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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

RNC Taps Right Wing Extremists to Head Group Designed to Expand GOP Appeal in Wake of Midterm Losses

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Embattled Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel is launching two advisory groups in an effort to expand the party’s appeal to voters and examine what went wrong in the wake of stunning, historic midterm election losses – and she’s turning to some of the right’s most extreme leaders to perform the investigations.

Political analysts on both sides of the aisle generally agree that Donald Trump, Trumpism, the party’s lurch to far right wing extremism including white nationalism, white supremacy, Christian nationalism, antisemitism, authoritarianism, fascism, and the “Big Lie” of stolen elections hurt, not helped candidates in the 2022 midterms.

McDaniel has now tapped some of the very purveyors of that failed extremism to lead the shrinking party’s efforts to broaden its outreach and correct its errors.

“The RNC is tapping nearly a dozen people to serve in what it’s calling a ‘Republican Party Advisory Council’ – a group that includes former Donald Trump White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, evangelical leader Tony Perkins and a pair of Senate candidates who ran this year,” Politico reports.

READ MORE: Franklin Graham’s Ugly Lie Ahead of Senate Vote on Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Tony Perkins is a far right wing religious extremist and anti-LGBTQ activist who decades ago reportedly had ties to white supremacist groups, which he has denied. For decades he has been president of the Family Research Council, which appears on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of anti-LGBTQ hate groups.

Deeply embedded in Republican theocratic politics, Perkins was appointed twice by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent federal government body that has a history of advancing the agenda of America’s Evangelical Christian movement.

He is also a past president of the highly-secretive far Christian right organization, Council for National Policy (CNP).

READ MORE: Hate Group Head Tony Perkins Prays for ‘Conflict’ and ‘Gridlock’ to ‘Settle Upon’ DC if Biden Enacts His Agenda

CNP’s members are believed to include far right activist and lobbyist Ginni Thomas, whose attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results have been the subject of numerous reports. Also, Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, which has faced allegations of racism, and far right conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi. Other members of the Council for National Policy include two other heads of organizations that appear on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of anti-LGBTQ hate groups: Mat Staver, the founder of Liberty Counsel; and Tim Wildmon, President of the American Family Association.

“The panel will also include former Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters, who in the wake of his loss has called on the party to move on from ‘consultant one-size-fits-all strategies,'” Politico reports.

READ MORE: ‘Lowest Common Denominator’: Trump Refuses to Denounce White Supremacist He Dined With Despite Advisers’ Urgings

Masters is a “Big Lie” purveyor who has also promoted the white nationalist conspiracy theory of the “Great Replacement,” which falsely claims immigrants – people of color – are “replacing” white Americans.

Separately, Politico adds, the RNC is commissioning an investigation into what went wrong, commonly referred to as an “autopsy” to ensure in future elections the same decisions are not made. That work will be lead by current RNC members.

 

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RIGHT WING EXTREMISM

‘Lowest Common Denominator’: Trump Refuses to Denounce White Supremacist He Dined With Despite Advisers’ Urgings

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It’s been nearly a week since Donald Trump had dinner at his home at Mar-a-Lago with antisemite and white supremacist Nick Fuentes, and yet he continues to refuse to denounce him or his extremist views.

“The former US president was urged publicly and privately to denounce Fuentes in the aftermath of the dinner,” The Guardian reports Monday.

Multiple advisers have urged Trump to denounce Fuentes, who has a long history of promoting white supremacism, but he has been “rejecting” their advice “over fears he might alienate a section of his base, two people familiar with the situation said.”

READ MORE: Trump Complains the ‘Fake News Went Crazy’ With Coverage of His 2-Hour Meeting With Notorious Racist He Won’t Condemn

Fuentes, according to Trump, came to dinner at the behest of Kanye West, the former president’s invited dinner guest. He says the disgraced artist did not tell him in advance he was bringing “friends.” In addition to Fuentes, those friends reportedly include Milo Yiannopoulos, who has advocated for older men having sex with young teen boys, and Trump 2016 aide Karen Giorno, who was reportedly involved in a pay-for-pardon scheme.

West has also been increasingly viewed as antisemitic, especially after threatening to “go death con 3 on Jewish people.” That remark “conveyed a clear violence to many who saw it,” The Times of Israel reported last month.

Trump has a long history of refusing to denounce white supremacists and white nationalists. His refusal to denounce former KKK leader David Duke, when still a presidential candidate in 2016, has become an infamously defining moment for Trump.

“I don’t know anything about David Duke,” Trump told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with ‘white supremacy’ or ‘white supremacists,’” Trump insisted. “I know nothing about white supremacists.”

ALSO IN THE NEWS: Watch: Chasten Buttigieg Says Tucker Carlson Is Focusing on ‘Hate’ After Host’s Latest Anti-Gay Attack on His Husband

“I have to look at the group,” Trump continued, when asked  he would condemn white supremacists and say he does not want their vote. “You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about?”

That’s extremely similar to Trump’s initial response when news broke he had dined with Fuentes.

