David Neiwert

Bizarre QAnon group’s monthlong JFK Jr. watch in Dallas shows how conspiracism breeds cults

The wing of the QAnon conspiracy cult that believes John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death and will return to the American political scene as Donald Trump's running mate showed up earlier this month in Dallas after being told that both JFK Jr. and his assassinated father would make an appearance there—and then remained through Monday, the 58th anniversary of the late president's murder. They had been told both men would appear.

At Dealey Plaza—the site of the 1963 national tragedy—a large crowd of them gathered on an overpass overlooking the spot with banners reading "Trump/JFK Jr 2024," along with ordinary Trump banners and American flags. One of the participants told a local journalist: "It's reversing the spell of what happened to JFK Senior."

The gathering—comprised mostly of followers of a leading QAnon promoter named Michael Protzman, who persuaded a substantial group of about 100 people to remain in Dallas even after his Nov. 2 event at which the deceased Kennedys failed to appear—also was the apotheosis of the cultish nature of the QAnon phenomenon. Over the weekend, Protzman—who uses the moniker "Negative48"—had advised his followers, Jim Jones-like, in a video chat to get comfortable with the idea of dying, because only then will they learn the truth.

"Ultimately... we have to experience that physical death... let go... come out on the other side," one of the chat participants said.

When asked by video journalist Rex Ravita what message she hoped the Dealey Plaza rally hoped to send, a participant replied:

It's reversing the spell of what happened to JFK Senior. They faked their deaths. And they said senior did not die and Jackie did not die. He said there was 900 celebrities that had to fake their death due to the Illuminati and their contract that they had. So they called it the Gone With The Wind program, and they're supposed to return as well and let everybody know what was going on with the Illuminati, the record business and the Epstein island the child trafficking and human trafficking that they were all involved in.

Protzman, whose main claim to fame arises from his ardent promotion of the JFK Jr.-is-still-alive theory combined with gobbledygook health claims, and his followers represent only a minority subcult within the larger QAnon alternative universe. [In reality, Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash in 1999. When asked in 2018 about the theory suggesting JFK Jr. was still alive and was about to join Trump in exposing the machinations of the globalist child-trafficking cult at the center of QAnon beliefs, the original "Q" poster confirmed that Kennedy in fact was dead; nonetheless, the theory has persisted within the QAnon cult.]

As Thomas Lecaque at The Bulwark observes, Protzman—like nearly all conspiracy theorists—embeds a deeply antisemitic core within his larger, mostly incoherent, narrative:

Protzman has some 97,000 followers on Telegram, and while the number of Q types gathered in Dallas has dropped from 350-500 in the first few days to perhaps 75-100 now, more than a week after the original promised deadline for JFK's reappearance, they are still there with him. Protzman seems to believe that JFK and Jackie Kennedy were the second physical incarnations of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and direct descendants in a genealogy so bizarre not even Dan Brown would touch it, with JFK Jr. as the Archangel Michael and Donald Trump as the Holy Spirit. And while all of this is outrageous and unhinged, he is apparently pushing anti-Semitic films and ideas—Europa: The Last Battle and Adolf Hitler: The Greatest Story Never Told—and leading his followers into ideologies ever more divorced from reality. QAnon is already based in part on medieval blood libel myths, used by Christians to justify massacres of Jewish communities. Protzman's group is spreading even more direct versions while waiting for the sign for their own crusade, bolstered by apocalyptic visions, the reemergence of dead celebrities to cheer them on, and inevitably the violence and massacres that must follow to create their Promised Land over the bodies of their enemies.

The Negative48 cult's disquieting power lies in Protzman's ability to persuade hundreds of people to come to Dallas, and for a substantial portion of them to take up communal living for a month in the hopes of witnessing "the Storm."

"I think what you're seeing here is really, undeniably a cult," said Mike Rothschild, author of The Storm Is Upon Us, told the Dallas Morning News. "The moment when the leaders of a cultic group start talking about the need for physical death to reach utopia is the moment to get the authorities involved," he tweeted.

Protzman clearly holds a powerful sway over his followers; days after the initial Nov. 2 rally, he ordered them to line up single-file in Dealey Plaza to await his instructions, and they dutifully did so. He continuously moved the goalposts regarding his predictions; after the Nov. 2 no-show, he promised believers that the big revelation instead would come on the Nov. 23 anniversary. So many of them stayed and waited, cutting off contact with their abandoned families.

"There is absolutely behavior control and thought control," Rothschild said. "He's telling people what to do. He's having people stand in straight lines to have conversations. He's telling people when to go outside, when to look up, when to look down. It is unquestionably the behavior of a cult leader."

The Negative48 cult is tearing families apart, as Vice's David Gilbert recently reported. Katy Garner, a nurse from Arkansas, told Gilbert that she had essentially lost her sister to Protzman's cult in the months since the November 2020 election.

"She left her children for this and doesn't even care. She is missing birthdays and holidays for this. She truly believes this is all real and we are the crazy ones for trying to get her to come home. But she won't," Garner said. "I don't believe she will ever come back from this. We are in mourning."

Garner said that, under Protzman's direction, her sister now is required to drink a hydrogen peroxide solution and take "bio pellets" to ward off COVID-19, and her phone calls are monitored. She also has handed over about $200,000 to the cult.

Other people with friends and family members in Dallas told Gilbert that they feared for their loved ones. "I'm very worried about her safety," one said. "We don't know if she's given him any money, but her husband is about to cancel her cards. She's blowing through money fast."

A woman whose fiancé traveled to from Missouri to Dallas for the Nov. 2 rally, went home, and then returned a week later, told a Telegram chat devoted to people whose friends and family are in the cult that she fears her fiancé may be lost to her for good.

"I keep asking him to come home, and he keeps saying something big is going to happen and he doesn't want to miss it," she wrote. "I have already thought that perhaps my fiancé might be penniless if he stays with this group. I just hope they wake up before losing everything."

One member of Protzman's group spoke about cashing in his retirement savings in order to fund his stay in Dallas on a Telegram chat.

Families across the country are wondering if and when their loved ones will leave Dealey Plaza and Dallas behind. "My wife has been there since October 31," wrote one Twitter user. "My brother as well," responded another.

Local Dallas residents are wondering the same things. The Negative48 cult's persistent presence in downtown Dallas is becoming a source of concern among local residents. "I live right by the AT&T Discovery District where [Protzman's followers] first gathered," Dallas resident Isaac Robert told Rolling Stone. "We saw a tweet and went to check it out for a good laugh, but I walked away concerned and shocked. I hate that they're still here and that Dallas has to be associated with that. If a cult leader can make a guarantee that doesn't come true and people still passionately follow him, he could tell them to do literally anything and they would. That kind of power in the hands is terrifying and dangerous for local residents."

As behavioral scientist Caroline Orr Bueno observed on Twitter, these kinds of shifts extreme rhetoric are often a signal of imminent violence—the kind that Matthew Coleman, another man radicalized by the QAnon cult, acted out earlier this year.

"These are basically the exact same spiritual/religious teachings that the guy in California was getting into just before he brutally murdered his two young children," Orr tweeted.

"My sister may be too far gone, but it's not too late to bring awareness to others," Garner told Vice. "Do not fall into this trap. Do not believe what these people say. They are all delusional and brainwashed. And if you notice a family member isolating themselves, speaking of nonsense, say something. Bring them back to reality. We didn't put two and two together. She hid this from us for a year. Don't let what happened to my family happen to yours. Pay attention and hold the ones you love tight."

Rittenhouse verdict championed on right-wing social media as green light for killing protesters

The exultation on right-wing social media following Kyle Rittenhouse's acquittal has been sickeningly predictable: Mainstream conservatives loudly valorize Rittenhouse as a "hero," while more extremist voices, applying the same logic, demand that more Americans follow his footsteps—urging the likeminded to take to the street now to begin using guns to "be like Kyle." They have even appropriated his name for their future plans, voiced in numerous celebratory threads: Any leftist protester shot by a right-wing "patriot" henceforth will have been "Rittenhoused."

As we forecasted, the acquittal is now a beacon-like green light granting permission to violent right-wing extremists to openly wage the kind of "civil war" against "the left"—which ranges from liberal Democrats like Joe Biden to the "antifa" bogeyman they have concocted—that they have been fantasizing about for the past decade. In the words of Charlie Kirk's interlocutor, it's the signal that now they "get to use the guns."

