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Montagnino issues report on Proud Boys march, counter-protest set for Sunday

A poster for Sunday's rally in Saratoga Springs
Saratoga Peace Alliance
A poster for Sunday's rally in Saratoga Springs

At the request of the mayor, the Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner has provided a report on the weekend demonstration by far-right group the Proud Boys.

The downtown demonstration by masked members of the organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes as a hate group led to harsh condemnation from members of the City Council.

Mayor Ron Kim demanded Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino provide a written report on the demonstration. Montagnino, who has clashed with Kim, a fellow Democrat who used to serve in the same role, obliged.

Montagnino said police are investigating but said there were no crimes committed on Saturday.

“We were not given any notice of it, however, and there was no permit for the demonstration. And the city code has a requirement that anytime there's a demonstration that involves getting in with the flow of traffic, it's defined as a parade and requires a permit 30 days in advance proof of insurance and permission from the city. None of this was requested or obtained by the group,” said Montagnino.

As to the ongoing investigation, Montagnino said he could not provide “fine details” but did say the police department is working to identify the masked demonstrators.

“What I can say is that there was at least one vehicle that was involved and we do have the license number of the vehicle and our officers are using that as part of the investigative tool,” said Montagnino.

Montagnino did point out language in the city code that prohibits the wearing of face coverings in a parade “from the chin area to the forehead” but said it would be difficult to enforce after COVID. The Democrat also highlighted First Amendment concerns with prosecuting the group.

“I’ve been an attorney for 35 years, and while I don’t pretend to be a Constitutional scholar, I know that the First Amendment does protect the right of free association and free speech,” said Montagnino.

The Public Safety Commissioner said the alarmed reaction to the demonstration from city residents is “reasonable.”

“This is an organization that has links to the January 6, 2021 insurrection, which as you know, was one of the darkest days in our recent history. So people are rightly troubled by this. It was something that occurred without any warning and something that traveled from our city south to a couple of other communities. And I understand that there is a counter demonstration that's planned for Sunday afternoon in Saratoga Springs,” said Montagnino.

That demonstration is being planned for 2 p.m. Sunday on Broadway across from City Hall by groups Veterans for Peace and the Saratoga Peace Alliance. Linda LeTendre is an organizer.

“We'll have actionable next steps for people to do to fight fascism, basically that's what this. And I'm really tired of people pussyfooting around the word, you know? This is this is how you stand up to fascism,” said LeTendre.

Mayor Kim criticized Montagnino’s report, characterizing the commissioner’s response as the “bare minimum.”

“I mean, it sort of comes, it goes like this is: if you asked somebody to describe your day today and they respond, ‘It's cloudy,’” said Kim.

Kim also dismissed Montagnino’s concerns over selective prosecution after the Public Safety Commissioner sought charges against two Black Lives Matter activists for disrupting public meetings earlier this year. The city is complying with a probe from State Attorney General Tish James over past officials’ interactions with Black Lives Matter demonstrators and potential misuses of police authority.

While Kim continues his criticism of his fellow councilor over the incident, he says he is heartened to see the planned counter protest this weekend.

“But I'm glad that our community is stepping up as I knew they would because as I said in my initial statement, Saratoga Springs is no place for hate,” said Kim.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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