Trump on his Truth Social platform described the white supremacist as someone “whom I had never met and knew nothing about.”

On MSNBC Monday morning, Politico’s Jonathan Lemire noted, “this strain of white nationalism is becoming more central to what today’s Republican Party is about.” He added that Trump is “trying to play to the lowest common denominator to try and keep some supporters in check.”

Fuentes is not just a white supremacist, a white Christian nationalist, a Holocaust “denier,” and a supporter of authoritarianism – along with holding other extremist views. He is a political commentator who has a large following and is seen as the head of a white supremacist movement. Fuentes is also the founder of the annual America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC), a white nationalism alternative to the already extremist Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) last year warned Fuentes is “a white supremacist leader and organizer and podcaster who seeks to forge a white nationalist alternative to the mainstream GOP.”

But ADL also notes Fuentes “promoted election fraud narratives and encouraged his adherents to participate in nationwide “Stop the Steal” protests,” and “served as an organizer and speaker at many ‘Stop the Steal’ protests,” which may be yet another reason Trump has refused to denounce him.

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RIGHT WING EXTREMISM

Watch: NBC Reporter Urges ‘Come to Jesus Moment’ for Media in Wake of Colorado Springs Anti-LGBTQ Mass Shooting

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NBC News’ senior reporter Ben Collins is calling for media outlets to have a “come to Jesus moment” – a dose of reality in order to make a major change – in the wake of the Colorado Springs hate crime mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub, Club Q, that left five people dead. A clip of his segment is going viral, with many agreeing the media needs to do a better job.

On MSNBC Tuesday morning, Collins, who covers what he calls the “dystopia beat,” meaning extremism, noted he’s been reporting on far-right extremism and its attacks on the LGBTQ community for months, apparently suggesting his articles were a warning.

“I do you want to say though, am I doing something wrong here?” Collins asked rhetorically, as if to suggest another anti-LGBTQ mass shooting hate crime had only been a matter of time.

READ MORE: Iraq Vet Took Down Club Q Gunman by Grabbing Handle on His Armor and a ‘Drag Dancer Stomped on Him With Her High Heels’

“Here are some headlines that I wrote the last six months,” he said, reading them off.

“‘Fueled by parents far right machine anti-LGBTQ threats shut down trans rights and drag events.’ Remember,” Collins said after his voice initially appeared to crack, “there was a drag event happening to Colorado,” at Club Q the night of the mass shooting.

“‘Anti-trans stalkers at Kiwi Farms,’ which is an anti-trans website that stalks people, ‘are chasing one victim around the world. Their list of targets is growing,’ – that was a couple months ago,” Collins added.

“‘Doctors under threat from far right activists for providing trans care.’ ‘Boston Children’s Hospital faces bomb threat after right-wing harassment campaign’ – there were three of those bomb threats. ‘FBI charges Massachusetts woman with Boston Children’s Hospital bomb threats’ – so they found one of the people. ‘At least 20 Republican politicians have claimed that schools are making accommodations for students who identify as cats.’ That was before the midterms.”

READ MORE: ‘This Ad Is Hate’: CNN Guest Shreds Herschel Walker for Anti-Transgender Ad Hours After Club Q Mass Shooting

“Here are three more from my colleagues in the last three weeks,” Collins continued, reading those headlines. “‘As election nears some conservative groups have ramped up anti-trans campaign ads.’ ‘Far right figures appear to be testing Twitter’s boundaries for anti-LGBTQ speech.’ ‘GOP senator targets Tiktok influencer with anti-transgender taunt.'”

After reading the headlines, Collins posed the question important for all journalists.

“And I’m just wondering, what could I have done different? Seriously, as reporters what can we do different? Because there are five dead people in a strip mall – because that was the only place they felt safe, as gay or trans people in this town in Colorado Springs.”

“And I am trying to thread this needle here. I’m trying to say that this is happening. This targeted stuff has real life impacts,” he continued.

READ MORE: Anti-LGBTQ Congressman for Colorado Springs Deluged With Angry Responses Over Club Q Tweet That Doesn’t Say Gay

“And I’m going to fail by the way, I’m going to freak out because it’s happening. Because I wake up and I see that there are five dead bodies. But I think we have to have a come to Jesus moment here, as reporters. Are we more afraid of being on Breitbart for saying that trans people deserve to be alive? Or are we more afraid of the dead people? Because I’m more afraid of the dead people. I don’t want to wake up on a Sunday and see that all these headlines came to fruition.”

On Twitter Collins says this is “an inflection point in this country right now, specifically for reporters.”

Saying, “Thank you, Ben Collins,” Shannon Minter, the Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), commented: “Reporters & media outlets have a responsibility not to lend fuel to dangerous political attacks on vulnerable minorities—including by stories like recent pieces by Reuters & the NYT that deliberately stoke fears & misconceptions about transgender kids.”

Watch the Collins’ clip above, the full MSNBC segment below, or both at this link.

 

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