The bloodlust has been palpable. Online trolls celebrated that "it's Open Season on pedo-commies" and boasted that the verdict means "there's nothing you can do about it." A neo-Nazi channel on Twitter urged readers to "let this win fuel your rage." A fan of pseudo-journalist Andy Ngo commented in a retweet: "Every one of these anarchist criminal thugs should be shot in the street like the worthless dogs they are."

Far-right maven Ann Coulter posted a meme showing a gantlet of comic-book superheroes bowing to Rittenhouse. On Facebook, Ben Shapiro framed any future violence as being left-wing: "The Left accepting the verdict in a peaceable manner remains the sizable elephant in the room."

The white-nationalist site VDare also extolled Rittenhouse's heroism:

This much is true: Kyle Rittenhouse is the hero we've been waiting for throughout the turbulent summer of 2020, where a Black Lives Matter/Antifa/Bolshevik revolution has our country on the brink of total chaos.

Coulter-RittenhouseMeme.jpeg

Matt Walsh of the Daily Wire blamed the media for there even having been a trial:

The verdict is right and just but Kyle Rittenhouse never should have been on trial at all. Now the media will go to work, like the demons they are, to ensure that Kenosha burns because they did not get their blood sacrifice.

Walsh then added:

I hope Rittenhouse bankrupts all of you dirtbags in media who smeared him as a white supremacist. I hope he ruins your life. I want you to suffer. It's what you deserve. It's justice.

Idaho legislator Tammy Nichols, a Republican, posted a meme featuring the Gadsden-flag "Don't Tread On Me" design, but with a graphic of Rittenhouse firing from a seated position as he did in Kenosha.

The Gun Owners of America (GOA)—a gun-rights extremist group headed by far-right militia figure Larry Pratt—joined in the celebration by announcing it was giving Rittenhouse a new gun.

Alert: GOA will be awarding Kyle Rittenhouse with an AR-15 for his defense of gun rights in America. Join us in saying THANK YOU to Kyle Rittenhouse for being a warrior for gun rights and self defense rights across the country!

Other "Patriot" Movement extremists saw the verdict as vindication for vigilantism and militia organizing. The "Washougal Moms," a militia-friendly group from eastern Washington state, opined:

Today the jury and legal system has reaffirmed our rights as citizens. The second amendment in all aspects, to form a well regulated militia, the right to bear arms in self defense, and against enemies both foreign and domestic!

Kurt Schlichter, the right-wing troll with over 380,000 followers, taunted MSNBC's Mehdi Hasan, who had expressed concern about the double racial standard that the verdict reflects, on Twitter.

Your pain delights me. Kyle Rittenhouse killed two leftist catspaws and bisected the bicep of another and there's nothing you can do about it.

A white-nationalist Twitter account called "Based Teutonic" celebrated the verdict by posting a fantasy that Rittenhouse would now embark on an action-hero-like mission—with the help of Judge Bruce Schroeder, who oversaw the trial in markedly biased fashion.

About to exit court room
Judge yells from behind:
Rittenhouse turns around
You forgot this
Tosses him his AR15
Credits roll, Eye of the Tiger plays

"Based Teutonic" wasn't alone in celebrating Schroeder's role in the verdict. On Telegram, a commenter in a Proud Boys channel observed:

Kyle's case shows how important is to have your guys in power on a local level. One vaguely conservative boomer judge made all of the difference in a monumental trial.

Other Proud Boys were more focused on their long-anticipated civil war. "There's still a chance for this country," wrote one. Another wrote: "The left wont stop until their bodies get stacked up like cord wood."

The Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights monitored a number of far-right chat forums (particularly Telegram) following the verdict, and found an outpouring of extremist bile, much of it anticipating the ability to inflict lethal violence on "leftists," as well as Black "parasites" and, of course, Jewish people. A user called The Western Chauvinist commented: "The parasites are planning multiple 'protests' across the United States."

One user calling himself "Proud Boy To Fascist Pipeline" replied to one of these comments mocking Black leaders protesting the verdict as "parasites": "Your 17 year olds are already armed and terrorizing our neighborhoods, n----er."

Fittingly, Charlie Kirk fans—following the example of his Idaho audience member—were focused on the violence: "Arm up and tell them f**cking bring it!" one replied to predictions of leftist protests after the verdict. "Shoot these phukers," commented another.

Nick Fuentes' "Groypers" were also unbridled in their anticipation of gunning down their opponents. "The most American thing you can do is Killing Commies," opined one on the white-nationalist forum Gab.

Another Gab user exulted with a meme showing Joaquin Phoenix as The Joker, dancing: "When you find out it's officially Open Season on pedo-commies." Mocking "wannabe street thugs upset with the verdict," another Gab user replied, "you're gonna get Rittenhouse'd. Bitch."

Gab-OpenSeason.png


"Getting Rittenhoused" became a popular way of threatening leftists. After Ngo posted a handful of tweets from leftists angry about the verdict, hundreds of his fans piled on, making threats of violence against them. "Someone will Rittenhouse them too," one responded. Another replied: "I came here to say that!"

Antisemitism also was a common theme. Right-wing troll Keith Woods, who has 23,500 followers on Twitter, declared after the verdict: "Huge L for the Jews." His followers piled on; one responded with a GIF meme of Gollum and the text, "Curse you goyim." Another replied, "hopefully they take an L in Charlottsville trial too. WHITE BOY WINTER!"

White nationalist Eric Striker was more explicitly antisemitic, as well as strategic, in his commentary:

Beating the Jews to the narrative as incidents unfold is more important than anything that happens in court.
Once you frame a story with the facts (and the facts have to be 100% accurate) and disseminate it with an effective propaganda network, Jews will struggle to challenge it once it's cemented.

Notorious white nationalist and antisemite Mike "Enoch" Peinovich put out a statement through his National Justice Party: "This victory for Kyle Rittenhouse over the cosmopolitan elite forces that plague the nation isn't only a victory for the young man himself, it's a victory for justice and for all White people who take a stand," Peinovich said.

On Telegram, a white nationalist commented: "The victory of Kyle Rittenhouse over the jewish forces that plague the nation isn't just a victory for the man himself, it's a victory for justice, and for the masses of disenfranchised White people which populate the globe.

The neo-Nazi group White Lives Matter had this advice for its white-supremacist followers:

Don't let this one victory lull you back to sleep. That's what they want. They know small "victories" can placate the angry masses more than anything else. Instead let this win fuel your rage. Never forget the simple fact that this clear-cut self-defense should never have gone to trial in the first place. Muslim, Hispanic, and African invaders have raped millions of our women, WHITE women. Their time of terrorizing our People with 0 consequences is coming to an end. The Rittenhouse verdict is a single tick in the scoreboard on our side. Our enemy doesn't have a scoreboard big enough for their victories. Fight harder, stronger, fiercer, and with the same remorse they have shown us. None. Get going, White man.

"This might be interpreted across the far right as a type of permission slip to do this kind of thing or to seek out altercations in this way, believing that there is a potential that they won't face serious consequences for it," Jared Holt of the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council told NPR. "I worry that that might end up being interpreted by some people as a proof of concept of this idea that you can actually go out and seek a 'self-defense situation,' and you'll be cheered as a hero for it."

School board candidate’s unrepentant antisemitism seems to be a plus for Idaho Republicans

Most of us are old enough to remember when Republicans eager to court the evangelical Christian vote would recoil in (not entirely genuine) horror at any hint of antisemitism in any political candidate, particularly on a GOP slate. But for the new post-insurrection Trumpian Republican Party, it seems not only to be no problem, it's practically an asset.

Case in point: Dave Reilly, an unrepentant antisemite who believes "Judaism is the religion of anti-Christ" is running for the local school board in Post Falls, Idaho, with the wholehearted endorsement of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee (KCRCC). When pressed about their candidate, the GOP chair doubled down, insisting that the press reports about his bigoted views—based on Reilly's own published tweets and articles—were "false," and that Reilly's story was "a remarkable one of salvation and is an inspiration to those struggling with life's challenges."

"I believe Dave is a good man who will make an excellent Trustee and will resist the Progressive/Marxist indoctrination of our children," retorted KCRCC chair Brent Regan on Facebook. "I encourage you to ignore the false accusations and continue your support of ALL of our recommended candidates."

When establishment Republicans have called Regan out for supporting Reilly, he has claimed they were making "accusations without complete information," and claimed that the information in the Daily Beast article by Kelly Weill that kicked off the controversy in early October did so "with quotes either fabricated or taken out of context."

