Since his arrest on Wednesday night, Blanchard has received nearly 100 messages via social media both supporting and criticizing his actions. His critics have commented on the punishment he should receive, saying he deserves to be shot with paint balls. Some have even suggested he die.
Josh Fulfer, a Clovis man who Blanchard has clashed with at multiple protests, commented on Blanchard’s Facebook post with a photo of himself holding a large gun. Fulfer said in a comment, “We’re ready Dallas!! Try destroying our community without a bunch of scumbags with their face covered. When you by yourself, you are the coward your mother raised (sic).”
Blanchard said he felt the post was a credible threat because he’s met Fulfer before.
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“I’m getting screen shots in case anything does happen,” he said. “Or if people start showing up where I live.”
Fulfer said he didn’t intend for the photo to be threatening. “That was just me showing one of my profile pictures,” Fulfer said.
Fulfer and Blanchard ran into one another when former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona came to Fresno. Fulfer was there to support Arpaio and the Fresno County GOP’s annual Second Amendment celebration, and took the photo with the weapon on that day to send a message to angry protesters.
“Just to let them know if they decide to come to my address, I’ll be ready,” he said.
Blanchard, 53 and a downtown resident, calls himself a “social justice advocate” and said he’s been involved in activism since he attended Fresno State at 18. He’s participated in protests for the Occupy Wall Street movement and more recently in the inauguration protest of Donald Trump’s presidency and for immigrant rights. He cares for folks who are “stigmatized by society,” such as the “homeless, drug users and sex workers.”
Why he vandalized
In an interview Monday, he admitted to vandalizing the new Fulton sign near Tulare Street as a way to voice his frustration with the project to replace the Fulton Mall.
When he goes to court for the misdemeanor charge, Blanchard will consider pleading guilty or no contest. He tried not to do more than $400 worth of damage to avoid a felony charge, he said.
“I was in favor of keeping the (mall) and cleaning it up – making the fountains work again and making it a little nicer – instead of spending $20 million to put in a street that has displaced multiple businesses,” Blanchard said. “(After) nearly two years of construction, it ran nearly 20 businesses out of business, the vast majority of them being small mom and pop and locally owned by mostly people of color. That was a big part of it. The other part is the city’s constant harassment of homeless folks.”
Blanchard said he believes some of the former businesses were run out “by design” with the Fulton project.
“It was purposeful because they cater primarily to the Latino community,” he said. “North Fresno with the more affluent neighborhoods didn’t feel comfortable with those folks around, and that upsets me.”
He believes the vandalism has brought attention to the issue. “People are looking up the term gentrification now,” he said. “Some of the folks online understand some of my points. They don’t necessarily agree with them, but they see where I’m coming from. So to some extent that was beneficial.”
Blanchard said he’s not anti-downtown.
“I love downtown. My idea of a vibrant downtown maybe a little different than some folks. It’s not an unsafe area,” he said.
He hopes if more people frequent downtown now that Fulton Street is complete, they will accept the people who have always been there.
“Be good neighbors to the folks that have been downtown for many, many years,” he said. “There are a lot of folks who are saying terrible things about the homeless, skateboarders and BMX bike riders. They’re kind of looking down on us. … Try not to impact businesses and people that are already there.”