David Neiwert

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."

The Proud Boys mark their threatening return in Oregon

When the Proud Boys and their far-right cohorts led the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, they did so largely operating under their longstanding belief that the police were on their side. This weekend, breaking their weeks of quiet amid a stream of post-Jan. 6 arrests, they held an armed "Second Amendment" rally in Salem, Oregon—without a whiff of police presence.

That meant that the Proud Boys, acting as gun-bearing "security" for the "One Nation, One God" rally on Saturday at Salem's Riverfront Park—an event that had no permit from the city—were able to close off access to anyone deemed undesirable, threatening both journalists and citizens with impunity. The only sign of law enforcement was a police helicopter hovering overhead.

Proud Boys threaten journalists, close public park for far-right May Day event in Salem, OR www.youtube.com

Journalist Tim Gruver of The CenterSquare Oregon was threatened by Proud Boys and refused entrance to cover the event. "Riverfront is a public park," Gruver noted on Twitter. "Families are gathered right next door."

A videographer who uses the nom de plume "Behind Enemy Lines" was also escorted out of the event by Proud Boys. "OK, gotta get you outta here," a masked Proud Boy can be seen telling him on video he published. "Roll it up." As he leaves, they make it clear that they believe he "doxxed" (revealed the identity of) a Proud Boy at a previous event.

Promoted online as a "May Day 2A Rally," the event drew 100-200 attendees, according to reporters. They were observed carrying semi-automatic pistols or rifles. And despite the lack of any authority to do so, they "closed" the public park to media and forced out anyone they believed didn't belong, including at least one elderly man who was just walking through the park.

Oregon Proud Boys have deep connections to the Jan. 6 insurrection, including two brothers who were arrested for their roles in the Capitol siege. Moreover, their participation in the invasion of the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on Dec. 21 was in many ways a powerful precursor of the Jan. 6 event, especially in terms of the far right's antidemocratic strategies.

The leading scheduled speaker for the event was Rep. Mike Nearman, the Dalles-based state House member who was seen on video opening a door to allow insurrectionists into the building on Dec. 21. Nearman has been charged with two misdemeanors—official misconduct in the first degree and criminal trespass in the second degree—for that act.

However, Nearman was a no-show. Instead, the best-known speaker Saturday was Jo Rae Perkins, the QAnon-loving Republican nominee for Oregon's U.S. Senate seat in 2020. Perkins called COVID-19 vaccines a "bioweapon," repeated false "stolen election" claims, and claimed the state is "going after your children."

"Let's take back Oregon, let's take back this country," she said.

A number of Salem residents remarked on the threatening and bullying behavior and the absence of a police presence on social media. "The Proud Boys are basically illegally taking over Riverfront park for the day and are forcefully ejecting people they don't like," tweeted one citizen. "They have weapons. Salem PD are doing nothing and have blocked me, a Salem resident, on this platform. This is not ok."

One elderly man posted a description of the scene on Facebook:

Just took a stroll through our Riverfront Park which Republicans and other fascists had commandeered for their meeting. A large number of men, mostly with sidearms, in Proud Boys uniforms, mainly military belts and camouflage, and also American flags and Trump paraphernalia.
The most noticeable aspect, which was my main reason for checking this out, was that there was absolutely no Salem Police present. Not only in the Park itself but also on the periphery, along Front Street. Not a one.
As I ambled through the venue I was accosted by a woman who demanded to know why I had a mask on. Then she demanded that I not take photos, and then insisted that I tell her my name. Turns out she was one of the "organizers".
After that I sat in the amphitheater area and listened to speakers, mostly Republicans. The atmosphere of hatred and blind, ignorant fury was unbelievable.
I was going to stay until Representative Nearman gave his speech but before we got to that part of the program four heavily armed and uniformed Proud boys sat down next to me and said they were going to escort me out of there, saying the "organizers" didn't want me there.
I naturally complied and as we were walking out I asked the one who seemed to be their spokesman what would happen if I didn't agree to leave as told, would they forcibly evict me. He said we could do it either way it was up to me.
Most of us, quite understandably, don't want to stay up at night worrying about these characters but at least believe that they have a serious agenda that involves violence and attacks on our governmental institutions. And the police will not be on our side.

