Escondido, CA

Local American Legion post mulls whether to remove commander

The board of Escondido’s American Legion Post 149 has a decision to make next week. A decision whether to remove its commander, Michael Sobczak over his activities at a December 12 pro-Trump demonstration in Washington D.C. 

Sobczak’s attendance at a Trump rally is not at question. However, he bragged on social media about taking part in a street brawl along with the Proud Boys, who were also participating in the Trump rally.  Some photos of Sobczak wearing a Proud Boys jacket and marching with them in a demonstration that later turned violent also were posted on social media. 

According to a report earlier this week in the Union-Tribune, he also maintains a Parler account under the name “Mickey Knuckles,” in which he displayed blood stained biker gloves and a small wooden club with the caption:  “My trophy tire thumper from Washington, D.C.. The blood on the gloves isn’t mine.” Note: Parler is a conservative version of Twitter.

The Proud Boys are an extreme right wing political group that sometimes resorts to violence. It is self-described as “Western chauvinists” and frequently clashes with Black Lives Matters.

The local legion post was put between a rock and a hard place when Ed Grimsley, the commander of the California American Legion suggested strongly the Escondido post should remove Sobczak. In a statement the California commander declared, “The American Legion has no room for hate in its membership, nor will we silently tolerate hate in any form.” He added, “It is no longer about free speech or simple political discourse, rather it morphs into an affront to both Legionnaires and our communities, states and nations.”

Grimsley did have the authority to remove Sobczak from his position as dean of the American Legion College and from the national board of the American Legion Riders, a motorcycle club.  He said he doesn’t have the authority to remove him as post commander.

He told the Union-Tribune on Monday, “They [the Escondido board] will have to be the ones to start the process — it’s up to them now. It’s a bad situation — I wish I could do more.”

John Smartt, the post’s first vice commander, just under Sobczak in the chain of command, told The Times-Advocate:  “As an American Legion post we have to do our due diligence to respond to any information or action that our members may take that will bring a negative light to our organization. and we are currently engaged in that process. We operate  under a system of bylaws and we have to follow those bylaws as every member has to be afforded due process.”

Smartt added, “As an executive board we are doing our due diligence as quickly and efficiently as possible. During our regularly scheduled executive board meeting next Tuesday we will be making a decision about how to move forward.”

Smartt also told The Times-Advocate, “I just want to remind the local community that we are a benevolent organization that continues to serve both the veteran community and the community at large. The American Legion is not a political organization. We do not engage in politics.”

The Times-Advocate asked Escondido mayor and longtime American Legion member Paul McNamara, to comment on this situation:  “As a proud life member of the American Legion, VFW, and DAV, I was disheartened to read about the recent events surrounding the local American Legion Post’s commander.  While I support our Constitution giving us the right to disagree and express differing opinions. I do believe there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. I don’t think this is the right way and I don’t think it reflects the community of Escondido.  I would ask that in this new year we remember that we are all Americans on the same team.  And that we should have discourse but in a civil and respectful manner.”  

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