NEOSHO, Mo. — A local chapter of a controversial national group will be allowed to operate a vendor booth during Saturday's Fall Festival.
Mayor Carmin Allen said that because the city has no applicable ordinances, Ozark Mountain Proud Boys will be able to run its booth during the festival, set for 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the Neosho square.
Allen said he received a number of complaints from residents wanting the group kicked out of the festival. In conversations with the city attorney before a special session Thursday, Allen said city attorney Jordan Paul advised that removing the group would be a violation of its First Amendment rights.
"I had a bunch of calls from people not wanting them there," Allen said. "But because there is nothing in our ordinances to prevent it, they have the same right to it. Even though I don't agree with them, and I don't like their company around here, we have to live with them, so they will have their spot."
Ozark Mountain Proud Boys is a chapter of the national Proud Boys organization, a group that has been characterized by its critics as a far-right white supremacitst organization. It found itself in the spotlight after its name came up during the presidential debate on Tuesday.
The group identifies itself as anti-racist, and also proclaims anti-racial guilt, closed borders for immigration and anti-political correctness among its tenets on its website.
Paul Richardson, owner of In Sane Marketing Solutions, the firm handling the operation of the festival, said the organization plans to sell political T-shirts and hats. Products with vulgarities on them will not be allowed for sale, Richardson said.
The Globe was unable to reach members of the regional chapter for comment.
Some Proud Boys members have been involved in violent confrontations with antifascists and other ideological opponents at protests. Members also have been spotted at various Trump rallies, including earlier this month in Nevada.
In 2018, police arrested several Proud Boys members and associates who brawled with antifascists after the group’s founder, Gavin McInnes, delivered a speech at New York’s Metropolitan Republican Club.
McInnes, who co-founded Vice Media, has described the group as a politically incorrect men’s club for “Western chauvinists” but denies affiliations with far-right extremist groups that overtly espouse racist and anti-Semitic views. McInnes sued the Southern Poverty Law Center last year, claiming it defamed him when it designated the Proud Boys as a “hate group.”
In response to the federal suit, which is still pending in Alabama, the law center said McInnes has acknowledged an “overlap” between the Proud Boys and white nationalist groups. “Indeed, Proud Boys members have posted social media pictures of themselves with prominent Holocaust deniers, white nationalists, and known neo-Nazis,” law center lawyers wrote in a court filing.
News of the local group's booth in the festival spread on social networks over the last two days. While Richardson is in charge of operations and logistics of the festival, applications for the booths were taken and accepted by the city.
Allen said that the episode could lead to council discussion in the future to ensure that no political efforts occupy booth space at the festival, in order to return it to its roots.
"When the fall festival started, it was an arts and crafts festival, but it's become a political arena," Allen said. "I'd like to see it get back to what we set up 30 years ago, because that is slipping away. I think for the sake of a small community we should keep it as non-political as possible."
As for attendees who attend the event, Allen recommended that people who disagree with the group's message just ignore the booth and walk by.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.