Ken Dudley says he’s running for Provo mayor to make the city safer and fix problems he discovered the hard way on June 29, 2020.
The ordeal began, as he tells it, while he was driving to Home Depot for plumbing fittings to fix his sink. As he was heading through downtown Provo, he happened upon a demonstration against police violence — and before he knew it, protesters were swarming around his SUV, “holding me hostage,” he explains in a campaign video.
“I tried to leave as safely as I could,” the software engineer continues. “But in the process, I was shot twice by a Black Lives Matter protester.”
Bleeding profusely, Dudley managed to drive himself to the hospital. He’d suffered a shattered arm bone, and a piece of shrapnel had sliced through his eyelid and destroyed his tear duct.
“The fallout from this harrowing incident inspired Ken to commit to running for public office to ensure Provo’s citizens and their families are safe and that their streets and homes are secure,” says the website for his campaign to unseat incumbent Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi.
But this campaign origin story glosses over or completely omits major pieces of the June 29 shooting, which has led to the arrest and prosecution of protester Jesse Taggart.
In Dudley’s account, he doesn’t mention that he’d been driving his Ford Excursion down a bike lane toward demonstrators, who were lined up across the intersection to observe the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that a police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck. Dudley doesn’t talk about how, before the gunshots rang out, he’d been muscling his truck forward through the line of protesters, even accelerating as he began to hit them, according to the available footage.
His campaign page also doesn’t mention that his story galvanized the creation of an armed militia group, United Citizens Alarm, an organization with members that have been charged with pepper-spraying and firing a stun gun at protesters.
So to activist Tyeise Bellamy, the juxtaposition between Taggart and Dudley — one facing a criminal trial and the other campaigning for Provo’s highest elected post — highlights the very injustices that she marched against last summer.
“When we say that the system is racist, and it doesn’t work for all people ... it works for the rich white men or for white people ... he is proving us right,” said Bellamy, who was part of last year’s Provo protest. “This is exactly the problem.”
Shane Johnson, the attorney representing Taggert, says Dudley’s candidacy echoes the way Provo officials and residents have been treating his client and Black Lives Matter protests all along.
“This was a political demonstration. I believe it was a political investigation, or at least the investigation was tinged by politics,” he said. “And now, just to round it out, we have a victim who’s going into politics. I don’t think those things are coincidences.”
Johnson says his client largely stayed in the background of last summer’s demonstrations, seeing himself as a kind of protector during these gatherings. In a hearing in Taggert’s criminal case, Bellamy described him as a quiet presence and someone who would stand between protesters and anyone who was hurling insults or trying to spit on them.
The attorney argues that Dudley was the one who initiated a potentially deadly confrontation with the protesters — one of whom tripped and fell down near the moving Excursion.
“You literally could hear people’s bodies hitting the front of his truck, as he drove through a crowd of people,” Bellamy said. “Like a bowling ball would hit pins.”
Johnson said he’s questioned police on the stand about why they didn’t charge Dudley. According to court hearing transcripts provided by Johnson, a Provo detective has said he probably could’ve cited Dudley for minor traffic violations but didn’t think he committed aggravated assault against the protesters because of the “people crowding and getting in front of his vehicle and doing that on purpose.”
Still, Taggart’s defense attorney said he’s left wondering, “What are the circumstances that kind of selected the winner and the loser in this case?”
‘This is a call to arms’
Dudley’s shooting has served as a rallying cry for state residents who were outraged by last year’s protests against police violence and pushed to crack down on what they depicted as disorderly and destructive conduct.
And after watching the Provo protest and learning about Dudley’s shooting, Casey Robertson told The Washington Post he put out the Facebook invite that would spawn the militia group United Citizens Alarm (UCA).
“This is a call to arms,” he says he wrote on Facebook. “We’re going to come down there. Come strapped. Practice your Second Amendment.”
