In recent years, the Republican Party has fallen back on a variety of voter suppression tactics to ensure electoral victories, from shutting down polling places in working class areas of color, gerrymandering and redistricting, to pushing new laws like Voter ID, as well as programs such as Cross-Check, which have been successful in kicking literally millions off the voting rolls. In the past when confronted with these tactics, such as in 2000 during the Florida voter recount, the Republicans have also turned towards another tried and true tool in their toolbox: far-Right muscle.
In 2000, Republican operative Roger Stone was instrumental in what was known as the “Brooks Brothers Riot,” where hundreds of paid Republican staffers and operates descended on the office where the vote recount was happening in Miami-Dade Florida. The group then attempted to storm the building and violence broke out, pushing the State to shut down the recount itself and became instrumental in handing the election over to Bush.
Now, in the lead up to another possible recount, Roger Stone and various forces within the GOP and the far-Right are pushing groups like the Proud Boys to mobilize in an attempt to shut down the possible recount, but also intimidate and demoralize Democratic voters who are also demonstrating, largely African-Americans.
Proud boys continue attack on politicians in Florida – Jacob Engels filmed by Tyler Ziolkowski while attacking a rally with megaphone then claiming a staged victim status.
Also says he’s a “journalist” 😂 https://t.co/ztoh4vlyFu pic.twitter.com/ITBKeLhME4
— Djinn (@ARAEveryDay) October 21, 2018
This activity has been building since before the election. In late October, leading Proud Boy Jacob Engels attempted to troll a campaign rally for DNC candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. According to Newsweek:
Jacob Engels, a contributor to conspiracy theory site InfoWars, was yelling into a megaphone about billionaire George Soros during Gillum’s speech on Friday night in Tampa. Supporters of the Florida candidate approached Engels, shoved him and tried to slap the megaphone out of his grasp. Engels, who is gay, then posted footage of the incident on Twitter, insinuating that Gillum supporters are homophobic.
Does offering solidarity and defense of communities in Florida being attacked by the Republican Party mean that we in turn support the Democrats? Does the need to protect people in the community from the far-Right override any misgivings we might have about the situation? Surely a world in which Alt-Right thugs push people around isn’t one that we support, and we have to take a position within this reality, even if in the end we are just as opposed to all of the political parties as we are to the Republicans, right?
One thing is clear, what is incubating in Florida is a sign of things to come, as Proud Boys have already been documented at planning protests in Miami with GOP officials, and since the voting has ended, have been brought in by people like Roger Stone to organizing efforts to block any sort of recount. With groups of Proud Boys continuing to be seen out in the streets targeting working-class communities of color, the need for people to defend themselves is greater than ever.
Wanting to know more about how antifascists are responding to the situation, we reached out to one person local to the area who has been involved in countering Proud Boy activity since the midterms.
IGD: What’s happening in Florida since the midterms in terms of far-Right activity?
Racists are angry that a black man, Andrew Gillum, the current mayor of Tallahassee, might become governor. Their tactics ramped up, and with Broward County Supervisor of Elections (SOE) having ballot counting issues, a group of far-Right trolls and Trump supporters in this largely blue county have become organized and emboldened to act out. Leftists and antifascists are exposing their racism, deplatforming their spaces, and trying to shut it down.
IGD: The Proud Boys on the ground, are they from Florida or coming in from out of town, or both?
Proud Boys in Miami are suffering the loss of social media; Facebook and Twitter, access to their official pages, personal pages, sock and alts – for most of them. They’ve lost payment methods and hosting. De-platforming has affected them greatly. Most of them are in the Tri-County of south Florida area. A few travel from central Florida.
Their activities are often not effective. Witness their “Free Tommy Robinson” protest a few months ago. Maybe one guy came out. They’ve also been photographed recently in Miami protesting a Nancy Pelosi event and were exposed as having coordinated before hand with local GOP officials.
IGD: You posted a video of the Proud Boys outside of what is described as an African-American church. One of them was dressed up in women’s clothing. What is happening in this situation and when did this take place?