Another Salem resident posted about his experience on Reddit:

I was walking past the fisherman statue towards the carousel with one of the kids I support when we saw a group of them walking by, so we cut through the grass towards the front of the carousel. I snapped a picture to post to snapchat and they started following me, yelling "give me that phone fucker." They started getting closer so we started hurrying to the gates. I had to stop when I got separated from the kid I support. They started shoving me telling me that I needed to go. One grabbed a hold of me so I tried to stabilize myself and one of them held me while a couple others started swinging at me. It felt like four or five were there but it was more likely only two or three of them involved in the scuffle. They smacked me in the head a couple times and got my ribs and back before throwing me on the ground. They wouldn't let me go back to the kid I support while she was still in the park so I had to walk along the train tracks and she had to follow me on the opposite side of the fence. She was being followed by somebody wearing a ballistic vest and holding a pistol at their side. We ended up back together at the parking lot by the gilbert house and they stopped following her.

The same man commented later that police did come to his home for a statement:

Police came by the house I'm working at and asked me questions. Dude spent the entire time basically trying to ask whether or not I was agitating them. Officer said "It's not normal for them to do that unprovoked, but you're not the first person they've thrown out today."

The Western States Center, a Portland-based social justice organization, issued a letter denouncing the event. It was cosigned by a coalition of religious and community groups, as well as the state's Democratic congressional delegation and Gov. Kate Brown as well as other elected officials. "We condemn the bigotry and racism that were always in our community, and that anti-democratic groups and some elected officials have emboldened," it read.

"The far-right actors behind the May 1 rally do not speak for Salem and they do not speak for Oregon," the letter went on. "Hate and intimidation has no place in our community, and those who explicitly or subtly encourage violence should be held accountable."

Idaho indulges in its traditional anti-environmental hysteria with new wolf extermination bill

Amid hysterical claims that wolves are driving ranchers out of business, Idaho's Republican state Senate this week approved legislation that would enable hired contractors to exterminate up to 90% of the state's wild wolf population. The bill, if signed (as expected) by GOP Gov. Brad Little would end tag limits on wolves and allow year-round trapping on private land.

It may have had the appearance of being a simple anti-environmental move by conservative Republicans taking advantage of a late-tenure maneuver by Donald Trump that green-lighted the state to kill more wolves. But it was also part of a long Idaho tradition of conspiracist fearmongering in which killing wolves is seen as a way of fighting back against the federal government and liberal environmentalists.

"These wolves, there's too many in the state of Idaho," declared Sen. Mark Harris before Wednesday's vote. "They're destroying ranchers; they're destroying wildlife."

Harris—whose southeastern Idaho district in Soda Springs is nowhere near any Idaho wolf habitat, which is primarily relegated to the central and northern parts of the state—repeated a tale of a "gentleman rancher" victimizes by a pack of wolves. He complained that Idaho's wolf management plan calls for only 150 wolves, and now over 1,500 wolves are believed to reside there.

The bill passed by a 26-7 vote. Little has not said whether or not he will sign it, but he did sign similar anti-wolf legislation in 2017.

The door to the legislation was opened by Trump's decision in late October 2020, just before the election, to hand wolf management decisions over to the states and local tribes. At the time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director claimed the wolf populations were fully recovered, though there was no scientific data to support that claim. The wolves officially lost their federal protection 60 days later.

This is nothing particularly new for Idaho. In 2014, then-Gov. Butch Otter signed legislation approving $400,000 in funding to kill as many as 500 of the state's estimated population of 650 wolves, leaving as few as 10 breeding pairs. Otter had made loathing of wolves a centerpiece of his political image.

Much of the antipathy is predicated on old fashioned fear about wolves, particularly given their predilection for preying on livestock and family pets in areas where humans inhabit their range, not to mention the potential threat they represent to human life. But there is also a powerful political element, particularly in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, that is fueled by far-right anti-government paranoia and conspiracy theories.

For years, wolf recovery efforts have been depicted in the rural West as the imposition of the "New World Order" on residents of the rural areas where the creatures roam. A number of far-right outlets, including the John Birch Society's magazine and the conspiracist website World Net Daily, have run pieces describing how wolf recovery is a key component of a plot by radical environmentalists on behalf of the United Nations to destroy private property rights in America. In the Mountain West, holding such views is not uncommon.

