‘Wrong Place at the Wrong Time,’ Fmr. Proud Boys Member, Suspended Police Officer Speaks Out

Rick Fitzgerald at Cosplay Convention
Rick Fitzgerald wearing a Punisher costume at a convention, representing Cosplay for Charities.

An edited version of this story was originally published by the Tampa Free Press, March 23.

Maybe you’ve heard the story. A police officer in Fresno, CA has been suspended because he was once a member of the Proud Boys. His fate may be decided Wednesday.

Newsweek’s Ewan Palmer posted an exhaustive propaganda hit-piece, complete with a video full of carefully chosen violent images superimposed with misinformation and hyperbole to make the Proud Boys appear to be as dangerous as they want you to believe they are.

“Legal problems are likely to follow the shock of the discovery that a Fresno police officer was a member of the extremist group.” ABC’s Corin Hoggard piled on, being sure to reiterate that the Proud Boys were designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and every reference to the Proud Boys or any other conservative organization are carefully and without exception, prefaced by words like “extremist group” and “a far-right, anti-government militia movement.”

The narrative was set. Now they needed a specific target, a name and a face at which to aim the hatred they have so carefully fomented.

Enter Rick Fitzgerald, whose only mistake was making the decision to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, in an exclusive interview, which was initially reported by the Tampa Free Press, the former Proud Boy, and suspended Fresno officer speaks out.

“We have a policy in the department where you don’t talk about IAs (Internal Affairs investigations),” Fitzgerald confessed.  “I understand. I understand it technically. But I don’t know what the charges are. So, what exactly am I not supposed to talk about?”

“And it’s not like this hasn’t been all over the newspapers,” Fitzgerald noted.

“I don’t know if you know what’s happening over here,” Fitzgerald explained, adding context to the uproar. “But a local church wants to buy the Tower Theater. It’s in an artsy part of Fresno where they have a large LGBTQ community. They were protesting the sale of the Tower Theater to the church because if the church buys the theater it will an impact on the liquor license for that area.

Indeed. On March 18, organizers with the Save the Tower Theatre Demonstration Committee posted a lengthy manifesto of grievances aimed at Adventure Church for the sin of attempting to purchase the building, specifically complaining that turning the theater into a church – even for one a day a week – will create “a high likelihood of jeopardizing the liquor licenses and conditional use permits of over a dozen businesses.” While they have already had problems with illegal pot sales in the Tower District, they’re afraid a church will derail their plans to turn a lot of the district’s iconic buildings into legal pot dispensaries.

They go further to say the church would “exponentially impact the success of other surrounding businesses depending on those visitors, inhibiting the livelihoods of many residents and undermining the support for the arts, events, and culture that is created here.”

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What they do not tell you is that at least 30 stores and restaurants have already closed in Fresno since the coronavirus pandemic started, and their unemployment rate sits at a staggering 10%. They also avoid mentioning that — while churches, restaurants and movie theaters have been strangled to death with their stringent lockdown rules — the state of California has designated pot dispensaries as “essential.”

In the greatest of ironies, the upstanding pillars of society in the Save the Tower Theatre Demonstration Committee even scheduled a prayer vigil so people could gather together to use the power of prayer to persuade God to smite those trying to establish a church in their community and therefore “preserving the Tower District as an LBGTQ+ safe space.”

It is a battle they are losing. They know it. So now they are angry. Someone must pay and they have chosen Fitzgerald. Now they must scour his life for anything they can use against him — however egregiously they must distort his reality – in order to paint Fitzgerald as a danger to all society.

“A friend of mine, Dennis, wanted to go down there and check out the protest,” Fitzgerald recalled of the day he went to the protest at the Tower Theater, “and it wasn’t very big. It was maybe like 100 people, if even that, and they were primarily the LGBTQ community. So we went down there and stood on the opposite side of the street. We didn’t have any signs, didn’t have a flag. We were wearing our uniforms but there were only two of us and a third friend, Damon, in regular clothes. We literally just stood there.”

Fitzgerald explained that the Proud Boys had gotten there before he arrived with his friends, and he saw them across the street in the mix of all the protesting. It was when the Proud Boys decided to gather their ranks to go join Fitzgerald that he decided it was time to leave.

“I don’t have an association with them anymore,” Fitzgerald explained. “I left them five months ago and aside from the very occasional call from one of the members I don’t talk to them. We don’t organize events together. I don’t do anything with them. It’s a month-old affiliation and once I left, that was it.”

But that hasn’t stopped the hate mongers from fabricating a connection.

“One of the right-wing counterprotestors (sic) at last Sunday’s Save the Tower demonstration was City of Fresno police officer Rick Fitzgerald,” the Community Alliance Newspaper stated on their Facebook page “who has been identified as a member of the Sons of 76 far right extremist group and an affiliate of the Proud Boys.”

No. The Sons of 76 are not affiliated with the Proud Boys.

“Not even a little bit,” Fitzgerald said. “Yes, we have members that were prospects in that group. But we have no affiliation with them.”