As Weill and the blog Angry White Men documented, Reilly's history of posting antisemitic and white nationalist talking points on social media is extensive. His views first attracted attention in 2017, when he avidly promoted the deadly "Unite the Right" white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, while ostensibly covering the event for WHLM-AM radio in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, a station owned by his father.

"Good morning. The #AltRight slept tight and #Antifa is still sleeping. Probably hungover or dope-sick. See yall at Lee Park. #Unite the Right," one of his preevent tweets read. Reilly then resigned while putting out a statement denouncing "Nazism, the KKK, Racism, White Supremacism, and political violence," adding: "The accusations that I am a White Supremacist, Nazi, Racist or anything of this kind is pure slander."

Over the ensuing years, Reilly then embarked on a career of rubbing shoulders with racists, notably the white nationalist "Groyper" movement led by Nicholas Fuentes and embraced by pundit Michelle Malkin, who has endorsed Reilly's candidacy in Post Falls as well. Reilly attended one of their conferences. He also made multiple appearances on the white nationalist YouTube channel "Red Ice."

He tweeted that "Judaism is the religion of anti-Christ," that "all Jews are dangerous," and opined more Americans should believe antisemitic stereotypes.

On Twitter, Reilly's antisemitism was rampant. "Jews pretend to be white when it's expedient for them," he tweeted last January, which is why "white privilege is a thing." Later that month, he shared an article claiming 61% of Americans agreed with at least one antisemitic stereotype. "Good news! Let's get those numbers up!" he tweeted.

As Weill documented:

When Poland announced its withdrawal from a Holocaust event in January 2020, Reilly expressed his approval ("Poland FTW"), and when he was questioned again about his attendance at Unite The Right, he claimed that criticizing his presence alongside white supremacists was inherently Jewish behavior ("the idea that one can be contaminated by association is Jewish," he wrote).
Reilly also tweeted two pictures of billboards, which had been doctored to read "when Jews hold power they abuse it" and "all Jews are dangerous," and promoted conspiracy theories about "Jewish subversion." "Judaism is the religion of anti-Christ," he tweeted at one point in February 2020.

The targets of Reilly's bigotry include women and the LGBTQ community. He tweeted that women's suffrage was "a mistake" and that "women should not be allowed on social media." He also accused Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg of "dabbling in human trafficking" for adopting a child with his husband Chasten Buttigieg.

After leaving WHLM, Reilly worked as an editor for E. Michael Jones, the leader of an antisemitic "traditionalist Catholic" group based in Indiana and the publisher of Culture Wars magazine, which is noted for running such articles as "Judaizing: Then and Now," "John Huss and the Jews," "The Converso Problem: Then and Now," "The Judaism of Hitler," "Shylock Comes to Notre Dame." In 2019, a Reilly piece for the magazine titled "Generation Identity Crisis" claimed that "Jewish sociologists" had used "Marxist social engineering" to ignite a "mass movement of left wing agitation and sexual liberation … [leading to an] almost complete breakdown of social norms." He also wrote that "the Catholic Church has been infiltrated by homosexuals, Jews, and bad leadership."

Michelle Lippert, a retired professor of philosophy at North Idaho College and current school board member, told KXLY-TV that Reilly's candidacy is worrisome. "I've read pieces he's written. I've seen his tweets. I've listened to podcasts that he's participated in and it's clear that he's very anti-Semitic he is misogynistic, homophobic, and he has an appreciation of white supremacy," Lippert said.

For his part, Reilly—who only moved to Post Falls in 2020—has mainly claimed martyrdom at the hands of the media and liberals. He told The Coeur d' Alene Press that he has "been subjected to incredible financial, social and personal hardships because he was a public supporter of Donald Trump."

"As a result of these attacks on me and my family by radical left-wing activists, I have been able to more closely imitate Jesus Christ, who was mocked, scourged, put on a show trial, spat upon and ultimately killed," Reilly said. "I'm extremely blessed to be able to participate in that suffering for Christ's sake."

His primary rebuttal to the accurate characterization of his worldview as antisemitic is the same as Regan's: holding up his endorsement by a local man of Jewish descent named Alan Golub, who they both describe as "the son of a Holocaust survivor." What they omit from their description is that Golub, a wealthy Bitcoin promoter, does not appear to be a practicing member of the traditional Jewish faith; rather, he is listed as the primary agent for Aman Ministries, a nonprofit group with a website devoted to a mishmash of Hebraic and Christian fundamentalism, in the manner of Jews for Jesus.

In the meantime, both Reilly and Regan have come under sharp criticism from the pro-Israel group StandWithUs Northwest, which attempted to open a dialogue with both men and was rebuffed. On Facebook, the group noted: "If you look at our statement, you will see that our 'allegations' are actually screen shots of tweets that Reilly himself posted.

Reilly continued lying about StandWithUs, alleging numerous untrue things about us, in an attempt to deflect from his own antisemitic writings."

This doubling-down approach by Trumpian Republicans on efforts to call out the GOP's embrace of far-right extremism was reflected Jan. 6, when Reilly was a speaker at a rally in Coeur d'Alene organized to protest Trump's defeat in the election. He told the crowd that the November elections were fraudulent.

"This election was rigged and it was stolen from us, the American people," he said. "There's more votes in Pennsylvania than registered voters."

Before the mob in Washington began its assault on the Capitol, the Idaho crowd heard Reilly denounce police officers and the FBI for lacking integrity; called Democrats pedophiles; and claimed the CIA has been smuggling drugs, children, and money. He also attacked then-Vice President Mike Pence.

"Mike Pence just released a letter saying he's not going to do what he's supposed to do," he told the audience, which booed loudly, with shouts of "traitor". The event's emcee then took the microphone and announced: "Supposedly they're taking the Capitol and taking out Pence."

The crowd cheered.

Internal review shows Trump’s DHS concocted bogus intelligence blaming antifa for violence

We knew at the time that Donald Trump sent an army of contracted goons from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in to the city of Portland, Oregon, in the summer of 2020 to arrest citizens protesting against police brutality—summarily sweeping people off the street on the pretext of a kind of preventative arrest based on groundless speculation that they were "antifa" conspiring to "burn down our cities," as Trump put it—that it was an outrage against the Constitution and the rule of law.

What we didn't know (and an internal DHS review that only surfaced this week reveals) was that it was also an extraordinary exercise in authoritarian incompetence. It demonstrates that senior DHS leadership pushed unfounded conspiracy theories about antifascists, encouraged the contractors they hired to violate protesters' constitutional rights, and made spurious connections, based on no real evidence, between protesters who engaged in criminal activity. It also revealed poor training and inadequate guidance, which contributed to the federal intelligence officers' lack of knowledge on legal restrictions for the collection of such information, and turned the entire operation into a massive mess.

"The report was a stunning analysis of the incompetence and mismanagement and abuse of power during the summer of 2020," Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, who released a redacted version of the document Friday, told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Originally released on Jan. 6—and its contents subsequently overlooked due to that day's events—the internal review focused on DHS's Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I/A). It found that senior DHS leaders attempted to politicize intelligence in order to support Trump's claims that a massive "antifa" conspiracy was behind the many anti-police protests around the nation, but particularly so in Portland. The same leaders pressured subordinates to illegally search phones, and when legal staff objected, sought to cut them out of the discussion.

A team of open source intelligence collectors, tasked with analyzing information obtained from public sources, also created dossiers on protesters and journalists—which they called "baseball cards"—despite having no clear connections to domestic terrorism or security threats.

"The report documents shocking, coordinated efforts by our government to abuse its power and to invade liberty in violation of the Constitution," said Oregon federal public defender Lisa Hay. "In Portland, we were concerned that the government unconstitutionally collected information, including through the illegal search of protestors' cellphones last summer. This report confirms that was their intent."

Over the course of the summer, between June 4 and Aug. 31, DHS sent at least 755 officers—from agencies that ranged from Federal Protective Service to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as well as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Secret Service, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis personnel—to Portland, tasked with protecting the city's downtown federal courthouse. The building had come under regular attack during nightly social justice protests that arose initially from the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in late May.

The Floyd protests were an international phenomenon, spreading to over 2,000 cities and towns, occurring in all 50 states as well as in over 60 other countries. Demonstrators turned out en masse to support those seeking justice for Floyd and the wider Black Lives Matter movement, and standing up against police brutality. Most of these protests lasted one or two days; however, in Portland, where police brutality issues had taken on an extraordinary edge, the protests became a daily affair—one that eventually surpassed 100 consecutive days.

