Reprinted with permission from Shareblue.
After a week of terrorist violence, Republicans are defiantly trying to avoid acknowledging that the rhetoric spewed by Trump and other members of their party appears to have played a role in fueling the horrific attacks that targetedÂ Trumpâs perceived enemiesÂ and, a few days later,Â members of a synagogue.
In the case of suspected mail bomber Cesar Sayoc, the connection to the Republican Party is hard to miss. Sayoc, a hardcore Trump supporter, drove a vanÂ covered in stickersÂ that advertised his political beliefs and disdain for CNN, and hadÂ vocalized his animosityÂ toward Trumpâs political opponents on social media.
Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, indicated in his social media posts that his deadly rampage was motivated at least in partÂ by a conspiracy theoryÂ about Jews funding the so-called migrant âcaravanâ from Central America. Variations of this conspiracy theory wereÂ floatedÂ byÂ Republican politiciansÂ including Rep. Matt Gaetz, Mike Pence, and Trump, as well as pundits on right-wing outlets like Fox News.
Itâs not difficult to make the connection between the violence that played out last week and the politics of fear and scapegoating championed by Republicans. In the weeks leading up to the attacks, Trump and his allies were busy spewingÂ anti-immigrant rhetoric,Â peddling conspiracy theoriesÂ about George Soros, smearing Democrats asÂ unruly mobs, andÂ leading chantsÂ of âCNN Sucks!â and âLock Her Up!â
Perhaps it shouldnât come as a surprise, then, that Republicans areÂ deflecting,Â pointing the finger elsewhere, andÂ refusing to commentÂ when asked if they take responsibility for their heated rhetoric. While some GOP lawmakers have offered vague condemnations of violence and hate, their response to the spate of violence has been overwhelmingly characterized by collective silence and denial â just as it was weeks before when violence once again erupted from the extremist elements in their midst.
On Oct. 13, after leaving an event at the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City, members of the violent pro-Trump âProud Boysâ gang unleashed a brutal assault on multiple individuals, leading the police toÂ pursue riot chargesÂ against nine members. Violence isÂ nothing newÂ for the Proud Boys, nor is the groupâs relationship with mainstream GOP figures, but the link between the Republican Party and the SPLC-designatedÂ hate groupÂ had managed to remain largely under the radar â until now.
The incident itself made the Republican Partyâs close ties to extremism hard to miss. The Metropolitan Republican Club, which has been part of the mainstream GOP establishment in New YorkÂ forÂ more than a century, had invited Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes to speak at the club that night.
McInnes hasÂ repeatedlyÂ calledÂ for members of his gang toÂ carry outÂ acts of political violence, and even established a âmilitant divisionâ devoted to street fighting. For over a year and a half, the gang has unleashedÂ violent attacksÂ from coast to coast, with no signs of stopping any time soon. One day after the mob-style attack in New York, members of the Proud Boys helped lead aÂ massive street brawlÂ in Portland, Oregon.
A week before that, they were busyÂ inciting violence and starting fightsÂ at a protest in Rhode Island. The Proud Boys often target âantifaâ (anti-fascist protesters) and haveÂ âjokedâ aboutÂ wanting to shoot and kill them. At other times, they go to liberal citiesÂ like BerkeleyÂ looking to inciteÂ political violence.
In addition to advocating for violence, McInnes has personally engaged in violent attacks on repeated occasions. In 2017, heÂ threw a punchÂ atÂ someone protesting outside of a pro-Trump event in Washington,Â braggedÂ about assaulting a man whoÂ looked âkind of Hispanic,â and was filmedÂ smashing a cell phoneÂ that he took from a man described as being mentally disabled.
Violence isnât the only thing the Proud Boys are known forÂ â theyâve also made a name for themselves by spreading a new brand of far-right extremism. While McInnes doesnât like being called a white supremacist, heÂ espouses white supremacist ideology,Â writes for white supremacist websites,Â associates with white supremacists, and is comfortable enough with Nazi symbols toÂ have a tattooÂ associated with a neo-Nazi band. Heâs known for hisÂ anti-Muslim views,Â virulent misogyny, andÂ anti-Semitic rage, and his gang has proven toÂ be aÂ fertile recruiting groundÂ for white supremacists.
None of this stopped the Metropolitan Republican ClubÂ â which, according to itsÂ website, âcontinues to serve as headquarters for manyÂ Republican campaignsÂ and the New York Republican State Committee as well as host of many social and educational eventsâÂ â from embracing McInnes and giving him a platform to spread the brand of extremism for which he is known.
Perhaps thatâs because this brand of far-right extremism is a product of the Republican Party and has now become a defining feature of it. Indeed, in the era of Trump, extremists like McInnes and the Proud Boys have found themselves being welcomed into the GOPÂ because ofÂ their extremism, not despite it.
