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RIGHT WING EXTREMISM

Proud Boys Organizing Around Local Anti-LGBTQ Issues to Gain Members, Attention and Influence

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Founded by Gavin McInnes as pro-Trump men’s drinking club in 2016, the Proud Boys transformed into the paramilitary vanguard of the MAGA movement in late 2020, providing security for campaign rallies and then playing an outsized role in the Capitol insurrection.

One thing hasn’t changed since Jan. 6: Members of the self-proclaimed “Western chauvinist” group whose professed values provide a soft cover for thinly veiled white supremacy, remain an intimidating presence in cities across the country, further polarizing local struggles around issues of race, sexual orientation and police accountability.

California’s Central Valley, where at least three active chapters feed members into flashpoints of conflict up and down the Highway 99 corridor, provides an example of how the Proud Boys remain a polarizing force in the culture wars that are rending the United States.

This is the third installment in a four-part series focused on post-Jan 6. MAGA activity in California’s San Joaquin Valley. You can read other installments in the series here.

In early April, an estimated 50 or 60 Proud Boys and other far-right allies reportedly showed up in Fresno kitted out in ballistic vests and equipped with hunting knives and bear spray. Facing off against local residents demonstrating to preserve an iconic theater at the center of an LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood, one Proud Boy allegedly shoved a pregnant woman to the ground. Mark Mazzola, president of the Fresno chapter, confirmed to a local news outlet that his group received reinforcements from Modesto and Bakersfield.

Weekly protests against the pending sale of the Tower Theatre began in February. The owner is currently leasing the theater to the proposed purchaser, Adventure Church — part of the Foursquare denomination, an evangelical Pentecostal spinoff — for Sunday services. Local residents organized under the banner of Save the Tower Theatre Demonstration Committee oppose the sale on grounds that the church violates the commercial zoning for the property and that it represents the loss of an important facility in the heart of one of the Central Valley’s few LGBTQ-friendly areas. In the past, the theater has been used by an array of performing arts groups and has hosted Reel Pride, Fresno’s LGBTQ film festival.

Understanding the neighborhood anchored by the Tower Theatre is crucial to appreciating why residents are so strongly opposed to the sale to Adventure church, said Jaguar Bennett, a local comedian and community theater actor. He compared the Tower District to a small-scale Berkeley or Greenwich Village.

“Tolerant, inclusive — we believe in diversity,” he said. “We believe in art. We believe in living your own life. We are kind of a beacon, not just for Fresno, but the entire region. The Central Valley is the most conservative part of California. The Tower District is the most LGBTQ-affirming neighborhood. Between Sacramento and LA, this is it. We’re a safe space for LGBTQ youth. You can see a play. You can see a band. You can shop in a thrift store. You can have a nice meal. You can do it all in three blocks.”

Following the April 11 debacle, the police increased their presence at the weekly protests, and established a separation between the opposing groups. Since then, Bennett said, the Proud Boys haven’t been a problem.

“Unless there is an opportunity to assault us or incite violence, there is no purpose for them to be there,” he said. “They’re only there to try to cause violent trouble. If the opportunity to cause violent trouble is removed, they’re not interested.”

One of the Fresno members framed the Proud Boys’ opposition to the Save the Tower Theatre committee as a matter of preventing the progressive values of the Bay Area and Los Angeles from creeping into the Valley.

“Those places are cancer,” said Chongo, the nickname for the Fresno chapter’s sergeant at arms, during an April 1 interview with conservative podcaster Todd Cotta. “If we don’t protect the Central Valley, our farmland areas, that cancer’s gonna spread here. Then, next thing you know, California’s a disaster.

“We need to fight that fight,” he continued. “What I mean by that — it doesn’t have to be physical. It’s always going to be the last resort, but we’ve got to stop that before it hits here. And we’re doing something in the Tower District….”

Two months later, addressing Modesto City Council, Chongo used almost identical language to argue against improving police oversight in the wake of an officer fatally shooting a man experiencing a mental health crisis.

“If anything, we are defenders of this country,” Chongo said. “Somebody’s gonna stand up. Somebody has to stand up. Because if we don’t, this country’s gonna burn. The cancer is already spreading into this community. It’s gonna hit the rest of the Central Valley. You got LA and San Francisco in ruins.”