By early July, most of the protests had become quiet and nonviolent, with only sporadic violence and vandalism, with the notable exception of an arson attack on the federal courthouse downtown—which is about the time that DHS agents began showing up, wearing anonymous military gear, arresting protesters on the streets, and spiriting them away in unmarked vans.

Over the next few nights, they clashed with protesters in the area around the courthouse, using flashbangs and munitions to disperse the crowds. One protester was shot in the forehead by an "impact weapon" round that caused him brain damage. Another protester—a Navy veteran who was attempting to speak with the DHS officers—was brutally beaten with batons, breaking his hand.

That was when the scene exploded. On the night of July 24, thousands of Portlanders took to the streets to protest the arrests. The protest was entirely peaceful—drum circles, groups of teachers and nurses, a marching band, a "Wall of Moms" wearing yellow shirts—until the DHS officers began unleashing tear gas on the crowd. A brigade of "fathers" arrived with leaf blowers and blew the gas back at the officers.

The escalated protests continued nightly. DHS officials called the protests "criminal violence perpetrated by anarchists targeting city and federal properties." It brought in reinforcements on July 28, even though many of these officers lacked proper training, and both Mayor Ted Wheeler and Gov. Kate Brown—along with both of the state's senators—demanded the DHS police be withdrawn. Eventually, they negotiated a phased withdrawal, and the DHS arrests ceased.

It was shortly apparent that the right-wing attempt to make "antifa" and Black Lives Matter into bogeymen responsible for the protest violence was utterly bogus. An Associated Press review of the arrest documents from the summer's protests showed that most of the people taken into custody were not left-wing radicals and had no ties to larger movements. It had already been clear for months that "antifa" was not responsible for the violence—which in many instances appeared in fact to have been instigated by police pushing back on protesters. This didn't prevent Trump from declaring on Twitter that he intended to have antifa designated a terrorist organization, though in fact he lacked the statutory power to do so.

The internal review at DHS conducted afterward revealed that the push for concocting intelligence about antifa intended to fit this narrative came from the top. Though the names are redacted, it is safe to assume that Chad Wolf, the DHS unconfirmed "acting secretary," was particularly involved, since he made numerous public statements at the time that mirror the shape of the discussions with the agency.

At the time the protests broke out, Wolf appeared on Fox News with Tucker Carlson and announced that the Department of Justice had plans "targeting and investigating the head of these organizations, [and] the individuals that are paying for these individuals to move across the country."

Trump himself appeared on Fox with Laura Ingraham and claimed that "people that are in the dark shadows" are "controlling the streets" of Democratic cities. When Ingraham warned him that he sounded like he was promoting a conspiracy theory, he doubled down with a pitch-perfect rendition of the "evil antifa thug" caricature central to the narrative attacking the movement.

"We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend, and in the plane it was almost completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms, with gear and this and that," he claimed.

The DHS internal review found that Wolf and his immediate underlings at I/A pushed staffers to describe the protests as "Violent Antifa Anarchist Inspired" (VAAI) actions—an entirely new category that had no evidentiary support or background.

"You could see where this VAAI definition was coming from a mile away," a career analyst is quoted saying in the report. "He got tired of [Redacted Name] telling him they did not have the reporting and he was convinced it was ANTIFA so he was going to fix the problem by changing what the collectors were reporting."

An email was sent to DHS senior leaders "instructing them that henceforth, the violent opportunists in Portland were to be reported as VAAI, unless the intel 'show[ed]...something different."

The report says that the DHS leadership "did make other attempts to controvert the collection-analysis processm," pointing particularly to the push for VAAI designations. One memo from the same leader posited that "we have overwhelmingly intelligence regarding the ideologies driving individuals toward violence," but the analysts responded with factual reality: "In fact, overwhelming intelligence regarding the motivations or affiliations of the violent protesters did not exist," the report says. "Indeed, the review team could not identify any intelligence that existed to support [Redacted Name]'s assertion."

Wolf and his team even concocted an analytical framework for the protests—claiming that there are four distinct phases in which they develop—that appeared to have been pulled from their nether regions, and then required analysts to work overtime to come up with evidence to support it and put it into a report which then went utterly ignored:

A second example of the manner in which [Redacted Name] turned analysis upside down was his dictate regarding the "Four Phases of Protest." Apparently, [Redacted Name] came to the conclusion sometime after George Floyd's death and the subsequent protests that four phases of protest exist, and he wanted to say, at least temporarily, whether a protest was in a particular phase, and the indicators of that phase. As with the VAAI term, [Redacted Name] devised this idea about phases of protest on his own. From the analysts' perspective, the problem was that they were typically asked to investigate a question, not given a conclusion and told to write a paper to support it. In this case, [Redacted Name] gave the analysts four phases and told them to find support for his proposition. Aggravating the task, they were given 48 hours over a weekend so the paper could be sent to state and local partners. … At any rate, the paper was sent to state and local officials, where it was greeted like "a tree that fell in the forest that no one heard."

The review also noted that Federal Protective Services officers requested assistance from DHS's Homeland Identities Targeting and Exploitation Center to search protesters' cellphones. The latter team found the searches were illegal, and resisted pressure from senior Homeland Security leaders to assist in the searches.

And then there were the "baseball cards." These dossiers were compiled by freshly hired collections analysts who targeted people arrested during the protest and suspected of having "antifa" or BLM connections. The internal review found that out of the 48 reports provided, 13 of them involved people accused of non-violent offenses, such as trespassing or failing to comply with an order, with no clear tie to any national security threat or mission. One "baseball card" report focused on a person who was arrested and accused of flying a drone and identified on social media as a journalist.

Republicans took the bogus narrative and functionally made it an official one widely believed across the country—namely, that "antifa and BLM burned down cities across the nation"—and have even used it to justify the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. At congressional hearings, they have even tried to claim that examples of lethal violence, such as the slaying of an FPS officer in Oakland, by far-right extremists was the product of "antifa" radicals.

The narrative also was primarily responsible for the failures by both DHS and other federal law-enforcement agencies, notably the FBI, to adequately take the very real and building threat of white-nationalist terrorism seriously. The result, in fact, unleashed a plague of far-right violence that reached a high-tide mark on Jan. 6, but which has still not receded.

"This was a textbook example of what happens when you send people in with a political agenda, inadequate training, and no real effort to correct the kind of problems that showed up early," Wyden told OPB. "This was about politics. We know that Donald Trump tried to say again and again, 'Portland is really the problem.' And he would never really focus on the fact that his people, were basically okaying, for example, the use of tear gas near a school in our community."

Pro-Trump platform GETTR’s ‘free speech’ delivers flood of ISIS propaganda and porn

If there's anything that right-wing chat platforms promising uncensored "free speech" like Gab and Parler have proven, it's that such predicates ensure the platforms will quickly be inundated with the worst people in the world—bigots spewing death threats, hatemongers, disinformation artists, conspiracy theorists, vile misogynists, and terrorists of all stripes. The kind of clients that will doom such networks to permanent deplatforming.

The same fate has predictably befallen GETTR, Donald Trump acolyte Jason Miller's social-media app launched last month to right-wing hurrahs. After stumbling through multiple hacks indicating the site's cybersecurity was paltry, it is now besieged by Islamic State terrorists posting propaganda—including memes urging Trump's execution and graphic beheading videos, Politico reports.

Islamic State "has been very quick to exploit GETTR," Moustafa Ayad, executive director for Africa, the Middle East and Asia at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told Politico's Mark Scott and Tina Nyugen. "On Facebook, there was on one of these accounts that I follow that is known to be Islamic State, which said 'Oh, Trump announced his new platform. Inshallah, all the mujahideen will exploit that platform,'" he added. "The next day, there were at least 15 accounts on GETTR that were Islamic State."

Islamic State celebrated their successful infiltration of the pro-Trump platform: "We will come at you with slaying and explosions you worshippers of the cross," wrote one pro-ISIS account. "How great is freedom of expression."

Miller dismissed the flood of ISIS sympathizers as "keyboard warriors hiding in caves and eating dirt cookies." He also claimed that GETTR's content moderation was effective.

