Kelly's Army Strong

The eclectic mix of protesters demanding justice for Kelly Thomas still has battles to fight, even after two officers were charged in his death

Rain mists down on the dozens of signs sprawled on the lawn in front of the Fullerton Police Department on the morning of Sept. 25. For just a second, there's silence, then a passerby honks his horn, and the chant starts again: "Kelly's Army; we won't go. Two down, four to go."

Three days earlier, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas lodged charges against two of the six Fullerton policemen involved in the July 5 beating death of Kelly Thomas.

Ron Thomas, Kelly's father, smiles as he looks at the 25 or so protesters holding signs and bullhorns and wearing shirts and hats with his son's name on them. Then, a short man with shiny cheeks and a wide smile walks up to Thomas with an outstretched hand. "How are you doing?" Thomas asks, as the men shake hands.

Members of Kelly's Army march between memorial site and Fullerton Police Department
Marisa Gerber
Members of Kelly's Army march between memorial site and Fullerton Police Department

"What a wonderful somewhat of a victory," the man says about the DA's decision.

"Yeah, we won a major battle; now, let's go on and win this war," Thomas says, before thanking the protester. "It's not me, man; it's all of us in this. I'd be one man standing here in the grass. It's all of us that did it. It's the pressure that all of us put on them."

Thomas remembers when that us began. It was several days after Kelly's death, he says. He heard that a Fullerton resident named Andy Anderson was so upset about what happened to Thomas' schizophrenic, homeless son that he planned to protest on a Tuesday night. Thomas and a few others showed up, but Thomas suggested they protest on Saturdays instead, so more people could come.

Christine Walker says she remembers that first Saturday protest. A handful of people gathered on the corner of Commonwealth and Highland avenues. They didn't have signs yet, so a few were spray-painted that day. The momentum built quickly, she says. "The next weekend, it was probably double the crowd, and then even more stories kept coming out, and it kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger."

Thanks to social media—the "Justice for Kelly Thomas" Facebook page has thousands of followers—and consistent coverage by the Friends for Fullerton's Future blog, the number of protesters swelled to upward of 250 by late July.

As the crowd size ballooned, the group earned its name, Thomas says. "I made the statement that I was at war with the police department and the City Council, and that all of these people were all part of Kelly's Army," he recalls. "It was just a quick thought on my part, but then it took off, and everyone liked it and wanted to be a member."

The motif really stuck, too. A lot of protesters wear camouflage. The "army" even has an official chaplain: Pastor Wiley Drake of Buena Park. A longtime far-right commentator who has grabbed headlines for his Obama-hating and homophobic jeremiads, Drake broadcasts live from the protests for his show on Crusade Radio. He says Thomas gave him his blessing to be chaplain last week.

Some protesters call Kelly's Army a movement; others call it a family. If nothing else, it's a slice of society made up of babies and grandmas, atheists and religious zealots, the politically savvy and people who have never registered to vote, a man who worked for a police union and another who was beaten by a cop, the far-left anti-war agitators of ANSWER LA and the "constitutionalist" Oath Keepers, a few people who knew Kelly well and even more who didn't, people who have no idea what it's like to have a mentally ill relative and those who know all too well.

For Joey Cadavid, the group's diversity is part of its strength. "If there's one positive thing about it, it's that people realize that sometimes their political, sexual orientation and class differences are not nearly as important to them as they thought, when faced with a real issue."

By mid-September, the number of protesters had dropped to 50 or so, and the remaining few formed what Kelly's mother, Cathy Thomas, described as "one big family." Many agree with that sentiment. "Fighting for justice and seeing our community come together has been amazing," Walker says. "Some of my dearest friends I met 11 weeks ago, when this started."

Tony Bushala of Friends for Fullerton's Future calls it a movement. "It's pretty rewarding to be involved with a movement, if you will," he says. "People started coming together from all walks of life to protest. We were a symbol."

And Kelly's Army reached a milestone on Sept. 21. For weeks, it had demanded action from the DA's office, and on the morning of Rackauckas' press conference, dozens of members carpooled to the DA's office in Santa Ana. When news leaked that one officer would be charged with second-degree murder and another with manslaughter, Ron Thomas walked over to the group he had protested with for weeks and shared the news. They hugged and cried and chanted for Kelly.

The DA's job is to make decisions based on evidence, not the mood of protesters, but many members of Kelly's Army feel they influenced the outcome. "Yeah, I think the DA wouldn't have even had a decision to make if it weren't for us out here. I think they would have totally brushed it under the carpet," Cadavid said at the Sept. 25 protest.

