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A segment on CBS News' "60 Minutes" segment about the Oath Keepers, which aired on Sunday evening, has attracted considerable pushback on Twitter and elsewhere from viewers who criticized its reporting on the far-right militia group's role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The exposé from "60 Minutes" correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi highlighted the Oath Keepers' role in organizing the Jan. 6 riot while also highlighting the apparent split between the largest chapter of the Oath Keepers and the group's founder, Stewart Rhodes, who launched the organization in March of 2009.
Within the segment, one Oath Keepers member in Arizona, Jim Arroyo, told Alfonsi that the group works closely with law enforcement, since many of the paramilitary organization members are former police officers or ex-military personnel. "Our guys are very experienced. We have active-duty law enforcement in our organization that are helping to train us. We can blend in with our law enforcement, and in fact, in a lot of cases, our training is much more advanced because of our military backgrounds." Arroyo declared during the segment.
According to FBI counterterrorism official Javed Ali, that claim made by Arroyo at least partly holds true: The Oath Keepers have a "large percentage" of members who "have tactical training and operational experience in either the military or law enforcement," he said. "That at least gives them a capability that a lot of other people in this far-right space don't have," Ali added.
Arroyo, the Arizona Oath Keepers leader, later in the interview attempted to distance himself from Rhodes, the founder of the group, who on Jan. 6 was spotted on the Capitol steps and was later found to have helped members of his militia group plot the siege.
"I want to congratulate Stewart Rhodes and his 10 militia buddies for winning first place in the ultimate dumbass contest, because that's what it was," Arroyo said. "That goes against everything we have ever taught, everything we believe in. It was pre-planned; it was pre-staged. Ten guys go and do something stupid, and suddenly we're the devil."
Many on Twitter perceived the segment as allowing Arroyo and other members of the Oath Keepers to divert blame and minimize their role in the events of Jan. 6.
"This is the same group being dismantled at the moment for their role in 1/6, but sure, give them a massive platform and free media. Real fricking brilliant," national security lawyer Bradley P. Moss, a partner at the law firm Mark S. Zaid, PC, wrote on Twitter. Former Yahoo News White House reporter Hunter Walker tweeted, "Not sure why the Oath Keepers are being given air time to downplay their role on 1/6."
Sophia Nelson, a contributing editor at the Grio, responded to the segment on Twitter writing, "Shame on CBS for giving this monster a platform and voice."
A West Virginia Proud Boys leader who has been criminally charged with breaching the US Capitol and engaging in disorderly conduct has requested an additional 30 days to continue discussions with the government, potentially opening the door for a plea deal.
Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey granted the joint motion sought by Proud Boys member Jeffery Finley and the US government on Monday, writing that a continuance through May 14 would "provide the parties with additional time to engage in the discovery process and case discussions."
"The purpose of continuance is to have further discussions to see if there is any possibility of plea arrangement," said Walter Holton, a former US attorney who served under President Clinton. "There's no arrow pointing up or down. Clearly, they're requesting an additional month for further discussion before he enters a guilty or not guilty plea. The only thing to talk about is if he takes guilty or not guilty."
Among more than 20 Proud Boys members charged in the Capitol insurrection, Finley has largely avoided scrutiny to date. The statement of facts accompanying the government's complaint against Finley does not mention his involvement in the violent nationalist street gang, although photos in the document clearly show him in a large group of Proud Boys advancing on the Capitol. And in one photo included in Finley's charging document, he can be seen standing outside the Capitol alongside Philadelphia chapter president Zachary Rehl, who has been identified by the government as "one of the leaders and organizers" of a group of Proud Boys that attacked the Capitol, seeking to obstruct Congress' certification of the presidential election.
Jeffery Finley (right) and Zach Rehl at the US Capitol (courtesy US government)
Finley's lawyer, Aaron D. Moss, declined to comment on whether his client is considering a plea deal.
Jason McCullough, the lead attorney for the government, also declined to comment. In addition to prosecuting Finley, McCullough is also part of the team of government lawyers responsible for trying Rehl, Charles Donohoe, Joseph Biggs and Ethan Nordean, four Proud Boys leaders who have been indicted for conspiracy to disrupt the certification of the electoral vote. The government alleges that prior to the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, the Proud Boys set up an encrypted messaging channel and equipped members with Baofeng radios for communication. Rehl, according to the government, brought the radios from Philadelphia. Video published by Eddie Block, a Proud Boys-friendly streamer, shows Rehl, Nordean and Biggs leading the group that included Finley to the Capitol.
Finley discussed his leadership role in the Proud Boys as a guest on Jan. 19 on a show hosted by a progressive podcaster name Vaush. Introduced on the show as "Suspect Sushi," Finley presented himself as someone familiar with the inner workings of the organization, albeit while making the false statement that no Proud Boys entered the Capitol building.