"ISIS is trying to attack the MAGA movement because President Trump wiped them off the face of the earth, destroying the Caliphate in less than 18 months, and the only ISIS members still alive are keyboard warriors hiding in caves and eating dirt cookies," Miller said in a statement. "Buried beneath a misleading and inflammatory headline, however, even Politico acknowledges GETTR has a robust and proactive moderation system that removes prohibited content, maximizing both cutting-edge A.I. technology and human moderation."

In fact, Politico reported that four days after it had submitted its queries to GETTR about the Islamic State posts, "many of these accounts and videos are still up."

When Miller launched GETTR early in July, it was advertised as "a non-bias social network for people all over the world" and boasted that it was "the marketplace of ideas." (It also shortly emerged that Miller had obtained seed money for the venture from rogue Chinese investor Guo Wengui.) Trump himself declined to sign up.

However, a number of prominent Republicans—nearly all of them from the pro-Trump camp—did. These included House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York, as well as Congressmen Jim Jordan of Ohio, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Lee Zeldin of New York, James Lankford of Oklahoma, ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Many of these figures shortly had reason to regret doing so: Over the weekend of its initial launch, a hacker successfully compromised a number of official GETTR accounts—including those belonging to Taylor Greene, Pompeo, Bannon, and Miller. The hacker told reporters it had taken him only about 20 minutes to successfully break in.

Hackers leveraged GETTR's API to scrape the email addresses of more than 85,000 users, including usernames, names and birthdays.

"When threat actors are able to extract sensitive information due to neglectful API implementations, the consequence is equivalent to a data breach and should be handled accordingly by the firm [and] examined by regulators," Alon Gal, the co-founder of cybersecurity firm Hudson Rock who reported the dataset, told TechCrunch.

Miller scoffed. "You know you're shaking things up when they come after you," he told Insider. "The problem was detected and sealed in a matter of minutes, and all the intruder was able to accomplish was to change a few user names. The situation has been rectified and we've already had more than half a million users sign up for our exciting new platform!"

The problems continued to mount, however. GETTR was also flooded with porn featuring Sonic the Hedgehog and hundreds of other accounts featuring hentai, furry porn, and stock photos of pudgy men in their underwear.

Casey Newton at The Verge notes that these right-wing "free speech" apps almost appear to be set up with the intention to make them fail. "Apps like Parler and GETTR offered their conservative users an attractive mirage: a free-speech paradise where they could say the things they couldn't say elsewhere," he writes. "It never seemed to occur to anyone that such a move would only select for the worst social media customers on earth, quickly turning the founders' dreams to ash."

Miller's claims notwithstanding, GETTR's content moderation is clearly unable to handle the kind of content it is guaranteed to attract. As Newton observes: "Most people will only spend so long in a virtual space in which they are surrounded by the worst of humanity."

Moreover, these social-media apps appear to be a kind of con job not intended necessarily to enrich its founders but to promote a right-wing narrative that is itself part of a larger grift.

As Ryan Broderick at Garbage Day put it:

I'm also beginning to wonder if all these apps are their own grift in a way. Loudly launch a site no one will ever use, claim it's a free speech sanctuary for Republicans, do the rounds on all the right-wing news outlets, and wait for it to fill up with the worst people on Earth, refuse to moderate it, wait for Apple to ban it from the App Store, and then go back to the right-wing news outlets and screech about liberal cancel culture impacting your ability to share hentai with white nationalist flat earthers or whatever.

Proud Boys come creeping back out of the woodwork — one hijacked local event at a time

While you might get the impression that the Proud Boys largely vanished from the public radar in the weeks following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection in which they played a central role, the reality is that the proto-fascist street-thug organization has been popping up all over recently—but operating on a purely local level, consistently hijacking causes and events organized by local activists and communities.

This appears to be their latest strategy, as imprisoned Proud Boy Ethan Nordean had suggested in his pre-arrest Telegram chats: Namely, to scale down their operations and spread their recruitment by focusing on local issues. Over the past several weeks, as Tess Owen observes at VICE, they appear to be enacting it in places like Nashua, New Hampshire; Miami and Tampa, Florida; and Salem, Oregon.

The strategy mostly appears to entail identifying local grievances that can provide opportunities for Proud Boys to involve themselves. In Miami, for instance, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio turned up uninvited with several cohorts, offering "support" for a protest by the Cuban-American community backing dissidents in Cuba.

"Since Jan. 6, members of the group have steered clear of large-scale rallies, and instead attempted to build grassroots support in their communities by latching onto hyper-local culture war dramas and ginning up tensions," Owen writes.

In Nashua, as Owen reports, Proud Boys turned up at school board meetings, masked and wearing their uniform shirts, to protest "critical race theory" in local schools. Their presence riled local residents.

"Proud Boys come to our board meetings for what? For what? What is the purpose of them being here? Are they here for our children? I think not," said board member Gloria Timmons, who doubles as president of the Nashua chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Nordean's pre-arrest chats with his fellow Proud Boys about how to proceed after Jan. 6 promised this kind of strategy. "I'm gunna press on with some smart level headed non emotional guys and create a game plan for how to approach this year, we aren't gunna stop getting involved in the community, especially with the momentum we have," Nordean wrote.

He later added: "Yeah, this is just to organize and prepare for when we do decide to get active again. At the very least there's lots of good excuses to just get out and do meet n greets with the public, raise money, community service, security for events etc ... but we can work on an effective process so we look more organized and have properly vetted members who are representing the club."

This is consistent with Proud Boys' proclaimed self-image as just normal American guys, their belief right up to Jan. 6 that the police were on their side, and their ongoing denials of being racist or extremist. The localized issues are often the same right-wing grievances being ginned up nightly on Fox News, as with critical race theory in New Hampshire schools. The common thread among the issues being hijacked by Proud Boys is that they are congenial to (if not fueled by) conspiracism, and primarily revolve around concocted enemies.

The first post-insurrection Proud Boys event of note was an early-May rally at a city park in Salem, Oregon, at which journalists were threatened and ejected and guns were on broad display. It was also notable for the remarkable absence of any kind of police presence. However, another Proud Boys event held in Oregon City on June 15 was shut down by police when they declared it a riot.

Most of the Proud Boys' reappearances have occurred over the past month:

  • July 3, Buhl, Idaho: A Proud Boys float, featuring uniformed marchers walking alongside, was among the 100 or so entries for the town's annual Sagebrush Days parade. The polo shirt-wearing Proud Boys carried both an American flag and a black flag emblazoned with the organization's logo.
  • July 10, Grand Rapids, Michigan: A local Proud Boys chapter announced that it planned to hold a rally in a local park to "honor the lives lost to antifa & BLM racist mob violence," but nobody from the organization showed up at the anointed time and place.
  • July 10, Tallahassee, Florida: A group of about 100 protesters that included a large number of Proud Boys rallied on the lawn of the Historic Capitol Museum to demand the government release the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. They flashed signs at passersby and chanted, "Let them go." It was hosted by Luis Miguel, a Republican senatorial candidate from St. Augustine, who described the arrested indictees as part of a patriotic brotherhood: "They're not insurrectionists; they're not traitors; they're not terrorists. They are heroes," he said.
  • July 11, Miami, Florida: As demonstrators assembled en masse around Miami to support nationwide anti-government protests in Cuba, Tarrio arrived with a pack of Proud Boys to offer their backing. One of the Proud Boys asked Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo why he hangs out with "Marxists" and "Communists." Acevedo also had a hostile exchange with Tarrio.
  • July 14, Salem, Oregon: A group of about 20 Proud Boys, armed with holstered handguns, paintball guns, bats, and body armor gathered to protest outside a Planned Parenthood clinic to protest abortion laws, and were met by a crowd of at least 40 counter-protesters. The opposing sides ended up brawling, and Salem police arrested two people.
  • July 14, Helena, Montana: An ostensible "fundraising event for veterans" sponsored by a local Proud Boys group was canceled after being publicized locally. A "Proud Boys Poker Run" was supposedly intended to dedicate funds to a wounded veterans fund, but the person who originated the event punted when he was exposed: "the poker run for the 24th is hereby officially cancelled due to snow-flakes," he wrote on the event's website. "unfortunately a few uninformed sheep started causing problems at the hub sorry for any inconvenience and hope yall have a great summer."
  • July 17, Los Angeles, California: A crew of black-clad Proud Boys descended upon the scene outside Wi Spa, which had attracted a crowd of protesters and counter-protesters in a dispute over the business' policies regarding transgender members. As Left Coast Right Watch's on-scene reporting showed, a handful of fights turned into an outright street brawl. Police clashed mostly with left-wing protesters, using batons and riot munitions, and the scene was declared a riot and cleared.
  • July 19, Red Bluff, California: A number of Proud Boys showed up to rally outside a court hearing for a local tavern owner facing assault charges, reportedly flashing white-supremacist hand gestures. The tavern, the Palomino Room, has become "kind of a Mecca for right wing extremism, given the owner's outspoken views regarding those awful, oppressive mask mandates," reported the local news outlet. "From there it has been surmised that the Proud Boys might have vandalized the Wild Oak store by firing a paint ball at it and attaching a State of Jefferson Proud Boy sticker in front of a 'Black Lives Matter' sign."
  • July 20, Scotland, South Dakota: Local Proud Boy David Finnell applied on behalf of the group to sponsor a street dance from noon until midnight in mid-September, and the local city council approved the request, which would have closed a section of the city street, as required for alcohol consumption and food vendors. However, after the announcement produced a torrent of disapproval, Finnell pulled out, saying the Proud Boys were dropping sponsorship of the event "out of concerns for safety."
  • July 26, Tampa, Florida: An anti-COVID-19-restriction rally, billing itself as a "Worldwide Freedom Rally," attracted a large contingent of Proud Boys supporting the cause. Some of them carried yellow "Don't Tread On Me" Gadsden banners, as well as signs declaring that "Trump won," and demanding the government "free political prisoners"—that is, the Jan. 6 insurrectionists.
  • July 30, Boise, Idaho: Some anonymous Proud Boys hung two large banners bearing their logo from two heavily trafficked freeway overpasses in the city. Police removed the banners, and said it was unclear who hung them.

