“I do get a little giddy inside when I see those people [politicians] hiding behind walls and scared and running in their bunkers because that’s what needs to happen,” a man who went by the moniker “Sheepdog” said on a Jan. 7 podcast. “They need to be afraid.”
That man appears to be a police officer who was placed on temporary leave from the Fresno Police Department on Monday after he was accused of attending a protest alongside members of the Proud Boys, a far-right paramilitary group. In podcasts, first reported by the Fresno Bee, Officer Rick Fitzgerald identifies himself as a former Proud Boy. But although the man in question marched alongside members of the group at an anti-LGBT demonstration, he now describes himself as leader of a different Fresno-based, far-right group.
It was under the moniker “Sheepdog” that the police officer seems to have used blogs and podcasts to advocate for fights with anti-fascists—and to push conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election. The brewing scandal suggests that, months after the Capitol riots exposed current and former cops as violent extremists, plenty of officers remain associated with some of the same right-wing groups that stormed the Capitol.
The allegations came to light on Sunday, after California activists tweeted footage of a man they said was Fitzgerald attending a protest in Fresno’s Tower District. The protest was initially spearheaded by LGBT activists, who object to the sale of a theater to a church they say holds anti-LGBT views, the Bee reported. But a second contingent of far-right demonstrators showed up to counter-protest.
Footage obtained by The Daily Beast shows a tense protest, with someone shouting for “fucking f****ts” to “get out” of the Tower District.
Among the right-wing crowd were members of the Proud Boys, and members of the Fresno-based “Sons of '76.” Fitzgerald appears to have been a member of the former group and the leader of the latter group; a man resembling him was filmed wearing the group’s insignia, as well as a shirt and hat with his nickname “Sheepdog.”
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Fitzgerald did not return The Daily Beast’s requests for comment. But the man who goes by “Sheepdog” has previously admitted on video to being a Proud Boy.
“After being in the Proud Boys, I don’t disparage them and what they do,” he said in a video tweeted by a California activist. “But I just felt my mission wanted to be—I wanted to be doing something more proactive in the community.”
Elsewhere, he has been photographed at a “Stop The Steal” rally while wearing the Proud Boys’ uniform: a black and yellow Fred Perry polo and a yellow kilt. He wore a tactical vest with “Sheepdog” on the front.
The tattoos in the pictures and videos, including a “resist” tattoo on his arm, match images of tattoos that were visible while Officer Fitzgerald wore his Fresno PD uniform. And although state law prevents California officials from naming Fitzgerald in regard to his current administrative leave, local officials described the allegations of Proud Boy membership as troubling.
“Although at this point these are merely allegations, and the matter will be fully investigated, it is important to maintain the integrity and legitimacy of our police department,” Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama said in a Sunday night statement. “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. Fair and impartial policing are extremely important in our society. There is no place in our police ranks for any biased, racists, or anti-Semitic views.”
The Fresno Police Officers Association issued a similar statement on Monday, warning against premature speculation but also “recognizing that racism, discrimination, and criminal conduct among our ranks is absolutely intolerable.”
The Proud Boys are currently under scrutiny for some members’ prominent role in the Capitol attack. Members of the group frequently promote racist and sexist views and glorify violence against the left. It is unclear when the officer in question claims to have departed the group, although he appeared in the Proud Boys uniform at a Nov. 21 rally.
But even after he left the Proud Boys, the man who goes by “Sheepdog” promoted similar talking points as the self-described “sitting president of the Fresno chapter of the Sons of 76.”
A post on the group’s website appeared to encourage violence against anti-fascists (whom he referred to as “Tifa”).
In it, he cited an article that “basically eluded [alluded] to the Proud Boys this weekend beating the hell out of Tifa. Now don't get me wrong, I have no problem with anyone slapping these kids around and have dealt with them on my own terms. But when I see an article like this, I think, 'ok, and what?' PB beat up Tifa so that next week they can return and do it again? No ground gained, no ground lost [...] In spite of all this, my intent is not to say we should not fight. In fact, quite the opposite.”
In a podcast the day after the Capitol attack, Sheepdog blasted rioters for fighting with police and making their movement look bad. That said, he noted, he enjoyed watching politicians fear being attacked. He also promoted some of the conspiracy theories that fueled that riot.
“72 million people are under the impression that the election was stolen, and 72 million people are probably right,” he said. “We all know there’s no way in Hell that 81 million people voted for Sleepy Joe. That just did not happen. I’m sorry.”
Now-deleted posts on the Sons of '76’s Parler account include hashtags like “#wewillnotobey.” The account also shows the man identified as Fitzgerald speaking into the camera while wearing a “Sheepdog” hat, and showing the same tattoos visible in pictures of him in police uniform.
On his own now-deleted Instagram, Fitzgerald reportedly posted a picture of himself holding a gun and wearing a Punisher mask with the caption “shit is a lot easier when you can kill people.” He also posed with a group holding the Sons of '76’s flag with the caption “Sons of '76 got together with some people from Hanford 1776 and council woman Kalish Morrow.”
In fact, Fitzgerald was named as one of eight officers involved in the shooting death of a college student in 2010. The young man was reportedly holding a gun, which had prompted a 911 call from his housemates. He was not accused of firing at the officers.
Although the city’s then-police chief said he was concerned about the death, in which officers fired 63 rounds at the young man, none of the officers appear to have been disciplined.
The shooting took place in the Tower District, the same neighborhood where Sunday’s LGBT protest was held.