On the issue of the Tower Theatre, Chongo told Cotta the Proud Boys got involved as a matter of supporting religious freedom.

“Well, we’re just standing up for it because we believe it’s a freedom of religion, which is our right as American people,” he said. “Say the Tower Theatre loses, and they don’t get their church. Well, there’s a church just north of the Tower Theatre — they’re gonna go after that church? I have a Bible study on Fridays. Pretty soon, they’re going to come after where I have my Bible study, and I can’t have it.”

Bennett said there’s no merit to any argument that the church losing the fight for Tower Theatre would be the first domino in a sustained assault on Christendom across the region.

“In a region as conservative as Central Valley, even our freaky people are not indisposed to religion,” Bennett said. “There are plenty of churches, and many of them are LGBTQ-affirming. I don’t even think anyone would care if this church would have even bought a building in our neighborhood that was properly zoned.”

It’s common to hear Proud Boys across the country ardently argue that they are not homophobic.

Addressing Modesto City Council on June 22, a Proud Boy who identified himself as “Eric” attempted to deflect criticism of the group by saying, “We love anybody of any sexual orientation.”

Apparently unaware that crossdressing is not a sexual orientation, he continued: “In my chapter alone, we had a transvestite, happily, loved him.”

The Proud Boy’s further comments undermined his initial proclamation of acceptance.

“We welcomed him openly,” he said. “We only removed him after we discovered he started using methamphetamine, because that’s something we don’t allow. Because as Proud Boys, we believe in upholding the Constitution, the American family, as well as the nucleus [sic] family, which the left is tearing apart.”

Beyond the fact that the Proud Boys were started as a drinking club, allegations of members’ drug use, including from one-time ally Omar Navarro, have proliferated for years, and Chairman Enrique Tarrio once said, “We’re pro-drugs.” Also, Eric’s claim that the left is “tearing apart” the nuclear family aligns with a view that heterosexuality should be regarded as normative rather than promoting inclusion.

“They want to build a society that is built on hierarchy, one that strengthens existing hierarchies and that perpetuates inequalities that we have,” said Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “They believe that men are superior to women, that cisgender people are superior to transgender people. Really, strengthening the social stratifications that exist — that underlies all the political projects that they pursue.”

Beyond counter-protesting the LGTBQ community and allies, Proud Boys in the Central Valley have forged an alliance with Don Grundmann, an anti-gay crusader from the Bay Area who is gearing up for his third annual Straight Pride rally outside of Planned Parenthood in Modesto in August. Although they distanced themselves from the first Straight Pride rally in 2019, the Central Valley Proud Boys showed up to support Grundmann in 2020. Another group calling itself the Central Valley Militia unfurled large banners reading “Patriots Against Pedophilia: One Solution Luke 17:2” alongside an image of an assault rifle. Whether intentional or not, the message could be read as a conflation of homosexuality with pedophilia, with a clear call for violence.

Grundmann came to the June 22 Modest City Council meeting to publicize his event and defend the Proud Boys, whom he credited with providing security at the 2020 event; the Proud Boys have been regularly attending city council meetings to express opposition to a city-sponsored effort to improve police accountability.

“These are Christian gentlemen who want to defend the foundations of our nation,” he said. “I believe that’s fantastically important.” Ironically, the Central Valley Proud Boys organizer quoted in the Modesto Bee‘s coverage of the 2020 event identified himself as “Odin,” which is the name of a Norse god that is revered in the modern religion Heathenry. Meanwhile, Grundmann’s National Straight Pride Coalition openly flaunts its homophobia, with a manifesto on its website describing the organization as “the frontline of the religious war between Christianity and its Satanism/Humanism opponent,” and as readying for a battle “to stop the Jihad of the LGBT War Machine upon the children of our nation.”

Although Grundmann denies being a white supremacist, “Caucasians” are singled out, along with “Western Civilization,” on the National Straight Pride Coalition website as being “under unprecedented, sustained and coordinated attack within our society, culture and nation.” Grundmann made national headlines when he made a gaffewhile addressing Modesto City Council in 2019. The audience erupted in laughter when Grundmann, evidently flustered by sustained booing, said, “We’re a totally peaceful racist group.”