One of the more insidious aspects of the Proud Boys' strategy is how it manipulates small-town environments to insinuate themselves within them, and once there, how it divides and creates turmoil within those communities where little existed previously. As a local account in Mainer News demonstrated, the Proud Boys' gradual takeover of a small old tavern in Portland, Maine, alienated and angered local residents, who blamed the tavern owner for permitting it.

The owner, as the report explains, wasn't necessarily sympathetic to the Proud Boys, but really had little idea about their background. "'Oh, they're not that bad,'" the man reportedly told his longtime bouncer, who quit over the situation.

"They're bad as the fuckin' Klan, Bobby!" the bouncer replied. He then pointed at a group of Proud Boys across the street, and added: "Yeah, I'm talking about you motherfuckers."

Young fascist marchers surprise Philadelphians on July 4 weekend — then are chased out of town

The young fascists of Patriot Front stepped up their gathering campaign to grab public attention this past holiday weekend by organizing a march of uniformed members through downtown Philadelphia on Saturday. And while their secretive organization managed to catch everyone in the city by surprise, the whole affair rapidly disintegrated into a humiliating debacle.

A handful of counterprotesters began amassing about three blocks into the march and forced the Patriot Front marchers—about 200 strong—to retreat to the safety of the rental trucks that brought them. As they attempted to flee, Philadelphia police pulled over the trucks and began handcuffing the men.

Fascist 'Patriot Front' marchers forced into retreat by angry Philadelphians



"They started engaging with citizens of Philadelphia, who were none too happy about what they were saying. These males felt threatened, and, at one point, somebody in their crowd threw a type of smoke bomb to cover their retreat, and they literally ran away from the people of Philadelphia," Philadelphia Police Officer Michael Crum told WPVI-TV.

During the short-lived march, the Patriot Front group—who appear to have been comprised of men from outside the state—chanted "Reclaim America!" and "The election was stolen!"

All of them wore white cowl masks covering the lower portion of their faces and were attired in matching khaki pants and blue tops. As they marched outside Philadelphia City Hall, pedestrians began confronting them.

Eventually, brawls erupted, and some of the small shields the men carried were wrested from their grasp and thrown back at them as they fled. A local activist, Abdul-Aily Muhammad, told the Inquirer that the men began tossing smoke bombs and, under cover of the smoke, hit and kicked counterprotesters, and said he had been hit in the knee with a shield.

"They were prepared. They were hitting people. ... Trying to get behind you in a group, " Muhammad said. "Trying to get alongside of you. Trying to separate people."

They eventually retreated into a defensive stack formation at the site of the rental trucks in which they had arrived, but the onrushing crowd forced them to break into a panicked rush to get into the trucks, while brawls continued to erupt at their rear.

The trucks pulled away, but were soon stopped by Philadelphia police, who ordered the men out of the trucks and onto the nearby sidewalk. Several were handcuffed and detained, but police did not announce any arrests.

In a statement the next day, Mayor Jim Kenney said he was "personally appalled and disgusted" that Patriot Front marched through Center City. "White supremacy and racism are among the greatest scourges this country has faced since its founding," Kenney said. "While we respect everyone's right to exercise free speech, our administration stands against everything these groups represent."

Shira Goodman of the Anti-Defamation League's Philadelphia chapter told the Inquirer Patriot Front has recently embarked on an aggressive propaganda campaign, which includes posting stickers and fliers, handing out leaflets, and spraying graffiti throughout the Philadelphia suburbs and Lehigh Valley. As Saturday's march manifested, the group has become skilled at organizing flash mob-like meetings featuring members in uniform that then become recruiting videos on social media.

Patriot Front extremists have been busily defacing monuments to African Americans, particularly memorials to George Floyd in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, as well as a bust of a Black explorer with the Lewis and Clark Expedition in Portland, Oregon. The first such attack occurred in Philadelphia's Olney neighborhood, when vandals covered a mural dedicated to George Floyd with white paint, and then spray-painted stencils featuring Patriot Front logos and slogans over the white paint.

"It's like they're saying 'We're here. We're nearby,'" Goodman said Sunday. "The danger is always there. We know these groups have become more emboldened in recent years, and that things that have been in the shadows of the internet have come off-line."

Philly resident Eric Gilde told the Inquirer that he noticed the group while walking home from dinner with family members, and initially mistook them for a Fourth of July celebration. Then he heard their chants of "Take America Back."

"It felt like they were marching in a very energized way," Gilde said. "I saw nothing violent, but I feel like you could tell that there was a lot of aggression behind what they were doing, and I was happy that we were not close to them."

Gilde and his family veered clear of the marchers and hurried home.

"There were women walking a dog that we were chatting with immediately afterward, and they kind of had the same sense of 'Oh, it does suddenly feel a little less safe right now,'" he said.

Spread of fascist vandalism by Patriot Front a reminder of the limits of ignoring hate groups

Unapologetically fascist organizations like Patriot Front always pose something of a dilemma: they are numerically small but intense, and rely on highly public stunts as a way of attracting attention and, they believe, recruits to their cause. In some regards, it makes sense to ignore them as much as possible and deny them the oxygen they crave.

But at times, the stunts they pull demand a response, such as when they brazenly marched in Washington, D.C., with police escorts in both February 2020 and January 2021. That's been especially the case the past month, as Patriot Front extremists have been busily defacing monuments to African Americans, particularly memorials to George Floyd in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, as well as a bust of a Black explorer with the Lewis and Clark Expedition in Portland, Oregon.

Patriot Front, the brainchild of a young Texas neo-Nazi named Thomas Rousseau, explicitly embraces fascism in its writings and recruitment material ("Fascism: The Next Step for America" reads one of its fliers). Its primary strategy is to perform attention-grabbing stunts—plastering their hateful stickers around communities and campuses, waving white-nationalist banners from freeways, harassing leftist protest groups, and occasionally organizing marches intended to create the impression that their numbers are larger than they are in reality—that force the media to cover them, which they believe will eventually draw more recruits their way.

Many of these tactics have grown ineffective over time, including the freeway banners and fliers, which increasingly draw little media attention. As a result, Patriot Front increasingly appears to be engaging in more brazen attacks on leftists, particularly by vandalizing monuments.

The first such attack occurred earlier this month in Philadelphia, when vandals sprayed white paint covering a mural dedicated to George Floyd in the Olney section of the city. They then spray-painted stencils featuring Patriot Front logos and slogans over the white paint.

The mural had been commissioned by the North 5th Street Revitalization Project in summer 2020 in the wake of Floyd's murder by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25.

Local residents were furious 6 ABC reported. "It's disrespectful. It's disrespectful," said one passerby.

"You don't touch his face. After what we've been through in the whole country and around the world? You don't touch his face," said Scott Hilton of Mt. Airy, 6 ABC reported.

The Philadelphia Police Department said the vandalism was under investigation.

