The state police officers association and the leader of a Bloomington political committee are criticizing a city human rights commissioner for describing a recent pro-police rally as fascist.

Commissioner Anita Smithson tweeted that she drove by Bloomington Civic Plaza on July 25 during the second annual Back the Blue rally, which she called a "fascist organized rally."

Smithson, who was appointed to the commission in March, said last year's rally was organized with ACT for America, classified as an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

She said in a series of other tweets that while the rally was raising money for a good cause, it amounted to "fascist radicalization" and was tied to ACT for America.

Becky Strohmeier, chairwoman of the Bloomington Patriots group that organized the 2020 and 2021 Back the Blue rallies, denied in an e-mail that ACT was associated with the events.

"I had one conference call with [ACT] about how to plan an event weeks prior to our Back the Blue in 2020. That hardly constitutes as any sort of association," she wrote.

Strohmeier read a letter at the Bloomington City Council meeting Monday from the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association that called out Smithson's tweets.

The letter from Brian Peters, executive director of the police association, read in part:

"At best, the comments are grossly inappropriate for a city leader charged with defending rights of Bloomington residents. At worst, the comments are appalling, divisive, and bring suspicion to the Human Rights department among residents who deserve qualified staff. We believe Ms. Smithson's comments require a response and potentially further action from the city and its elected leaders to repair the damage caused by her comments."

Peters said in the letter that the rally raised $1,380 for Officer Matt Ryan, who is undergoing chemotherapy to treat leukemia, and that such rallies are commonplace across the country to show support for law enforcement.

He signed off by saying the "demonization by some community leaders has severe and negative public safety consequences."

In a statement, Bloomington Mayor Tim Busse said that Peters' letter gives "outsized credence to the comments of a volunteer commission member on her personal social media." He said the human right commission is a volunteer group and that Smithson does not act in an official capacity, and added that the Bloomington City Council strongly supports the police.

"I've spoken with Ms. Smithson to let her know my expectations, and my disappointment that her comments caused collateral damage among our police officers and their family members," Busse said.

In a statement Tuesday, Smithson apologized for any pain caused to Ryan and his family or Bloomington police officers by her Twitter comments.

"My tweets about an individual involved in the event, and that person's association with a known hate group, do not reflect my broader thoughts about how residents, city leadership, and the [Bloomington Police Department] can work to strengthen our collaboration efforts to ensure a safe and secure community for all," Smithson said.

Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751