Both Ron and Cathy Thomas say they know the pressure of Kelly's Army, which protested twice in front of the DA's office, didn't hurt. But, more than anything, they say it's the personal support that means the most to them. Asked to express what Kelly's Army means to him, Ron paused, then said, "Well it means a bunch of things. It means I'm not alone; it means there's hope; it means there's support. They're out there, pouring their hearts out. A lot of energy out there, and it keeps me going."

And, Kelly's Army will keep going, members say, at least until some action is taken against the four officers who weren't charged. And even if that time comes, you can count on them not to go away. Many members plan to redirect their efforts into advocating for the homeless.

"We're taking our negative energy and turning it into something positive," Walker says. "The world is now a different place because of Kelly Thomas and what happened to him, and I think that people are going to stand up and do what's right and take care of one another."

This article appeared in print as "Kelly's Army Strong: The eclectic mix of protesters demanding justice for Kelly Thomas still has battles to fight."

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I Have Questions
I Have Questions

First, let me say I support the filing of charges against the officers.

However, when will the dozens of journalists who interview Ron Thomas on a regular basis clarify the following issues:

1. It's been widely reported that Ron Thomas was a OCSD Deputy for six years, then retired. When will someone actually nail him down on his employment? How long did he work there? What was his rank? Did he retire, not make probation, get fired, etc.? If the employment separation was not of his own choosing, then what happened? Many commenters who seem to have knowledge said he failed to pass probation and his employment was brief.

2. Ron claims he trains police officers in tactics. Proof? When, where, what, how long, etc.?

3. Ron has said in the past that he will donate ALL proceeds from a civil suit to forming a foundation committed to providing services to mentally ill homeless, yet doesn't seem to say this lately. Has his intention regarding a civil suit settlement changed?

4. Ron seems to be absent in most photographs of Kelly. Is Ron a blood relative? Just how much time - months, years, etc. - did Ron actually live with Kelly?

5. Ron says he is a contractor - yet there is only one "Ronald Thomas" listed as on Orange County licensed contactor at the Contactor's State License Board, and he is a resident of Huntington Beach, not Cypress, which is where Thomas' lives. Just what is his history?

I say this because Ron seems to be something other than what he has claimed in interviews in the past. I question the nature of his relationship with Kelly (RIP), his employment, his motives, and pretty much everything about him. When will some of these journalists clarify these issues?


thanks to Tony Bushala's blogsite Friends for Fullerton Future, Kelly Thomas beating death by Fullerton police officers was not hid by Fullerton's civic leaders and their entourage

Joe Blow
Joe Blow

Ron, Ron, Ron. Seems like you have a crush on Ron. Why not come out to one of the protests on Saturday & ask him yourself? Its not like Ron or anyone else in Kelly's Army is hiding. "Same Bat-time, Same Bat-channel." I guess that could be said about all the police apologists as well. Questioning Ron or talking trash on the family is all you have left. Sad, but it won't change the fact that FPD is going down. Kelly's Army will win the war. Its far from over.

Also, what does Ron Thomas have to do with Fullerton PD murdering Kelly Thomas?

Soho_d J
Soho_d J

And you seem to be nothing but a cop prick troll, go fuck yerself!


Who cares about Ron's past employment. It has nothing to do with officers beating his son to death. This is not about Ron. Its about FPD and it's rogue officers. How about interviewers contact the parents of the cops that murdered Kelly? Then you'll see how narcissism and "good ole boy" hiring leads to an above the law, corrupt, police department. Happens everywhere.

Retired Enlisted Man
Retired Enlisted Man

It's good when a community will come together. But, ask yourself. If it was a slain police officer who had been wrongly killed, would you protest in honor of the officer, or are you ONLY protesting because it was police violence?

If you can answer fairly that you would protest any injustice, then I would think you are fair as opposed to against law enforcement using this as an opportunity to bash the fine men in blue.

I say this as a retired US Military enlisted man and not a police officer.

Soho_d J
Soho_d J

Cops sign on to do this job why should anyone worship them as heros? If it had been a slain cop I'm sure the mainstream media would have dragged out the usual hero bs. So don't try and be clever. Lately the fine men in blue seem to be acting above the law all over America. People like you rarely see the real situation & love to moan about the tough job cops get paid to do. Of course people are protesting police violence you moron! Cops aren't paid to be violent towards innocent citizens even if the have no address. The fact that you add that you were in the military makes me wonder if you too feel you should be treated as a hero.

mitch young.
mitch young.

exactly.. dont sign up to want to be a hero than cry when something happens.. Be a man

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