The Brooklyn defacement was even more brazen. Dedicated on Juneteenth at Flatbush Junction near Brooklyn College, someone early Thursday morning threw black paint onto the bust of Floyd, and then stenciled graffiti featuring Patriot Front's online URL onto its base.

Security cameras caught images of four men with bandanas covering their faces walking toward the memorial early Thursday morning. One of the men appeared to be shaking a can of spray paint. Another image caught the license plate number of the vehicle that appeared to have brought the men to that location. New York police said they were investigating the incident as a hate crime.

"It's at the epitome of not only anti-Blackness and racism, but it is also about the lack of even basic human decency about the life of George Floyd," Imani Henry, an organizer with Equality for Flatbush, told the New York Times. "For someone to desecrate an innocent person's tribute is just beyond the pale," Henry said.

"Patriot Front is explicit in its exclusion of people of color from its conception of pan-European identity as the authentic America," Susan Corke, the head of SPLC's Intelligence Project, told HuffPost's Christopher Mathias in a statement. "And their method of operation is to stage offensive racist propaganda stunts. Thus this abhorrent, hateful defacement of the George Floyd statue is more of the same garbage."

The incident in Portland involved a rogue memorial to York, the African American explorer who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition west to Oregon in 1803 as Clark's slave and is believed to have been the first Black man to have reached the Pacific Ocean. In February, a bust of York—composed of wood and liquid urethane but simulating the appearance of a bronze—was placed atop a pedestal in Portland's Mount Taber park that formerly had featured a statue of onetime Oregonian editor Harvey Scott, which had been pulled down during an anti-police protest in October 2020.

The bust's artist is unknown, and city officials have discussed replacing it, perhaps with a more durable version of the same memorial. It was attacked and vandalized earlier this month by a woman who was recorded spraying paint on its base; 43-year-old Jeanette Grode was subsequently charged with criminal mischief for the act.

But Sunday morning's vandalism—white paint once again sprayed over parts of the bust and the pedestal, with a stenciled logo painted in red over the plaque marking the bust's commemoration—was clearly the work, once again, of someone affiliated with Patriot Front.

These acts serve as ongoing reminders of the limitations of the strategy of denying attention to hate groups seeking it: Almost inevitably, their hateful rhetoric generates real-world criminality and violence directed at vulnerable minority communities that cannot be ignored. And their small numbers, in the end, are often inconsequential: It only takes one or two of these violent extremists to wreak a great deal of havoc on the public.

Patriot Front in particular has been gearing up for the post-Trump era, counting on a strategy of "red-pilling" people already radicalized online by militias and the "Boogaloo" movement into extreme neo-Nazi beliefs. Yet they mostly view rival far-right groups with contempt.

"Proud Boys are a bunch of cucks," wrote one Patriot Front member from Texas. "They call themselves 'Western Chauvinists' which means they are a bunch of liberals who don't like PC culture and 'snowflakes' yet they are too scared to actually stand up to these things in a meaningful way lest they be called RACISTS!!!!"

One Patriot Front member, Bryan Betancur of Silver Spring, Maryland, currently faces charges for participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Betancur, who voiced support for the man who murdered Heather Heyer in Charlottesville in August 2017, actually wore an ankle bracelet as part of his probation for a burglary conviction, and the evidence against him includes data from that bracelet. A hearing on Betancur's status today in federal court noted that discovery was still under way in the case.

'We went crazy': How Fox News' audience finally pushed it to the journalistic abyss

Fox News surprised everyone—including their own Donald Trump-loving viewers—on Election Night last November by calling the race in Arizona for Joe Biden before the other networks, who waited several days to do the same. It seemed the longtime wellspring of right-wing disinformation might actually be displaying some journalistic integrity, at last.

It didn't last long. The Trump WhiteHouse erupted in fury, as did millions of Trump fans, who popularized a #BoycottFoxNews hashtag on social media. Its ratings briefly plummeted. In the months since, the executives behind the decision were given the boot.

Moreover, as Brian Stelter reveals in an excerpt from his new book on the Trump-Fox connection, Fox has subsequently completed its utter radicalization as a Trumpian right-wing disinformation outlet, embracing and broadcasting a nonstop parade of outright lies, as well as the authoritarian and racist politics that have now similarly subsumed the Republican Party: "We turned so far right we went crazy," one anonymous source told him.

The slide from being a partisan news source into an outright font of extremist disinformation came about, as Stelter suggests, as a result of pressure from the same authoritarian, fake-news-loving audience that Fox had created during Trump's tenure. The beast that they had created turned out to have an insatiable appetite for extremism.

"Fox is a really different place than it was pre-election," one of Stelter's Fox insiders told him after Biden was inaugurated.

"Fox News has always walked a fine line between trying to look like an independent news organization and supporting conservative politics," observed TV critic Eric Deggans to The Guardian. "There have to be moments where they act like an actual news organization in order to maintain their veneer of being an independent news organization."

The wrath of Trump's followers descended on Fox immediately after its election-night call. Trump himself went on Fox and Friends and complained about the network: "What's the biggest difference between this and four years ago," he asked rhetorically. "I say Fox. It's much different now."

Outside Arizona's main election-counting center in Phoenix the day after the election, pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" protesters chanted, "Fox News sucks!"

Fox's main problem, as Stelter recounts, was that it now had competition to its right in the form of the far-right Newsmax and One America News networks, which unabashedly feature right-wing conspiracy theories and false information about the election and other political topics.

Newsmax refused to initially call Biden the president-elect. One of its hosts, Greg Kelly, repeatedly claimed that Trump could remain in office another four years. "IT ISN'T OVER YET," Newsmax's website banners read.

"We're bleeding eyeballs," one Fox producer told him in December. "And we're scared."

On Facebook, the dismay among longtime Fox fans was furious. "Time to switch to Newsmax or One America News," one post read. "Fox News has officially joined the corrupt media."

Another declared simply: "F FOX News," adding: "They have sold their souls and lost the respect of millions of loyal viewers , [thinking emoji] [crying emoji].Boycott and show them the power of the almighty [money bag emoji] dollar."

Fox executives decided to fix the problem, as Stelter says, by running "even further to the right." News Media CEO Suzanne Scott decided to lure viewers back by giving them, as he notes, what they wanted: "False hope."

On Fox, Trump was treated as a political genius, not a lame duck who failed to win reelection. Some of the network's key shows waded deeper into the voter fraud depths, eventually spurring massive defamation lawsuits by voting machine companies Dominion and Smartmatic.

"It's really emotionally taxing," a dissident Fox contributor told me as the Covid-19 case count exploded and Trump's legal challenges imploded. "We denied the pandemic and now we're denying the election outcome."

Media Matters' Matt Gertz assembled a laundry list of Fox News' post-election embrace of Trumpian disinformation:

Fox and its associates did everything they could to support Trump's autocratic maneuvers. In the two weeks after media outlets called the race for Biden, Fox personalities questioned the results of the election or pushed conspiracy theories about it nearly 800 times. They put the credibility of the network behind deranged lies about fraud plucked from the internet fever swamps, beaming batshit fantasies out to a huge national audience. It worked—polls following the election showed a majority of Republicans believed that the election was stolen from Trump.
But hosts, contributors, and guests went further than simply lying to their viewers—they pushed for action. They attacked Republican state officials for being insufficiently committed to Trump's scheme; called for the arrests of election workers; suggested that Republican state legislators in states Trump lost should "appoint a clean slate of electors" who support him; promoted fake Trump electoral slates for supposedly keeping Trump's "legal options open"; suggested a "do-over" election as "the only remedy"; called for congressional investigations; endorsed a lawsuit by Republican state attorneys general asking the Supreme Court to throw out results in four states Biden won; urged Republican governors not to certify unfavorable results; and denounced Republican members of Congress for "destroying the Constitution" by voting to count the electoral votes.

Recently, Fox has gone so far as to embrace right-wing extremist ideology, particularly the strange flavor of white nationalism that has been getting airtime on Tucker Carlson's evening program, which is Fox's top-rated program. Carlson has promoted eco-fascist themes related to immigration; endorsed the idea that Republicans are being forced to abandon democracy and eventually embrace fascism because of liberal hegemony; defended the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrectionists as being ordinary conservatives and decried their prosecutions; and spouted white-nationalist "replacement theory" in claiming that immigration is an attack on democracy itself.