When militias were first organizing in Idaho and Montana in the early to mid-1990s, much of the anti-government sentiment that drove recruitment revolved around resentment for the just-instituted wolf recovery efforts.

"It was seen as direct government intervention into their way of life and telling them what they had to put up with and what they couldn't shoot," recalls Amaroq Weiss, wolf recovery director for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental organization that has filed numerous lawsuits over the years to prevent the wolf hunts in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. "So this goes way back. The wolf has always been a surrogate for hatred for the federal government in the areas where the reintroductions took place."

The John Birch Society's house organ, The New American, published an article in 2001 more or less outlining this same conspiracy: "Simply put, the 'wolf recovery' program is a form of environmental terrorism. Thus while the U.S. government is working through the UN to fight a war against terrorism abroad, it is collaborating with UN-linked environmental radicals to wage an eco-terrorist campaign against rural property owners here at home."

The embodiment of the extreme nature of these sentiments came in the winter of 2013 when a group of men wearing Klan-like hoods posed with the corpse of a freshly killed wolf and an American flag and then posted it on Facebook. The page that published the picture belonged to a couple of Wyoming outfitters, who later explained that they were harkening back to Western vigilantism: "Trying to make a statement! ... Frontier Justice! Wyoming hunters are fed up!"

The reality of livestock depredation by wolves makes a very different picture. Wildlife Services, the agency that oversees the killing of wolves, has been reporting that wolf predation in Idaho has been reaching record levels. However, those numbers have also been questioned by a number of environmentalist critics.

The problem with Wildlife Services' numbers is that they were recently changed to be much broader, so that they now include killings even where there is no evidence of predation, injury, or struggle, since the Services claim—without scientific evidence—that cattle can die from overexertion hours or even days after encounters with wolves.

Moreover, wolf predation represents only a tiny portion of cattle losses each year. While proponents of the Idaho bill note that 753 cattle, 952 sheep, and 54 other animals were killed by wolves between 2015 and 2020, the state is home to some 2.5 million cattle; those losses represent less than 1% of that population.

Predation overall represents only 4% of all livestock deaths on an annual basis—and the largest portion of that predation (over 40%) is by coyotes. Wolves, at 4%, represent the second-smallest class of cattle predator (with bears coming in last).

The Humane Society of the United States called the Idaho bill "a blatant attempt to usurp state biologists tasked with managing Idaho's wolves.

"This bill doesn't just cross an ethical line; it sprints right past it. It is an embarrassment to the state of Idaho, and there is absolutely no scientific or ethical justification for this deeply misguided and dangerous legislation. In a race to slaughter one of America's most treasured animals, this bill allows fear and hate to win. Idaho's wolves deserve better; the environment deserves better. This bill must be vetoed by Governor Little if it comes to his desk."

‘Stop the Steal’ spread on Facebook enabled Jan. 6 insurrection: internal report

Facebook executives have been dismissive from the start about attempts to hold them accountable for their social media platform's role in inciting and organizing the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol—including CEO Mark Zuckerberg's testimony to Congress last month in which he evaded questions about his company's culpability, saying: "I think that the responsibility here lies with the people who took the actions to break the law and do the insurrection."

But an internal Facebook report uncovered by BuzzFeed shows that the company failed to take action against "Stop the Steal" and other accounts where false information about the election was widely propagated in an attempt to delegitimize the 2020 election, violence was encouraged, and where much of the insurrection was organized. Though the report was completed shortly after Zuckerberg's testimony, it essentially corroborated a report by the nonprofit advocacy group Avaaz days before he testified that found Facebook's culpability in the Capitol siege extended to well over a year before the event.

BuzzFeed reports that the internal document, assembled by an internal task force studying harmful networks, acknowledges the role of Facebook activity by "Stop the Steal" activists, as well as pro-Trump groups associated with the brief attempt to organize a "Patriot Party" split from the GOP, in the violent events of Jan. 6. It also observes that insisting on an "inauthentic behavior" standard—rather than one based on the spread of misinformation and violent speech—hindered its attempts to take the appropriate preemptive steps.

