The hype surrounding the Jan. 20 Second Amendment rally in Richmond, Va. built it up as the potential spark for a second Civil War, with scary “antifas” preparing to bus in and attack “patriots,” and boogaloo-obsessed white supremacists looking for an opportunity to set off a race war.
Instead, a quiet dialogue between militia leaders and armed antifascists resulted in a split between moderate elements of the militia movement and alt-right activists with white supremacist ties.
The narrative of Richmond as a potential flashpoint of contagious violence was heavily promoted by Sidney Horton, a 22-year-old Georgia resident who helped organize the Unite the Right sequel in 2018 and who contributed an essay to the website of Augustus Invictus, a marquee name at the first Unite the Right rally who is now facing charges of kidnapping and aggravated domestic violence.
While complaining on Facebook that everyone attending the Richmond pro-gun rally would be “smeared as a white supremacist,” Horton has shared memes declaring “Coexistence is a lie” and “European by blood, American by soil” on her Twitter account. In a comment on her Facebook page promoting the 2018 Unite the Right II event co-organized with Jason Kessler, Horton wrote, “Who established this country and the Constitution? Europeans. White individuals who proclaimed liberty as guaranteed under the law. This country was not established as a multicultural one; that is evident by the fact that, originally, only white males in possession of property were capable of voting.” (Horton told Raw Story she considers herself a white identitarian.)
In a viral Facebook video — now up to 683,000 views and more than 15,000 shares — posted two days before the Richmond rally, Horton bizarrely described the Virginia Capitol grounds, which was subject to a ban on firearms and other weapons, as “a designated kill zone,” while dismissing media reports about arrests of six members of the white supremacist terror group the Base, three of whom discussed plans to travel to Richmond and open fire on civilians and police officers. She described the media reports as an “absolute lie,” complaining that an affidavit that was filed by an FBI agent in the case “has not been corroborated by the slightest shred of evidence.”
Horton warned that the Richmond rally was a government setup, similar to the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which she attended. Her description of Unite the Right absolved the neo-Nazi organizers of responsibility, while attempting to shift blame to “antifa.”
“Something that you have likely heard, of course — that everyone across the country’s heard pertaining to Charlottesville was that a violent, evil, neo-Nazi killed someone in a car crash when they drove their car through a crowd,” Horton said. “What the media did not tell you was that an antifa member from Redneck Revolt, which is an armed faction of antifa, prior to this occurring chased that individual down the street with a loaded rifle and absolutely had no jail time or no repercussions as a result of that event.”
Horton’s misleading characterization of the incident omits mention that Dwayne Dixon, a teaching assistant professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, testified during the trial of James A. Fields Jr. that he saw a driver in a vehicle similar to Fields’ circling Court Square, which was under armed guard by antifascists, and that he told the driver to “get the fuck out of here.” But Detective Steve Young of the Charlottesville Police Department presented geo-location points from Fields’ Facebook phone app during the trial that showed Fields never drove down the section of street where Dixon was positioned before plowing into a crowd three blocks away and killing Heather Heyer.
Horton’s suspicions were already aroused, she said, because militia activists Tammy Lee and Gary Sigler, who are married, contacted her friend to convey a demanded that Horton take down the video. When Horton and a friend arrived in Richmond for a dinner organized by a consortium of militia groups on the eve of the Jan. 20 rally, she was “horrified” to learn that the militia organizers have been maintaining a longstanding dialogue with some of the same armed antifascists she had painted as the bad actors in Charlottesville. Two members of John Brown Gun Club, an armed antifascist group, were present at the militia dinner.
Christian Yingling, commander of the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia, confirmed to Raw Story that he invited the two John Brown Gun Club members to the dinner.
“I’m not ashamed of it,” he said. “I’m going to do it again.”
Yingling, a self-described “constitutionalist,” said he was “proud” to invite the two leftists because protection of the right to bear arms is “an American issue,” adding, “It’s not a right or left issue, and I won’t allow anyone to make it into one.”
Yingling also noted in the interview that he and other constitutional militias have talked in the past with Dixon — a fact not lost on Horton.
“We had been in contact with them before Charlottesville,” Yingling said. “Guess what? There was no problem with the left-wing militias and the [right-wing] militias. We knew they were going to be armed, and they knew we were going to be armed. We had come to an agreement; we talked beforehand and agreed we are not going to fight each other.”
The relationship did not sit well with Horton.
“This absolutely shocked me,” Horton said in another Facebook Live video. “Because these are people I had planned to go with to this event, to stand by. And they openly told me that they had been working with people that had intended to orchestrate and exercise violence against conservatives exercising their rights.”
Horton was so distressed by the incident that she and her friend left Richmond without attending the rally.
“I had to leave Virginia last night due to my security making the executive decision that this was far too dangerous a situation because every ounce of information at this meeting had been compromised and shared with antifa,” Horton told her followers. “I was told that I would not be welcome at the march today because I refused to stand by domestic terrorists and communists, who have frequently exercised actions of violence against our side.”
Far from attempting to mend fences after Horton fled Richmond, Yingling doubled down on his message that she and other alt-right activists with white supremacist ties are not welcome in the militia movement, using characterizations that are less than PC.
