Evan Stern's meeting with Bob Kroll got off to a surprisingly great start. It was all downhill from there.
Stern had watched Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, become an outspoken and highly visible supporter of President Donald Trump, culminating in the creation of the (beautifully designed) "Cops for Trump" shirts and Kroll's appearance onstage with Trump at a wildly off-script October 10 rally in Minneapolis.
"To see Bob Kroll stumping for President Trump on Fox News, and at the rally, and the union selling shirts promoting the message police in Minneapolis are for Donald Trump—that sent a chill down my spine," Stern says.
Trump's rhetoric, policies, and presidency in general are a threat to religious and ethnic minorities, Stern says, a catalyst for white nationalist activism, even violence. Domestic terrorists had shot up a synagogue in Pittsburgh and another in California, and Stern sees a "direct and frankly unavoidable link" between Trump's election and a rise in hate crimes. (He's not alone.)
Stern was unsettled to think the same police force meant to protect him and the local Jewish population—not to mention other vulnerable groups—from violent Christian nationalism had aligned itself with Trump. He thought he'd take his concerns directly to the cops.
Stern stopped in at the First Police Precinct downtown, talking to the first officer he met about what message was sent by police supporting Trump. The conversation was "interesting," if "not particularly positive." Undeterred, Stern later talked to cops in the Fifth Police Precinct in south Minneapolis, his own neighborhood.
In both instances, Stern says his concerns were met with a mix of denial, evasion, and responses that left him unsatisfied. Cops at both stops told him if he had an issue with Bob Kroll, he should take it up with Kroll himself.
Stern did just that. Last week on Tuesday, he walked into the Minneapolis Police Federation office without an appointment, first stopping to ask a secretary if he was allowed to park in the lot. He was. Stern then asked if he could meet with Bob Kroll, and was told Kroll was busy with something, but that he could wait in the lobby.
About 10 minutes later, Kroll emerged and invited Stern into his office. Stern thanked him for making time in his calendar. So far, so good.
Unfortunately, neither man found the brief discussion that followed especially productive. Stern tried explaining to Kroll why Trump made many Jews uncomfortable, and how threatening the president's rhetoric and ideology was to minorities.
Kroll wasn't interested.
"It looked like he wanted to have a political debate," Kroll says. "I listened for about five minutes, and told him I represent the [Federation] members here, and I'm not going to get into an ideological debate about politics with you."
Stern brought up attacks on George Soros as a sort of shadowy Jewish funder behind the scenes, and says Kroll called Soros something to the effect of "uniquely awful."
Expanding on that thought Thursday, Kroll explained: "I think George Soros is behind a lot of the funding of the ultra-left, and sometimes violent groups you see out there such as Antifa, and other protesters."
Kroll also says any allegation Trump holds bigoted views is a "false narrative" and "baseless," saying "everyone's quick to call him a racist, but if you ask them to define why and give examples, everyone falls short."
Kroll decided to cut the meeting off after only a few minutes, saying, "We're done here," and standing to walk Stern to the door. Stern asked if they could meet again to continue talking, and says Kroll told him he wasn't interested, and that if Stern had anything else to say he could "put it in writing."
As Kroll walked him to the door, Stern did something he admits he's not proud of. With "four or five" union staffers around, Stern turned to Kroll and said, "You're an asshole."
Stern says Kroll, a "much larger man" than him, said, "Excuse me?" and walked right up to him, leaving Stern essentially at chest level to the police union head.
"Say that again," Kroll said, according to Stern. "I dare you. I'm not wearing a body camera."
Stern took the line as a direct threat, and immediately turned and left.
Kroll says he "can't recall the specifics" of what he said, but believes it was something along the lines of "Get the fuck off our property." He denies daring Stern to call him an asshole again, and says he never made any sort of threatening statement to Stern, who he now thinks was merely out to "start trouble" with the police.
"He wants to have a political debate with officers," Kroll said. "He's a little bit off, mentally. He's unstable. Why doesn't he just do his own job and be politically active however he does? There's something not right in the guy's brain."
Kroll shared a notice with City Pages from Fifth Precinct Inspector Amelia Huffman, who warned police Stern had been "visiting all the precincts trying to engage officers in political debate about the Police Federation, white nationalism, active shooters, and last week's [Trump] visit."
Huffman continued: "His statements seem intentionally provocative and he may be seeking to to create a public incident of some sort," adding that Stern was "insulting in his comments, but has not been disruptive at any of the precincts at this time." The notice advised any cops who Stern approaches to avoid engaging in a political debate with him.
For his part, Stern says he was heartened by some interactions with cops who told him they don't support Donald Trump, and the numerous officers who said they'd risk their life to defend Stern and others from a terrorist attack. That said, he still thinks they don't grasp what people like him feel.
"If [Jews] need to educate ourselves and our own community around subtle and coded—but no less dangerous—expressions issues of anti-Semitism," Stern says, "surely folks who did not grow up in the Jewish community need that as well."