"I don't know any Proud Boys who were even remotely close to being inside the Capitol personally," Finley told Vaush. "When you're in leadership, you know leadership, and I know that none of the leadership — no known leaders of the Proud Boys, which are usually the face of the Proud Boys — none of them were remotely close to being inside."
When the host challenged the assertion by noting that Biggs — who organized a 2019 Proud Boys rally in Portland, Ore. — was inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, Finley tried to minimize Biggs' role in the organization by saying he was merely a friend of Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio.
"I don't even know if he's part of a chapter," Finley said during the Jan. 19 podcast, which took place one day before Biggs' arrest. "And one of the things about being a Proud Boy is even if you take the oath, you actually have to be part of a chapter to be a Proud Boy."
Dylan Burns, a Maryland political consultant and Twitch streamer who arranged for Finley to appear on Vaush's show, provided a photo of Finley and Tarrio to Raw Story. Burns said Finley sent him the photo on Oct. 7, 2020 after bragging that he met the Proud Boys chairman at the time he set up the West Virginia chapter. Burns said he got to know Finley as a progressive talk-show host who regularly invites on conservatives to exchange views.
Although Burns knew him as "Suspect Sushi," the person posing in the photo with Tarrio is clearly the same person depicted in court documents that were unveiled on March 29, following Finley's arrest. A separate video taken by Eddie Block also shows Finley in a large group of Proud Boys outside Harry's Bar during a Dec. 12 gathering that ended in a stabbing.
During the Jan. 19 podcast, Finley told Vaush that he decided to join the Proud Boys because he was curious about whether the organization was as extreme as people said it was.
"The original reason to join the Proud Boys was actually more of like to kind of infiltrate," he said. "Yeah, believe it or not. When you're a conservative and you hear about a conservative group that's universally hated, you kind of want to investigate. 'Oh, they're white nationalists and they're Nazis,' and shit like that. So, I said, 'Fuck it, I'll apply, and I'll join.'"
Finley, who is Black, described his childhood growing up in Washington DC during the hour and 40 minutes exchange with Vaush. He dismissed systemic racism as a driver of negative outcomes for Black people.
"I believe that modern Black American culture is toxic and pervasive, and it actually encourages people to be like rappers, ballplayers, basically anything that's considered outside of the normal, like being a square, and working like a regular job," he said.
"Right now, I live in rural West Virginia, so all I have is white neighbors, and we're chillin,'" Finley added.
The criminal complaint alleging that Finley breached the Capitol and engaged in disorderly conduct identifies him as a resident of Martinsburg, a small city in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle region. The complaint notes that Finley, who was wearing a blue suit and red hat, had an earpiece in his ear when he advanced on the Capitol.
Jeffery Finley (courtesy US government)
"It could just be his phone," said Holton, the former US attorney. "Whether it has any significance, it's hard to tell. He's in the back of the crowd at the Capitol. He may be hearing or transmitting things. That may be important."
The motion jointly filed by the government and Finley indicates that counsel for the two "have been in contact by email and telephone" since March 29 — the same day the case was unsealed.
Of the 22 defendants identified as Proud Boys that have been charged to date in the Capitol assault, 17 have pleaded not guilty. Biggs and Nordean, who were arrested respectively on Jan. 20 and Feb. 3, have each pleaded not guilty. Rehl and Donohoe, who were indicted for conspiracy alongside Biggs and Nordean on March 3, have yet to enter pleas. The Proud Boys defendants that have not pleaded were all arrested in March.
Holton said he's not surprised that no Proud Boys defendants have entered guilty pleas to date.
"It's still relatively early," he said. "An organization like the Proud Boys, if they are cooperating, they're not going to do early guilty pleas if there's a cooperating witness. That sure sends a signal that someone's rolling on the others."
If you had any doubts that the Republican Party had a full-blown white nationalist faction ready and willing to let their freak flags fly, the last few weeks have to have disabused you of them. From Fox News' highest rated prime time host Tucker Carlson endorsing the far-right "great replacement" theory on national television to Kevin Williamson of the National Review, following in the tradition of its founder William F. Buckley, theorizing that we need "fewer — but better — voters," it seems as if right-wing extremism is getting a whole lot of airtime.
Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene put the white icing on Republican's racist cake last week when she floated the idea of the new Trump-supporting American First Caucus, which caused even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to issue a mild rebuke for its obvious references to white power. Among those who said they were part of the project were far-right Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Louis Gohmert of Texas. The rock has been turned over and all the white supremacists are crawling out, eyes squinting, ready to seize their rightful place in the Republican Party.