Robertson has said his organization has set up a vetting process to weed out violent individuals, and the group has posted on social media that it denounces racism. But it was banned from Facebook in August 2020 after the platform decided to take down pages associated with “offline anarchist groups that support violent acts amidst protests, U.S.-based militia organizations and QAnon.”
Although Robertson has decried his group’s de-platforming as unwarranted, Kurt Braddock, an American University professor who researches extremism, said far-right groups often go out of their way to make themselves sound innocuous. In a court hearing, Dudley described the UCA simply as a “neighborhood watch group.”
Braddock, a communication professor and faculty fellow at the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Laboratory, says it’s more important to pay attention to a group’s actions than to how it describes itself.
“Presenting themselves as this kind of community watch, or presenting themselves as a defender of this constituency, but then seeing them take an aggressive stance ... I mean, that says quite a bit in and of itself,” Braddock said.
United Citizens Alarm’s social media accounts have promoted a rally for the release of those charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, reposted a video proclaiming that the Proud Boys had “humiliated” anti-fascists and vowed to take law and order into their own hands.
“Antifa scum in San Diego assaulting citizens,” one post read. “When will citizens rise up and fight? If lawmakers won’t let police do it, we must!”
A couple of members have been charged with violence toward those protesting police brutality. The case against one of them has been dropped, court records show, and Robertson has said he kicked one of these individuals out of UCA.
Since the group formed, it has shown up in force at protests in Cottonwood Heights, West Valley City and elsewhere. And it’s looking to expand its presence beyond street demonstrations — with an interest in everything from disaster response to training “keyboard warriors” who can keep tabs on “the agitators, criminal activists and disruptors in our community.”
United Citizens Alarm is also trying to wade into politics.
Its social media channels have promoted Dudley for mayor, and another UCA member set up a campaign page for Herriman city council, although he didn’t end up appearing on the ballot.
Dudley said in a recorded interview with Liberty Defenders of our Constitution that he’s long been conservative, but recently joined the Independent American Party, an ultraconservative organization whose most famous member nationally is Nevada rancher and federal government critic Cliven Bundy.
Neither Dudley nor Robertson granted an interview to The Salt Lake Tribune.
UCA also has a so-called political committee, which is supposed to “engage politicians to introduce or thwart legislation” and keep an eye on issues from critical race theory to vaccine passports, according to its website.
Robertson and Dudley have built bridges with state lawmakers already, appearing alongside Sen. David Hinkins earlier this year to promote a bill cracking down on rioting. As originally drafted, the legislation would’ve banned state unemployment assistance and public benefits to anyone convicted of felony rioting within the last five years.
It also carved out legal protections for drivers who accidentally run over and kill or injure someone while trying to escape from a riot under certain circumstances.
Speaking in support of SB138, Dudley relayed his personal experience from the Provo protest, and Robertson thanked Hinkins, R-Orangeville, for bringing forward the bill on behalf of UCA.
“The citizens of Utah overwhelmingly support harsh penalties for riotous, violent and unlawful behavior,” Robertson said. “Especially in the current climate where these things are happening with greater frequency across our nation.”
Even though the legislation didn’t end up passing, Bellamy, an activist and founder of the Black Lives For Humanity Movement, says she’s disturbed by Utah lawmakers’ willingness to invite UCA to the table in the first place.
And Dudley’s claims that Provo city leaders have failed to uphold “the general safety and well-being of Provo’s citizens” doesn’t appear to be gaining much traction among voters — at least not in the primary election, when he finished more than 50 percentage points behind Kaufusi.
In a prepared statement, Kaufusi said she’s a strong supporter of public safety officers and has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police and the professional firefighters of Provo.
“As Mayor, I’ll continue to do all I can to keep Provo as one of the safest cities in America,” she said in the statement.
Sen. Curt Bramble, a Republican from Provo, said he hasn’t heard any frustration about Kaufusi’s response to the summer protests, adding that this lack of complaint “tends to put this gentleman’s [Dudley’s] narrative in perspective.”