Carlson's most disturbing recent episode, however, came last week when he attacked Biden's speech in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre. Biden had decried the continuing existence of violent racist hatred, saying:

I didn't realize hate is never defeated; it only hides. It hides. And given a little bit of oxygen—just a little bit oxygen—by its leaders, it comes out of there from under the rock like it was happening again, as if it never went away.
And so, folks, we can't—we must not give hate a safe harbor.

As I said in my address to the joint session of Congress: According to the intelligence community, terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today. Not ISIS, not al Qaeda — white supremacists. (Applause.) That's not me; that's the intelligence community under both Trump and under my administration.

This set off Carlson, who insisted on his program that evening that this meant Biden intended to target ordinary Republicans:

Yeah, you're not surprised. It's always the same people, isn't it? Those white Republican men—the very ones that just today Joe Biden warned us are more dangerous than ISIS. These are the people who have been beating up elderly Asian women in our cities, you've seen that plague unfold. These are the ones who don't believe in science, who have no decency, they're the problem.

The next night, he insisted—despite abundant evidence to the contrary—that white nationalist violence is not the most lethal threat to the American public: "There is no credible way to argue that white supremacy is the most lethal threat that we face. That's not an argument. It's its own form of racial attack."

Carlson has been diving headfirst into this abyss, as Gertz has reported, with the blessing of Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch, who even tried to claim that a review of Carlson's remarks show "that Mr. Carlson decried and rejected replacement theory."

However, Carlson also let the curtain slip a bit this week in an interview with right-wing pundit Mollie Hemingway about election misinformation. While introducing Hemingway—whose new book, titled Fixed, offers a wholly Trumpian take—the Fox host asserted that "so many people are lying at such high volume about the 2020 election, it's hard to know exactly what happened."

That, in fact, is the point of how the right now deals with reality: Just throw so much misinformation out there that the public becomes unable to discern fact from fiction—at which point right-wing authoritarians will naturally embrace their lying propaganda.

As Deggans told the Guardian, Fox encouraged this kind of extremism for many years while working to maintain a veneer of journalistic credibility—and has now been finally dragged into the abyss, forced to abandon any such pretenses, by the monster it created.

"What's happening now is the Republican party is getting more strained, and there's more and more of a sense among Fox News viewership that anything that contradicts a worldview that is supportive of conservatives is wrong," Deggans said. "I think it's getting harder and harder for Fox News to ride that balance."

At this point, it's clear they no longer are even trying.

Extremists seeking official power identify as Republicans — and they know the base is on their side

One of the consequences of the GOP's sidelong embrace of its extremist elements—from the insurrection denialists and Big Lie gaslighters to the QAnon cultists like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert—is that far-right extremists are now perfectly comfortable identifying as Republicans. In some cases, they're demanding the overthrow of the party's establishment—which can't seem to decide whether to fight back or just succumb willingly to the incoming far-right tide.

Establishment Republicans in Western states are particularly under siege from extremist elements among their voting base. In Idaho, for instance, armed-standoff-guru-turned-pandemic-denialist Ammon Bundy filed paperwork to run for governor, in a race already featuring another leading state "Patriot" movement figure. In Nevada, an insurgent far-right group organized on social media and led by Proud Boys members are attempting an open hostile takeover of the Clark County GOP, the state's largest county-level Republican organization.

Bundy's filing is rich in irony. For starters, he is currently banned from the Idaho Statehouse in Boise after his two ejections and arrests for defying masking requirements, for which he is currently standing trial. For another, as KTVB notes, Bundy himself is not even registered to vote in Idaho, and has apparently never done so in the five years or so that he has lived in Emmett.

He also named himself the treasurer of his campaign, which means that he will have to refile the paperwork, according to the Idaho Secretary of State's office, which tweeted out an explanation: "Because a treasurer must be a registered Idaho voter, Ammon Bundy will either need to register and refile or name a new treasurer by refiling. IDSOS staff have notified him as such."

The Republican field to replace incumbent Governor Brad Little (who has not announced whether he will seek re-election) is already large, and Bundy's competition in the primary already features another leading "Patriot" movement figure, Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin, who announced her candidacy last week. While Bundy was probably the earliest far-right figure in Idaho to take up the cause of opposing COVID-19-related public-health restrictions, McGeachin—who has supported Bundy and his fellow standoff-loving "Patriots" steadfastly from her office in Boise—has also been on the pandemic-denialist bandwagon.

McGeachin appeared alongside Bundy at one anti-restriction rally in Boise. More notoriously, she appeared in a video in which she brandished a handgun and a Bible while sitting in the driver's seat of a pickup, railing against coronavirus restrictions.

The political insurgency inside Clark County's GOP was reported Friday by Rory Appleton at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, who explained that a group of far-right activists with deep ties to the Proud Boys are positioning themselves to take over the county Republican leadership. Some of its members, meanwhile, are alleged to have threatened a number of prominent Republicans.

The group, Appleton reported, organized online—primarily using the encrypted chat app Telegram—while reveling in anti-Semitic and white-nationalist memes and rhetoric. "Two Republican women in public office told the Review-Journal they've been threatened by leaders of the fringe movement, as did the current board of the Clark County party, which is hiring security for a crucial meeting Tuesday," the story reads.

Calling itself the "Republican Chamber of Commerce" (despite lacking ties to any known GOP organization), the far-right group first made its presence felt last month when it organized a late surge in votes favoring the censure of Barbara Cegavske, the state's Republican Secretary of State, for refusing to play along with attempts to overturn the 2020 election results based on Donald Trump's false claims of election fraud.

Since then, it has been preparing to provide a similar wave of votes to sweep three of their three leading figures—Rudy Clai, Matt Anthony and Paul Laramie—into the leadership of the Clark County GOP. The group has no record of doing business anywhere in the state of Nevada, and has no connection to any of the known chamber or Republican groups already established in Nevada.

Yet its website appears to be a nominally mainstream GOP group. Its primary emblem resembles the Republican National Committee's logo but inverted, with a red elephant on a white background encircled in red with the letters "RCC" and "Republican Chamber of Commerce" within.

Anthony has achieved a level of media notoriety as one of Las Vegas' most prominent Proud Boys, though he insists the local chapter is nonviolent and nonracist. After the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, he defended the people arrested and warned against a law-enforcement crackdown on "Patriots": "They're basically going all in on tyranny, guys. … They're watching. It's to be expected. They're the enemy. They're going to shut down our ability to communicate."

As it happens, Anthony is also a fugitive: He is the subject of an arrest warrant from the state of Michigan after he broke probation by moving to Nevada and then refusing to return after Nevada declined to oversee his probation, all stemming from his 2012 arrest on a drug charge.

The group's Telegram channel—owned by Anthony, and administered by Clai—is titled "Keep Nevada Open," apparently an offshoot of a Facebook group with the same name that boasted 17,000 members and organized anti-masking and other pandemic-related protests. Appleton describes a review of the channel's contents by the Clark County GOP executive board, led by chief of staff Richard MacLean:

MacLean showed his fellow board members several pictures and videos posted within the group, though not specifically by Anthony and Clai.

One photo blamed the 9/11 terrorist bombings on Jews. Another video featured a long clip of an Adolf Hitler speech and Nazi soldier marches. Some featured cartoon characters with negative Jewish stereotypes, and one photo featured messages written on dollar bills.

A post even poked fun at Republicans, claiming they seemed to be shocked at certain current events while white nationalists were thrilled by them.

The board promptly ejected the three men from the party. However, on Thursday, 10 people including Anthony and Clai filed a lawsuit against both the county and state party central committees, accusing them of illegally boxing them out of Clark County GOP meetings. They claim Clai and Anthony are heading up an alternative leadership slate, and are running against a mainstream ticket headed up by state Sen. Carrie Buck.

Despite the pushback by local Republican officials, the extremist elements remain emboldened in no small part because national-level Republicans have shown their eagerness to ignore the radicalism and even embrace it. Certainly, the local far-right leaders are confident that the party's base supports them, and not the establishment players.

"We have the numbers, and they don't, so they have to play dirty," Anthony said in an interview Thursday. "It's that simple."

McGeachin's campaign signs feature the hashtag #IAmIdaho. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are at a pivotal moment in history, not just for Idaho but for our nation," McGeachin said.

Bundy told NBC News on Monday that, despite the filings, he hasn't formally announced his candidacy, but is preparing to build a campaign organization.

"The people of Idaho are very freedom-minded," Bundy said. "I had never desired (to run for office), but I knew as early as 2017 that I would run for governor of Idaho."

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