Greene's plan was reported by Punchbowl News last Friday as a new group dedicated to following in "President Trump's footsteps, and potentially step on some toes and sacrifice sacred cows for the good of the American nation." This is defined as preserving "Anglo-Saxon political traditions" with a goal of limiting legal immigration "to those that can contribute not only economically, but have demonstrated respect for this nation's culture and rule of law." It's unclear exactly how such "respect" can be demonstrated but it's not too hard to imagine. Being a huge Trump supporter certainly wouldn't hurt. It's also interesting that they have moved on from the "Judeo-Christian ethic" trope they used for the last few decades to this weird colonial throwback term "Anglo-Saxon culture," but it's no mystery as to why they would have done that, is it?
One aspect of the agenda that got a lot of attention was its support for infrastructure "that reflects the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture." There were plenty of chuckles over that one, imagining what Greene and Gohmert would consider appropriate architecture. After wondering for a bit who they would consider to be their Albert Speer, I realized it was right in front of our nose: the great builder and designer of ostentatious, gold-plated kitsch himself: Donald Trump.
But really, it's less hilarious than it sounds. Anyone who knows anything about the history of the Third Reich knows how much importance they attached to the "classical aesthetic" and in recent years there has been a movement among various alt-right types, including Neo-Nazis and Identity Evropa, to take up a new aesthetic as the perfect expression of white culture. Hettie O'Brien of The New Statesman wrote about the trend in 2018:
While the Nazis thought neoclassical architecture an authentic expression of German identity, today's far right updates this doctrine for the social media age. As Stephan Trüby, an architectural historian at the University of Stuttgart, told me, right-wing populists have begun to sharpen their focus on architecture. In Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland party has spawned a revivalist movement of far-right isolationists who revere folk mythology and Saxon castles. Trüby writes that, "Filled with disgust at any kind of metropolitan multicultural way of life," these settlers retreat to rural Germany to rehearse the "preservation of the German Volk". [...]
As Trüby noted, in Germany certain terms camouflage far-right identity politics. "Words like 'tradition' and 'beauty' are used to establish ideas of a unified people and nation, which excludes migrants and many parts of the population." Beauty is infused with connotations of blood, soil and a Volk.
It's not just a European thing. You may recall the marchers in Charlottesville in 2017 were chanting "blood and soil."
Within 24 hours, Greene and Gosar had backtracked on their caucus plan, suddenly claiming that it wasn't really their thing and that a staffer was responsible for an early draft they hadn't approved of. Greene went hysterical on Twitter over the controversy:
Greene's spokesman, Nick Dyer, had issued a statement on Friday saying to "be on the look out for the release of the America First Caucus platform when it's announced to the public very soon." By Saturday he was saying Greene would not be launching anything. In the interim, some members of the most far-right caucus in the House, the Freedom Caucus, which counts Greene and the others as members, had publicly expressed their disapproval.
It's tempting to see that as a sign they were truly appalled by Greene's overt white nationalism. But that's unlikely. This is actually an old strategy by right-wingers that inexorably mainstreams their beliefs in a way that allows many of them to escape responsibility. They do it every few years. Some rump right-wing group organizes itself within the party, attracts some attention for its extremism and then ends up being the tail that wags the dog — at least until another even more right-wing rump group organizes itself and does the same thing, moving the previous group into the mainstream. They usually tend to gain steam when the Democrats are in power.
This goes way back but, as with so much else, it has accelerated since the early 1990s when Newt Gingrich and his backbench wrecking crew took over the GOP after rabble-rousing through the previous decade. They were once the loudmouthed extremists and then suddenly were the mainstream and elected their rabble-rousing leader to be the Speaker of the House. (Listening to former Speaker John Boehner bemoan the rightward surge of the GOP is laughable. He was among those original Gingrich revolutionaries.) Later came the Freedom Caucus, a group known for its obstructionism and "burn the house" down purity. Trump raised them up into the corridors of real power, spawning such GOP superstars as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Devin Nunes, R-CA, Jim Jordan, R-OH, and Matt Gaetz, R-FL all of whom are current or former Freedom Caucus members.
With the help of Fox News, Marjorie Taylor Greene is taking that same strategy to the next level. It works out well for all concerned. By parroting the emergent white nationalist rhetoric being mainstreamed by Tucker Carlson, she manages to raise a lot of money. And by delicately distancing themselves from her, the Freedom Caucus get to appear to be safe to establishment Republicans (just like John Boehner was when he became speaker) who can in turn appeal to the suburban voters who abandoned the party.
I think you can see the problem here.
This latest iteration of far-right wingnuttia is going in a very dangerous direction. I don't think we'll see Marjorie Taylor Greene elected speaker of the House but there's every chance that at some point someone with her toxic ideology will be seen as such a mainstream Republican that he or she is a perfectly viable candidate. Trump already came very close. I honestly don't know how much lower they can go from there.
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