Trump backers spark heated confrontation outside Pilsen church

Four men in ‘Make America Great Again’ apparel argued with neighborhood residents outside Lincoln United Methodist Church over the weekend.

SHARE Trump backers spark heated confrontation outside Pilsen church
Screen_Shot_2019_09_23_at_1.25.56_PM.png

Tanya Lozana, daughter of Rev. Emma Lozano, argues with right wing California radio host Ben Bergquam outside Lincoln United Methodist Church in Pilsen Saturday.

Facebook

Leaders of a Pilsen church say they are fearful after conservative activists showed up outside and declared it the epicenter of the “undermining of America, the invasion that we see across our country.”

The group, decked out in “Make America Great Again” gear and led by California radio host Ben Bergquam, went to Lincoln United Methodist Church over the weekend.

Bergquam, 36, is head of Frontline America, an online outlet described on its Facebook page as a “national organization to restore USA identity.” The page has more than 100,000 followers.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Rev. Walter Coleman and Rev. Emma Lozano — sister of the late Pilsen community organizer Rudy Lozano — said Saturday’s incident is “the latest assault on our church by right wing” groups.

“While it is our inclination to simply ignore these distractions as we continue on with our ministries, we have been advised by many that these attacks represent an invitation to violent groups to target our church and our congregation,” Coleman and Lozano said.

In the video, Bergquam stands near the chuch, at 2242 S. Damen Ave. and declares: “The beginning of the sanctuary movement in America was right here, in this building behind us. The undermining of America, the invasion that we see across our country epicentered [sic] right here. Let’s go.”

Bergquam is also spokesman for the Fight Sanctuary State Movement, a group of four people who have tried to reverse California’s laws that shield police officers from turning over most undocumented immigrants to federal agents, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The church has been targeted several times since the election of President Donald Trump, including in October 2016, when swastikas and other hateful messages were painted on the doors of the church.

Lincoln United is a sister church to Adalberto United Methodist in Humboldt Park, where undocumented Mexican activist Elvira Arellano sought sanctuary from deportation in August 2006.

Conservative talk-show host Ben Bergquam (center, with selfie stick) was among several activists who converged on a Pilsen church on Saturday.

Conservative talk-show host Ben Bergquam (center, with selfie stick) was among several activists who converged on a Pilsen church on Saturday.

Facebook

On Saturday, Bergquam and the other men showed up with cameras outside the church, according to a video he posted to Facebook. He said he aimed to “expose the radical left” that is “helping the invasion of our country down on the southern border,” the video shows. He called Lincoln United a “fake church” and said “it doesn’t look like any church I’ve ever belong to.”

He briefly went inside the church looking for Lozano, then left when he was told there was a private event going on. Outside, his group filmed through windows.

Their presence caught the attention of churchgoers and community members, who approached them asking why they were filming.

One was Tanya Lozano, daughter of Rev. Lozano. She runs a fitness program at the church called Healthy Hood. She screamed at them to leave, while they repeatedly accused the church and residents of supporting an “invasion” by “illegals.”

While her mother started Centro Sin Fronteras, a group that aids undocumented residents, Tanya Lozano noted that the men — like other right-wing activists — had actually mistaken that organization for a different group with a similar name, Pueblo Sin Fronteras, that has assisted people in caravans south of the border and has shelters in Mexico.

A handful of Chicago police officers were on the scene for a large part of the 45-minute exchange in Pilsen. The pro-Trump group left after church organizers started dispersing the crowd.

Tanya Lozano said later she worried that Bergquam’s followers will attack the church based on reaction to the video.

“We’re trying to figure out a security plan so that people who take advantage of our resources can feel safe,” she said. “We’re a very humble place and we don’t have a ton of money to pay for security like that.”

In an email to the Sun-Times, Bergquam denied the group encouraged violence, and denied any racist intent, noting that Will Johnson, a “black conservative” who founded Unite America First, was with him.

“The real violence that we should be concerned about is the violence that they are inviting into our country with their sanctuary policies that embolden the cartels and threaten the lives of American citizens and legal immigrants,” Begquam said.

The men later went to an anti-Trump “We the People Solidarity March” downtown. The group filmed marchers but didn’t appear to get into as many confrontations as in Pilsen.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) — who was born in Ecuador and emigrated to Chicago in 2006 — said police officers should keep a close eye on Bergquam and his group.

“Our police department must take their presence as the serious threat it is. Officers responding to threats like this must be robustly capable of defending residents who are indispensable and contributing members of our world-renowned cultural fabric and vibrant neighborhoods,” Sigcho-Lopez said in a statement sent to the Sun-Times.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps members ofReport for America,a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.

The Latest
“Anytime something like this happens, we go through a process looking at safety measures in the investigation,” said Coast Guard Lt. Rachel Ault.
Activists from Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi traveled to Chicago to strengthen ties with local organizations as abortion bans go into effect in the South.
41-year-old Rob Heitz is planning the 1-to-2-mile swim Friday. Some 19 years after becoming paralyzed following a freak diving accident in Lake Michigan, he is now mostly recovered.
Cubs first baseman P.J. Higgins provided the bulk of the Cubs’ scoring Wednesday with a two-run home run.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, standing alongside new Democratic Party of Illinois Chair Lisa Hernandez and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, downplayed the intraparty tension, especially around Sen. Dick Durbin, who wanted Rep. Robin Kelly to remain in the top party post.