that this group was not invited nor was it sanctioned by our city, the optics are bad and need to be addressed immediately and unequivocally by our city leaders,” the flyer read.
Saragosa said the group may have been animated by the noose in the town's official seal, but added that discussions about changing the logo would have to wait until next year because he wants the debate over it to be done in person.
“[They have] embraced it just because it might offend some people,” he said to The Sacramento Bee. "There’s certainly a violent element to this group as well. It’s just not a welcome group that we want in Placerville, and I think the community’s been pretty clear about that.”
A member of the Proud Boys group spoke to The Mercury News and said Saragosa's statements would have little effect considering much of the town agreed with their support of white supremacy.
“Good luck with that. Most of the community supports us one way or another,” the alleged Proud Boy said.
Heidi Mayerhofer, a member of the Placerville Downtown Association, told CBS13 that residents were appalled by what happened and are embarrassed by the publicity of the event.
“I was traumatized. I feel like we are all victims of their opportunism. We need to hear our leaders stand up and say this is not OK in our community. We will not tolerate hate. In the last 24 hours, I’ve gotten emails from people saying they don’t feel safe. They don’t want to come to Placerville,” Mayerhofer said.