"Hindsight is 20/20, at the time, it was very difficult to know whether what we were seeing was a coordinated effort to delegitimize the election, or whether it was free expression by users who were afraid and confused and deserved our empathy," reads the report. "But hindsight being 20/20 makes it all the more important to look back to learn what we can about the growth of the election delegitimizing movements that grew, spread conspiracy, and helped incite the Capitol insurrection."

"Do you care enough about the fate of the nation to ensure that your product is not used to coordinate and overthrow the government?" wondered Joan Donovan, research director of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, in comments to BuzzFeed.

"For me, at the end of the day, it comes down to: Do you care? Do you care enough about democracy? Do you care enough about the fate of the nation to ensure that your product is not used to coordinate and overthrow the government?" she said. "There is something about the way Facebook organizes groups that leads to massive public events. And when they're organized on the basis of misinformation, hate, incitement, and harassment, we get very violent outcomes."

The report noted that while Facebook executives were pleased "at having made it past the election without major incident," that feeling was "tempered by the rise in angry vitriol and a slew of conspiracy theories that began to steadily grow" afterwards.

Donovan observed that the Stop the Steal organizing began long before Election Day, and that Facebook's failure to prepare illustrates how poorly it is able to protect democracy. Indeed, that was largely the thrust of the Avaaz report on Facebook's culpability in the insurrection published March 18, six days before Zuckerberg testified.

The Avaaz study found that over the eight months leading up to the election, there were an estimated 10 billion views on key top-performing Facebook pages that regularly and repeatedly shared false information about the election. There was also a marked lack of moderation on those pages, allowing the "false or misleading information with the potential to cause public harm" to flourish. Those pages, the study found, saw a nearly threefold increase in interactions from October 2019—when they had 97 million—to a year later, when they had 277.9 million. It also found that nearly 100 million voters saw false voter fraud content on Facebook.

"A poll conducted in October 2020 found that 44% of registered voters reported seeing misinformation about mail-in voter fraud on Facebook (that equates to approximately 91 million registered voters)," the report states. "The polling suggests that 35% of registered voters (approximately 72 million people) believed this false claim."

This growth particularly benefited pages backing the authoritarian QAnon conspiracy cult and, later, the Stop The Steal movement. The Avaaz study found 267 groups championing violence around the election with a combined following of 32 million—nearly 70% of which had Boogaloo, QAnon, or militia-themed names and content.

Facebook's reliance on algorithmic detection played a large role in its failures to act on these pages, Avaaz noted, since the company's policies also allow misinformation on their platform if it is being spread by politicians. It noted that political ads for the Georgia election featured misinformation that had been debunked by fact checkers nonetheless being spread by Republican candidates—permissible under Facebook policy.

"The scary thing is that this is just for the top 100 pages—this is not the whole universe of misinformation," Fadi Quran, a campaign director at Avaaz, told Time. "This doesn't even include Facebook Groups, so the number is likely much bigger. We took a very, very conservative estimate in this case."

Donovan pointed to Facebook's focus on "inauthentic activity," such as people using fake accounts, as the source of its failure. This problem was manifested earlier when Facebook attempted to clamp down on QAnon pages, but failed utterly because its takedowns were based on "coordinated inauthentic behavior," which describes accounts and pages that mislead people about their identity and intentions, regardless of whether the information they spread is accurate or not.

In other words, those QAnon pages were removed not because they spread wildly false smears but because the people operating them broke Facebook's rules about false or double identities. It's a peculiarly self-serving standard that uses truthfulness in creating accounts as a proxy for truthfulness in the content being promulgated. Moreover, as Donovan told BuzzFeed, it means that Facebook can ignore how its products create coordinated activity among real people, and the harm that can result, she said.

The internal Facebook report largely acknowledges this, explaining that the social media giant was outmaneuvered by coordinated accounts that formed a powerful network of groups promoting hate, inciting violence, and spreading lies about the election.

So-called "super-inviter" accounts—highly influential activists within these far-right movements—played key roles in the ability of Stop the Steal pages to spread even after Facebook banned the original group. The largest of these pages were fueled by 137 super-inviters who recruited some 67% of their members; and that many of these people coordinated with each other, lying about their locations and using private groups to organize.