On Sunday, Tallahassee Mayor and DNC governor candidate Andrew Gillum was having a speaking event at a local community and predominantly Black church in a Black neighborhood. We saw these racists for the last three days going HAM at Broward SOE all day, so we knew they’d be at the church. So were we. Local activists, antifascists, DSA, FLIC, New Florida Majority, Dream Defenders – people just showed up to shield and defend the community as the lines to get in were long and crowded.
Meet the “Vice City” Miami Proud Boys lmfaooooo
These racist losers attempted to disrupt a meeting of black families at a black church in a black neighborhood.
Led by Jacob Engels, in racist costume as an “old black woman”
He’s paid by Roger Stone for this. pic.twitter.com/zs5sa9SEDQ
— Djinn (@ARAEveryDay) November 12, 2018
The person in the racist costume is Jacob Engels, Orlando Proud boy and self-publisher of the trash conspiracy news rag The Central Florida Post. He is an associate of Roger Stone. His sidekick is Proud Boy Tyler Ziolkowski who was allegedly the leader or originator of Florida Proud Boys. They dredged up a few locals to be part of their sideshow. They came to the church to harass the black community. A small group of Trump/DeSantis supporters tagged along.
Jacob Engels (second from left) poses with Roger Stone, who stands next to “Tiny” Toese and Jovi Val of the Proud Boys. Jovi was a featured speaker at Unite the Right #2. Person in front holds flag for “National Anarchist Movement,” which is a white nationalist attempt to push a racist agenda while using half-baked anarchist rhetoric and imagery. SOURCE: Jacob Engels Twitter account, April 2018
Along with Engels, several other Alt-Lite provocateurs such as Islamophobe and InfoWars contributor Laura Loomer, Lucian Wintrich pal Ali Alexander, and other 3rd rate posers quickly organized online to whip anyone in driving distance into an all weekend frenzy. This was abetted by a local group called Americans For Trump – Broward Chapter who hosted the Proud Boys and Roger Stone at their last months meeting.
IGD: Beyond the incident at the church, what else have the Proud Boys done in this situation?
Besides the church, they’ve gone 4 days in a row so far to Broward SOE with megaphones to harass mainly elderly POC. They’ve also attacked and harassed an elderly NLG observer – taunting him that he was Bernie Sanders and trying to goad him all day. They literally fought with anyone in reach verbally for 4 days. The first day no one wore the polo then most of them did after that.
All weekend at Broward SOE, Miami “Vice City” Proud Boy Keith Burwell harassed NLG Legal Observers, elderly black women, everyone for Gillum.
Upholding pissboy gang method of violence and racism.
Seen here with Proud Boys Alberto “Al” Torna, Gabriel Garcia, Alex Gonzalez. pic.twitter.com/bVPYk3LK0E
— Djinn (@ARAEveryDay) November 12, 2018
IGD: How are people responding to them on the ground? Are they facing any opposition?
They are getting some opposition in the form of angry liberals who will argue with them, and they often get drowned out by chanting groups of Gillum supporters who aren’t interested in their crap. They get opposed by the those who refuse to acknowledge or respond or speak to them. They get pushed back and monitored vaguely by police. I don’t think they expected us at the church. We were about 20-25 people. They were 6, plus some rando Trump freaks. So I think they were angry and nervous. But Engels has made 3 trips here recently to sneak in or try to sneak in to Gillum rallies and disrupt. He’s a crisis actor who pretended to be assaulted at one event, and that he was “assaulted and removed” from a synagogue with Loomer at another.
We made a line and held it. We followed them everywhere they moved. They gave up eventually and left. They tried to come back at the end but it fizzled and the police ran them off.
Last night in Broward County, Florida, proud boys and Roger Stone were hosted by an “Americans For Trump – Broward Chapter” group. pic.twitter.com/Plj0LIyWNZ
— Djinn (@ARAEveryDay) October 24, 2018
IGD: People have said that the Proud Boys in Florida and other trolls are being financed by Roger Stone, is there actual evidence to support this?
We have no evidence of financial support by Roger Stone. It is an assumption based on the fact that we think Jacob lives with his mom and self-publishes his paper, yet he and Ziolkowski travel frequently and spend plenty. Someone is financing it. He’s been seen meeting with Stone at least once a month in Fort Lauderdale.