“The officer has also referenced his profession in other posts, including an Instagram photo from 2019 showing him wearing a “Punisher” mask while pointing a gun,” the New York Post’s Joshua Rhett Miller wrote March 15.

He also made sure to add something “Fitzgerald reportedly wrote,” in order to paint him in the most dangerous of light: “S–t is a lot easier when you can kill people.”

Rick Fitzgerald Cosplay for Charities
Rick Fitzgerald poses for fans at a convention representing Cosplay for Charities

“What he didn’t do is look at the rest of my Instagram page, which is dedicated to CosPlay for Charities with all the pictures with me and the kids,” Fitzgerald explained. “They are looking for the thing that confirms their bias and skipping over the stuff that’s factually against that. How do you even approach people like that?”

What Miller also failed to include in his diatribe of misinformation is that what “Fitzgerald reportedly wrote” is a quote from Frank Castle in Marvel’s The Punisher Season 1: Crosshairs.

The Fresno Bee reported that “legal analyst Tony Capozzi says Fitzgerald’s appearance in Proud Boys gear at a November 2020 protest in Sacramento will likely create big problems in the court system.”

Capozzi should know. Capozzi — was recently cleared of wrongdoing — when it could not be proven he “intentionally smuggled” some “cell phones and medication” into the Fresno County Jail in the “false bottom” of a “cardboard box full of documents” he brought to his client, gang leader and inmate Trenell Monson — so he knows all too well how perceptions can “create big problems in the court system.”

Gabe Stutman of the “Jewish” and “Fearless” Forward added to the misinformation campaign that “two swastikas were found scrawled on businesses in Fresno alongside the words “Real Will” about a month ago “in the wake of protests that brought Proud Boys and other right-wing extremists to the city as well as left-wing counterprotesters (sic).”

He provides no proof these “two swastikas” where “scrawled on businesses is Fresno” by Proud Boys, nor any explanation of what “Real Will” means. No. Just rub more malicious accusations in the wound they’ve laid open and let the infectious implications sink in.

“I spoke with my lawyer yesterday and he said: “The department doesn’t know what to do with you because I haven’t done anything wrong,” Fitzgerald shared with TFP. “You haven’t broken any laws. This is solely a political goal. You used to be a Proud Boy so let’s give a knee–jerk response by yanking your badge and gun, which is exactly what they did.”

“I’m not a racist,” he insisted. “You won’t find anything on any of my social media posts or in my emails. In fact, I received an award two months ago for de-escalating a situation with an armed black kid who had a 9mm. Most anyone else in the department would have shot the kid. But I managed to talk him down and tackle him and took his gun out of his pocket. But they don’t mention that because it doesn’t fit the narrative that I’m a racist.

“The DA is saying they will have to review all of my cases and I’m like, go ahead,” Fitzgerald encouraged. “My cases are solid. You’re not going to find anything for them to try and pin me as something like crazy racist.”

“My suspicion is they are going to go through and try to find any little thing minor policy violation” Fitzgerald surmised. “You know, the sort of stuff everybody does. But then they’ll say: “Oh, he did it. So now it’s something.”

Again. Indeed. As ABCs Hoggard shared almost gleefully: “The public defender’s office tells us they’ve identified more than 20 active criminal cases involving Fitzgerald and they’ll examine every one of them for any hint of bias.”

“People on the left are always talking about how they won’t tolerate hate,” Fitzgerald noted. “But they perpetuate that more than anybody I know.”

And what about the Southern Poverty Law Center? Since when and from whom does a “far-left organization with an obvious bias” like the Southern Poverty Law Center obtain the authority to designate their political enemies as hate groups and target them for destruction?

Their tactics are always the same: Make up a narrative and turn public opinion against them so their destruction is approved by society.

Who else composes a “Hate Map” showing you the location of everyone they don’t like, just because they oppose your political/social justice views?  Why do that if not to identify these people for ridicule and punishment?

Ultimately, the part that offends Fitzgerald the most in all of this is how his own department turned against him.

“I have nothing but animosity for my department right now,” Fitzgerald confessed. “I gave them 18 solid compassionate years of police work and now they sacrifice me at the drop of a hat.”

“I was planning on retiring as a cop because I really love what I do,” Fitzgerald lamented. “But I don’t want anything to do with this department and I know nobody else will hire me because a simple background search will have me linked to racism forever because of this.”

“There will be legal action,” Fitzgerald promised.

“Any allegations of actions unbecoming of a police officer or the affiliation with any alleged criminal or hate group will always be investigated and addressed,” Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama said.

He’s new. He’s “woke.” He’s the first Latino police chief and he’s dedicated to ensuring “community safety and community trust,” and the best way to appease a community full of rabid activists who are otherwise determined to defund the police is to quickly sacrifice one of your own on the altar of assuagement.

Fair and impartial policing are extremely important in our society,” Balderrama said in the statement. “There is no place in our police ranks for any biased, racists, or anti-Semitic views.”

How about the truth, Chief Balderrama? Any room for that in your ranks these days?