"Because we were looking at each entity individually, rather than as a cohesive movement, we were only able to take down individual Groups and Pages once they exceeded a violation threshold," the report reads. "After the Capitol Insurrection and a wave of Storm the Capitol events across the country, we realized that the individual delegitimizing Groups, Pages and slogans did constitute a cohesive movement."

The Avaaz report features a long list of recommendations, including reforms for the company to undertake on its own, such as "detoxing" the algorithms, submitting to audits and other forms of transparency, and proactively correcting the record when misinformation appears on its platforms. It also recommends that President Biden launch an initiative to build an anti-disinformation infrastructure.

However, given Facebook's refusal to accept culpability in the insurrection, it also makes sense for lawmakers to take steps. So the report urges an investigation into Facebook's role, both by Congress and by a proposed Jan. 6 Commission, which would "go beyond the actors involved in the insurrection, and investigate the tools they used, including Facebook's role in undermining the 2020 elections, and whether the platform's executives were aware of how it was being used as a tool to radicalize Americans and/or facilitate the mobilization of radicalized individuals to commit violence."

"This shows the company is anti-democratic at the very least," Donovan observed, "and at the very worst, it shows that they know the risks, and they know the harm that can be caused and they are not willing to do anything significant to stop it from happening again."

A 'lifetime member' of the Oath Keepers just sealed a cooperation deal in Capitol insurrection case

A self-described "lifetime member" of the Oath Keepers has become the first defendant in the Jan. 6 insurrection cases to enter a guilty plea as part of a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, following a hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Friday morning.

The plea bargain for Jon Schaffer, 53, a heavy-metal guitarist from Indiana who was photographed assaulting officers with bear spray and entering the U.S. Capitol, was approved by Judge Ahmit Mehta. Schaffer engaged in a long conversation with Mehta acknowledging that the deal requires him to "cooperate fully with the United States," which included providing evidence of known crimes and sitting for interviews with investigators.

Schaffer's guilty plea to two charges—obstructing an official proceeding and illegally entering the Capitol grounds—makes him the first participant in the insurrection to agree to provide evidence against his fellow rioters. Schaffer, who originally faced six felony charges, will enter the government's witness protection program as part of the deal.

According to an earlier filing, which was mistakenly made public, Schaffer in March began engaging in "debrief interviews." As The Washington Post notes, the plea bargain marks a critical step forward in the prosecution of the cases, as other defendants face similar choices in terms of providing evidence for prosecutors, particularly when it comes to the activities of the two key paramilitary organizations involved in the insurrection, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.

"Whenever you have a large group of people arrested," criminal defense attorney Martin Tankleff told CNN, it's common for prosecutors to pressure defendants to flip on each other. "They're going to start talking. They're going to start sharing information."

Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who was present in Washington on Jan. 6 but did not enter the Capitol, is one of the key figures being drawn into the net prosecutors are creating with conspiracy charges involving other members of his group. Though federal indictments handed down against his Oath Keepers and Proud Boys cohorts have not named him personally, he is referenced in several of them as "Person 1," a central player in what prosecutors are describing as a conspiracy to "stop, delay, or hinder Congress's certification of the Electoral College vote."

"I may go to jail soon," Rhodes recently told a right-wing rally in Texas. "Not for anything I actually did, but for made-up crimes. There are some Oath Keepers right now along with Proud Boys and other patriots who are in D.C. who are sitting in jail denied bail despite the supposed right to a jury trial before you're found guilty and presumption of innocence, were denied bail because the powers that be don't like their political views."

Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola's attorney wrote in court filings that he believed a so-called "cooperating witness" was sharing information about the Proud Boys. An earlier filing by prosecutors had revealed that this witness heard Proud Boys members claim that "anyone they got their hands on they would have killed," including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and that they would have also killed then-Vice President Mike Pence "if given the chance." The men—who all had firearms or access to them—also talked about returning to Washington for Inauguration Day, and that "they plan to kill every single 'm-fer' they can." That witness, prosecutors noted, has not been charged with a crime.

Most of the defendants, as a New York Times piece recently explored, are facing substantial evidence of their crimes culled from videos and photos both in mainstream media and on social media. Indeed, a large portion of that evidence was provided by the insurrectionists themselves.


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