McInnesâ appearance at the Metropolitan Republican Club reflects a broader trend of extremists embedding themselves within the Republican Party and working their way from the fringes into the mainstream. On the campaign trail, Republican politicians like Reps.Â Mario Diaz-BalartÂ (R-FL) andÂ Devin NunesÂ (R-CA) have posed for photos with Proud Boys, while former Trump aide Roger Stone hasÂ taken the first stepÂ toward becoming a member of the hate group and even shows up to events with anÂ entourage of Proud BoysÂ as hisÂ personal security detail.
Metropolitan Republican Club chairman Ian Reilly, who reportedly invited McInnes to speak at the club, is aÂ campaign managerÂ for Republican New York state Sen. Marty Golden. Meanwhile, New York Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc MolinaroÂ uses the clubâs building as hisÂ campaign headquarters.
The Proud Boys have also gotten a boost from right-wing media outlets like Fox News. McInnes was aÂ contributorÂ to Fox NewsÂ for eight years and appeared on Sean Hannityâs showÂ at least two dozen times. In 2017, HannityÂ invitedÂ a Proud Boys memberÂ with ties to the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville to come on his show and discuss political violence.Â Earlier this year, Tucker Carlson and Roger StoneÂ posed for a photoÂ with members of the hate group in a Fox News green room. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the New York City gang beating, Glenn Beck and his fellow right-wing pundits at The BlazeÂ devoted an entire segmentÂ to justifying the violent behavior of the Proud Boys.
At times, the alliance between the extremist group and mainstream Republican politicians has been even more overtly alarming. In a frightening event just over a week ago, Nelson Diaz, chairman of the Republican Party in Miami-Dade County,Â helped lead an angry mob of Proud BoysÂ protesting against a visit by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in South Florida.Â The incident, in which the all-male mob was filmed pounding on the door of Pelosiâs event, became so unruly that the buildingÂ had to be put onÂ lock-downÂ by Capitol PoliceÂ and local law enforcement. Also in attendance during the mob-style protest were former aides ofÂ Rep. Carlos CurbeloÂ (R-FL) and GOP gubernatorial candidateÂ Ron DeSantis.
The recent incident in New York City also highlights a startling dynamic whereby the Proud Boys are facilitating alliances between the GOP and the most extreme, violent elements of the far-right movement. According to the SPLC, at least three members ofÂ local skinhead gangsÂ were among those who attended McInnesâ speech and participated in the violence afterwards. By eschewing the traditional symbols of the white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements, the Proud Boys haveÂ put a fresh face on extremismÂ and provided a conduit for skinhead movements to establish direct connections to the Republican Party.
McInnes, the Proud Boys, and others like them are clearly feeling emboldened, and itâs not hard to see why. AsÂ TrumpÂ and hisÂ Republican alliesÂ peddleÂ conspiracy theoriesÂ aboutÂ antifaÂ and pushÂ propagandaÂ portrayingÂ DemocratsÂ andÂ protestersÂ as violent âmobs,â theyâre fueling the very same narrative that far-right extremistsÂ use to justifyÂ carrying out acts of violence against âthe left.â
This is among many ways that the relationship between the Republican Party and the extremist groups in their midst is mutually beneficial. The Trump administration and its GOP allies have helped legitimize far-right extremism andÂ enact it through policiesÂ such as the cruel practice of separating families at the border,Â dismantling civil rights protections, and minimizing or ignoring the threat ofÂ white supremacist violenceÂ whileÂ fear-mongeringÂ about the alleged threats posed by immigrants, refugees, and Muslims.
This has created an environment in which aÂ NaziÂ (actually,Â multiple) can run for national elected office, a participant in the violent Charlottesville riot canÂ become a leaderÂ in a state Republican Party, high profile Republicans canÂ schmooze with Holocaust deniers, a sitting congressman can comfortablyÂ endorse a neo-NaziÂ for national office âÂ moreÂ thanÂ onceÂ â and GOP politicians and candidates canÂ maintain tiesÂ to white nationalist extremists with no questions asked. And of course, leading the way is Trump, who,Â through his words and actions,Â hasÂ given the signal to extremists that they have an ally in the White House.
And clearly, that signal was received, as reflected in the activity of neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and other hate groups, which have flourished under Trumpâs leadership.Â According to the SPLC, the spike in extremist groups seen in the first year of Trumpâs presidency was most intense among white supremacist groups closely aligned with Trump.Â As the SPLCÂ wrote in its reportÂ on hate and extremism in 2017, âTrump may have faced dreadful approval ratings among all Americans, but he did not disappoint his adoring fans within the radical right.â
âGroups that latched onto Trump flourished,â the report added.
And as those groups flourished, so did their violence. But Republicans wonât denounce the strain of extremism fueling this violence â because doing so would mean denouncing themselves.
Published with permission of The American Independent.Â