Beyond the Central Valley, Proud Boys also showed up to protest a meeting of the Los Alamitos USD School Board in Orange County as it approved new social justice standards. The Orange County Register reported that Superintendent Andrew Pulver switched the meeting from in-person to virtual because of concerns about potential unrest. In previous weeks, a proposal to add an elective ethnic studies class — also ultimately approved — had drawn protesters. Chad Loder, an antifascist who monitors Proud Boys and other far-right actors in southern California, identified a member of the Bakersfield Proud Boys chapter at the May 11 protest, along with Marcus Kelly, who was previously arrested in Fresno for illegal possession of pepper spray while rallying alongside the Proud Boys.

Miller said two important things are at play in the Proud Boys’ increased engagement with local issues. Getting people involved in local politics has been a historical strength for the political right, providing opportunities for Proud Boys to build coalitions. And culture war issues offer a ripe opportunity for organizing.

“One of the things we saw as a flashpoint in the past was drag-queen story hours,” Miller said. “Drag queens would read to children in libraries. This became really a point of organization for the far right, with Proud Boys going to community meetings and pushing back against this kind of programming. They realize this is a real flashpoint for the culture war. This will bring them attention and recruits.”

This is the third installment in a four-part series focused on post-Jan 6. MAGA activity in California’s San Joaquin Valley. You can read other installments in the series here.

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RIGHT WING EXTREMISM

Steve Schmidt Warns on GOP Authoritarian Threat: ‘Democracy Cannot Survive’ When ‘The Lie and the Truth Stand Equally’

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Steve Schmidt, Lincoln Project co-founder and Republican strategist-turned-Democrat, expressed concern about the latest authoritarian attack leveled on the United States’ democracy as he urged Americans to push back against their threats.

Speaking to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Schmidt laid out the main issue with former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie.”

“The front of that fight is a space where the lie is confronted with the truth. That is the battleground. And it plays out in 1 million ways,” Schmidt said. “But a democracy cannot survive in a world where the lie and the truth stand equally. The system that we have is based on a compact that requires faith in belief and trust. It’s how we share power with people that we disagree with. We acknowledge that we live in a complex world where people have different perspectives.”

He continued, “And we have to accommodate those views. In the 21st century, I believe that there was a consensus that has unraveled in start really short period of time, that you can trace all the way back to the beginning of the country, in the name of political power — also, the same people claiming that they’re doing it in the name of freedom are seeing that that preservation of freedom means maintaining our power. Not necessarily abiding the results of the election. And when you get into that territory, you’re in a scary space.”

 

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RIGHT WING EXTREMISM

Abortion-Banning, Voter-Suppressing, Gun-Promoting Texas Gov. Abbott Not Far-Right Enough for Pro-Trump MAGA Extremists

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the nation’s most radical abortion ban, a far-reaching voter suppression law, and legislation that allows Texans to carry handguns without a permit or training. He responded to a surge in COVID-19 delta variant cases by blocking local vaccine and mask mandates, and he mobilized state police and national guard troops to “seal” the border with Mexico. But none of that is enough for some Trump-loving Republicans. Former Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis recently declared on her radio show that Abbott is “not a real Republican” while endorsing Abbott challenger Don Huffines in the state’s Republican primary.

Ellis endorsed Huffines in a video released last Thursday and interviewed the far-right candidate on the Sept. 15 edition of the “Jenna Ellis Show,” where she declared Abbott to be a “Republican in name only” while describing Huffines as a “true, actual Republican.” Ellis also attended a Sept. 15 brunch event hosted by Huffines’ wife.

Ellis reminded listeners that she is “not a fan” of the Republican National Committee or “any of the RINOs,” adding, “And we as conservatives, as faith-based Christians, as people who just care about this country, we need to make sure that we are advocating for, supporting, endorsing the true actual Republicans.” Ellis and Huffines criticized Abbott for not taking more aggressive action on the border sooner, and Ellis claimed, not very credibly, that “it has really also concerned me to see the LGBT movement that has basically been broadly endorsed by Abbott.”

