Juan Cadavid came to the United States with his Colombian parents when he was only 2 years old. He grew up in California among other Latino cultures, but his fair skin helped contribute to a kind of identity crisis.
In his 20s he "latched on to" whatever political identity he could find, according to an NPR report. Stories have surfaced of the Latino-alt-righter, but Cadavid, who now goes by Johnny Benitez, said that they were irresponsibly reported. Death threats followed, for him and his family. He was only talking to NPR because the previous reports were unfair. He even recorded it himself so that he wouldn't be taken out of context.
In an interview with Andrés Caballero, "Benitez" claimed that people assume that he sees a black family walking their dog "with their little black child" and automatically hates them. According to him, that's far from true.
Caballero explained that the distinction has been one that many in the alt-right movement have tried to use to separate themselves from groups like the KKK or neo-Nazis. For "Benitez," the rhetoric of the "alt-right" is what resonated with him. He identifies as "Iberian," a term that refers to those whose heritage comes from Spain or Portugal. Caballero explained it's an effort to identify them as European instead of indigenous or Afro-Latino.
Benitez didn't always support a racist, anti-immigrant movement. In fact, as his parents did janitorial work in libraries, he buried himself in books. By 15 years old, he'd read the "Communist Manifesto" and thoughts and ideas turned to action. He joined the Occupy Wall Street movement against big banks. He supported Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) campaign for president.
But he had a falling out with his Occupy friends when he learned they were supportive of transgender rights. His friends called him a bigot and ostracized him. He tried to get involved with other leftist organizations, including a group that planned to break into the pro-Trump side of the rallies. He explained how he'd do it and infiltrate Trump's supporters.
During a clash with Trump protesters and supporters, the Trump fans literally chased their opposition down the street. In the middle of the fight, "Benitez" changed sides. He put on a jersey celebrating Ronald Reagan and a Make America Great Again cap. His lefty friends didn't know what happened until they saw his posts on Facebook after. He was defending the Trump supporters. They thought he was a spy from Trump.
He swore that he wasn't trying to infiltrate their group, rather he was concerned about violence breaking out and urged them against the protest.
"I was trying to prevent exactly what happened," he told NPR.
In wake of the rally he joined the right-wing group The Proud Boys and organized an anti-immigrant rally, despite being one himself. Then he started to pop up in videos of protests, including one where he was seen "ninja kicking" Berkeley protesters.
Gavin McInnes, who founded the Proud Boys, says his group does not tolerate racial discrimination. Instead, their interest is in "Reinstating a Spirit of Western chauvinism." But McInnes has also warned about a "white genocide" -- a concept that originated with the white nationalist movement.
Once it was revealed that Benitez once tried to infiltrate both the left and the right, his new friends turned cold. They confronted him at one of his own rallies and it was all captured on video. He was shoved out of The Proud Boys, the Alt-Knights and other groups he was affiliated with.
When asked how he could go from the far left to the far right in such a short amount of time, he explained that it was only about labels.
"You can look back and see that I use to advocate for Martin Luther King and for Malcolm X and I thought that black people could very easily get rid of their oppression if they had control over their own destinies," he said. "Well, how different is that from what Richard Spencer says about wanting his own people to control their destines. When you realize that there's no difference there and the whole argument of 'how did you go from this to that thing that's so incredibly different,' you realize that it's just -- only an ignorant person could make that statement."
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(Note: This article has been updated to clarify the nature of the Proud Boys group.)