Following criticism from antiracism activists and questions from media outlets, an event to introduce the Western-chauvinist group Proud Boys to a local GOP organization was abruptly canceled Monday.
The Wake County Republican Liberty Caucus—part of a national organization that seeks to elect libertarian-minded Republicans—had scheduled a members-only event for August 15 called “Who Are the Proud Boys?” Set to follow the Wake RLC’s regular monthly meeting at the RallyPoint Sport Grill in Cary, the event featured speaker Hussein Hill, an openly LGBTQ ex-Muslim who is active with the far-right groups Proud Boys and the American Guard.
A restaurant manager, who asked not to be identified, told the INDY Monday afternoon that she’d only just learned about the event that day, following a Twitter campaign by Triangle antiracists asking people to call RallyPoint.
Within an hour, Erik Wilson, southeast regional director of the Republican Liberty Caucus, told the INDY that, “due to threats and security concerns by the venue,” the organization was canceling the event.
At the time, six people were listed as “going” on the event’s Facebook page—about the same number who usually attend the Wake RLC’s meetings at RallyPoint—and twenty said they were “interested.” Among the latter group: Chad Brown, a Gaston County commissioner seeking the Republican nomination for secretary of state. Reached Monday night, Brown told the INDY that his staff controls his Facebook page and he didn’t know who the Proud Boys were or have plans to attend.
“There is no reason why a group that operates on spurring malignant division in our communities should be given a platform in politics,” Wayne Goodwin, the head of the North Carolina Democratic Party, told the INDY in a statement Tuesday. “Just like North Carolina Democrats denounced President Trump’s racist rhetoric at his Greenville rally, NCDP rejects giving extremist, racist organizations like the Proud Boys even an inch to spread their hate.”
Unlike other far-right groups that flowered during the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, the all-male Proud Boys eschew explicit white supremacist ideology, instead promoting “Western values” matched with antagonism toward antifascists. The Wake RLC billed its August event as “an interesting talk” that would “give those in attendance a better understanding of the alt-right,” though both Hill and the Proud Boys reject that label. Announcing the event on his own Facebook page in May, Hill said he’d be “explaining the Proud Boys as well as delineating ‘the New right’ from the toxic and regressive ‘Alt Right.’”
The Proud Boys gained notoriety in October 2018 when members threw three counter-protesters to the ground and punched, kicked, and stomped them outside the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan. The organization has also played a prominent role in violence in Portland, Oregon, over the past two summers as supporters of Joey Gibson, an inflammatory Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Washington State. Proud Boys member Lyle Flippo recently pleaded guilty to assault for his role in the beating of a Portland man after a June 2018 rally.
After the INDY went to press Tuesday, Wake County Republican Party chairman Darren Eustance responded to an earlier request for comment by pointing out that the Wake RLC is not affiliated with the county party, does not site on its executive committee, and the party has no say in who it chooses to speak at its meetings.
He added: “We are, however, very alarmed that any group of citizens cannot meet in public place to discuss ideas, policies, or philosophies without threat of boycott or retribution. Freedom of speech is for everyone, not just those with popular views. In fact, the First Amendment exists precisely because people must be free to express unpopular views contrary to the viewpoint of the majority. The Proud Boys are protected by the same First Amendment that protects the INDY, other media outlets, and any private citizen who wants to speak up. We tread dangerous ground when we start picking and choosing who is and who isn’t protected by the First Amendment.”
Hill, a Triangle resident, has been active in local GOP campaigns, according to his Facebook posts. In June 2018, he boasted about spending eight hours phone-banking for the party, and Facebook updates from late September to early November document his get-out-the-vote efforts on behalf of state representative Nelson Dollar, who lost his reelection bid.
On June 30, 2018, Hill posted a photo of himself with other GOP volunteers at a gun show while giving the Proud Boys’ “A-OK” hand sign. Four days before the 2018 election, Hill posted a photo of himself standing next to then-NCGOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse, whose hand was clapped on Hill’s shoulder.
While he was campaigning for local Republicans, Hill signaled his involvement with far-right groups on his Facebook pages. In a July 4, 2018, post, Hill wore a Proud Boys hat and an American Guard shirt with the word “president,” apparently denoting his reported status as the American Guard’s state leader. A couple of months earlier, he’d posted a photo of himself posing with the North Carolina Proud Boys during a Second Amendment rally in Raleigh.
An openly gay black man, Hill represents the Proud Boys’ outwardly inclusive positioning in the far-right universe. But the trans community is where the Proud Boys draw the line. Hill defended North Carolina’s HB 2 during a June 2018 forum on LGBTQ issues held at the NCGOP headquarters in Raleigh, calling it “a reaction to people who are asking a very valid question.” Three months later, Hill wrote on Facebook that he’d been suspended from the platform for thirty days, though he didn’t say why. In an earlier post, however, he belittled the twelve-year-old drag performer Desmond Napoles, writing that he “appears to be being fed narcotics by his deranged, cross-dressing handler.”
American Guard, like the Proud Boys, embraces a nativist and Islamophobic stance while opening its membership to people of color and distancing itself from white supremacy. The organization was founded in Indiana in 2016 by Brien James. While James no longer considers himself a white nationalist, his ideological past is not buried deep. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, James co-founded the violent and explicitly racist skinhead organization Vinlanders Social Club.
Hill told the INDY Monday that “you have literally no concrete evidence that either group [Proud Boys or American Guard] is a ‘hate group.’” The SPLC listed both organizations as hate groups in 2018; the founder of the Proud Boys sued the SPLC over that label.
Lindsay Ayling, who is seeking her PhD in history at UNC-Chapel Hill, was among the antiracists denouncing Hill and local Republicans on Twitter on Monday and encouraging people to call RallyPoint.
She makes no apologies for pressuring the venue to pull the plug on the event.
The First Amendment “doesn’t mean that people have to be nice to fascists and white supremacists,” she says. “Among moderates and people that would rather not make waves, they tend to equate not being polite with infringing on people’s free-speech rights. You have the right to tell fascists to go away.”
This story has been updated and edited for print. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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