Despite being turned out of office by voters in 2018, Huffines, a wealthy Dallas-area developer and former state senator,  announced his candidacy for governor in May. Huffines’ campaign website is a parade of far-right rhetoric on “election integrity,” “critical race theory,” “social media censorship,” and more. In a section labeled “Texas Values,” Huffines declares:

We will stop bowing down to the federal courts. This is Texas. We don’t care what John Roberts thinks. He and other sellouts on the Supreme Court have proven that they cannot be trusted to protect our liberty or state sovereignty.

“The Marxists and the socialists have taken over our education system, our seminaries, our politics, and our media, of course,” Huffines said, adding that “the real fundamental role of government is to protect the citizens from government.” He told Ellis, “We’ve got to awaken the sheep.”

Huffines told Ellis that the flow of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border is “a premeditated attack on Texas by the Biden administration.”

“The power of the governor is almost unlimited if you’re willing to use it for our Constitution,” Huffines told Ellis, pledging to stop all inbound commercial traffic from Mexico until that country secures its side of the border.

Ellis asked Huffines to talk about the importance of pastors and churches being involved in politics. “If we can get everyone out of the pews and vote their faith, we will never lose an election,” Huffines said, adding that “this is a battle of good versus evil.” He claimed that Democrats want to bring tyranny to the U.S. “today” and that “RINO Republicans” are headed in the same direction.

Huffines’ website pledges that he will “reject any attempts to mandate, force, or coerce any medical test, procedure, or product, including vaccines or masks, on Texans,” calling it an “insult” to even suggest that vaccines be made mandatory. He said Abbott’s initial COVID-19 shutdowns were an assault on liberty and a “catalyst” for Huffines getting into the race.

Huffines spoke at the American Conservative Union’s July 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, where he made similar claims and said that “almost all” Republicans who call themselves conservatives are “liars.”

In 2017, Huffines was part of an array of right-wing funders who backed a last-minute campaign by religious-right activists to save the Senate candidacy of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Ellis is far from the only Trump-loving wing of the GOP to support Huffines. Another former Trump staffer, Katrina Pierson, is backing Huffines, who has also been endorsed by Sen. Rand Paul, with whom he traveled on a “private” trip to meet with Russian officials in 2018. Huffines may have to compete for support from the Trumpist wing of the party with the former Texas GOP chair, Allen West, who also announced his candidacy for Texas governor this July.

 

This article was originally published by Right Wing Watch and is republished here by permission.
Image: Gov. Abbott celebrating after signing a near-total ban on abortion.

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RIGHT WING EXTREMISM

Fox News Goes Full White Supremacist With Republican Who Says ‘Hope and Change’ Means ‘Replace the American Electorate’

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Fox News has gone full white supremacist. The right wing cable network’s top primetime host, Tucker Carlson, has been promoting the racist “great replacement” conspiracy theory since April, doubling down on it this week. But now Fox News’ daytime programming is totally on board, embracing that racist rhetoric.

On Friday “Fox & Friends” hosted U.S. Rep Brian Babin, who spewed the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, adding a new racist twist.

According to the Texas Republican, former President Barack Obama’s “Hope and Change” slogan means “change America” by replacing “the electorate with third-world immigrants that are coming in illegally, many of them COVID-positive.”

Babin repeatedly said “change America,” honing in on the white supremacist conspiracy theory of “replacement,” a concept seared into the minds of many Americans who saw the tiki-torch wielding neo-Nazis marching through Charlotte chanting, “You will not replace us.”

“We know what the grand strategy of the Democratic Party is,” Congressman Babin declared. “They want to change America, ‘hope and change,’ and it started under Obama and now it’s really going to just racehorse speed.”

“They want to change America, they want to they want to replace the American electorate with third-world immigrants that are coming in illegally, many of them COVID-positive, drug resistant tuberculosis, I’m a health care provider, I can tell you it’s a disaster down there from a public health standpoint, and they are just want to change the electorate and put these people on a path to citizenship and franchise them with a vote and have a permanent majority. On every phase we can see every aspect the Democrats are trying to change America, from what we know what we love and what we have enjoyed for 244 years, right, it’s despicable.”

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