“Sidney Horton is white trash,” he told Raw Story. “She’s a full-on white supremacist. I’ve exposed her by posting up videos of her own words and links to articles that prove exactly who she is. She’s a cute little girl. People don’t take the time to look into what she really is. You have people who say they’re not racist who are cheering a full-on racist.”
Following the Richmond rally, Horton made common cause with a group of Proud Boys who were angry about their encounter with armed antifascists in downtown Richmond on Jan. 20.
In a Facebook Watch Party a couple days after the rally, Jeremy Bertino, a Proud Boy who lives in the Charlotte, N.C. area, told Horton: “I was hot. When I actually found out that they brought these guys in and gave them intel, and admitted to working with antifa on a regular basis, then they go in hiding. Shut their page down. They’re like, ‘Oh, we’re done’ You need to be done because you’re not welcome…. You’re done, man. Nobody’s gonna stand with you anymore.”
Yingling disputes Bertino’s characterization of the dinner as a “security briefing,” adding that the purpose was to allow members of the media to ask questions considering that the militia groups decided to institute a “media blackout” at the rally itself. Yingling also countered a statement by Bertino to the effect that he and other moderate militia leaders would be “excommunicated” from the “patriot” movement, telling Raw Story: “What I see happening is a separation — a very much needed separation between us and people who love to put stuff out on Facebook who have no intent to do anything about it.”
Bertino was part of a contingent of an armed group of Proud Boys in Richmond that included Enrique Tarrio, the chairman of the organization and a candidate for Congress in Florida’s 27th district, which is currently represented by Democrat Donna Shalala. Near the end of the Richmond rally, the Proud Boys contingent engaged in armed standoff with about a dozen antifascists. Raw Story has confirmed that the two John Brown Gun Club members who attended the pre-dinner rally were also involved in the standoff with the Proud Boys the following day.
“It was that close to turning into something that the media would love to have eaten up,” Bertino said. “And there could have been dead bodies lying in the street right there. Because I’m telling you… had they raised their barrels above their knees or just raised ’em in any way towards us, there was people not going home that day. There was people that was going to lose their lives in that street.”
Bertino credits the Proud Boys with de-escalating the situation, and the video shared on Bertino’s Facebook page shows the antifascists walking silently towards the Proud Boys as the Proud Boys verbally disparage them while retreating.
Mitchell Fryer, an antifascist from North Carolina who offers firearms training to people in vulnerable populations, said the antifascist contingent wanted to try to disrupt the Proud Boys’ effort to build inroads with the mainstream Second Amendment movement. They added that they do not think the antifascists’ engagement with the Proud Boys was provocative or that there was a significant risk of violence.
“They buzzed us three or four different times; they heckled us,” said Fryer, who was not present at the pre-rally dinner. “We showed that we didn’t like that by facing them and standing still, nothing aggressive…. Often the people who are victims of aggression who respond in some way other than abdicating the space are framed as aggressors. It’s just not true.”
Yingling defended the antifascists’ conduct at the rally.
“John Brown spotted them and tailed them,” he said. “All they were doing was walking. The John Brown guys weren’t saying anything. The Proud Boys are the ones trying to instigate things.”
Yingling dismissed the Proud Boys as “nothing more than an adolescent fight club,” and said he developed a negative view of the group after observing members at the 2017 Unite the Right rally. Despite efforts by then-leader Gavin McInnes to distance the group from Unite the Right, rally organizers held close ties to the organization. Jason Kessler, the lead organizer of both the 2017 and 2018 Unite the Right rallies, is a former Proud Boy, as are Kevin Cormier and Jovanni Valle, who participated alongside Horton in the planning for the 2018 rally. Valle, who has since embraced national socialism, was standing next to a man wearing a sweatshirt with the Proud Boys insignia during the Jan. 20 rally in Richmond, although he was not part of Tarrio’s entourage.
While the Proud Boys don’t go as far as overtly fascist groups like American Identity Movement in celebrating European heritage, their motto “the West is the best” projects a softer version of the same theme.
The organization hasn’t downplayed its Western chauvinism position since Tarrio launched his bid for Congress.
“We need men like him in Congress,” Bertino said during a final pitch near the end of his video with Horton. “He’s willing to fight the establishment. He believes in Western culture, believes the West is the best…. Having someone like him in Congress, I can imagine him staring down Pelosi, or staring down AOC, or any of the idiots that are up there right now.”
Fryer said that the split between the constitutionalist militia and alt-right factions in the Second Amendment movement decreases the likelihood of violence in the context of a deteriorating political discourse in which “antifascists and people of color could be targeted outright for terror campaigns.”
“What we’re doing with militias is trying to dispel this myth and challenge this myth rather than getting shot at,” they continued. “It’s a lot easier to shoot a ‘commie antifa that’s a pedophile connected to George Soros and the Democratic Party’ than an antifascist working to protect trans people from violence.”
For his part, Yingling said, “You gotta crawl before you can run. What we’re doing right now is very much in the crawling stage. In speaking with the guys from John Brown, they told us, ‘A lot of groups on the left are seeing the amount of heat you’re taking and that you’re sticking to your guns. It’s going a long way.’ We’re going to stick to our guns.”
What the constitutionalist militias share with the John Brown Gun Club is that they both care about their communities, Yingling said.
“Why can’t we come together and work on that?” he asked. “If anybody is going to bridge the divide in the country, it has to start with us. We are the militant wing of the patriot movement. They are the militant wing of the left-wing groups. We have to start uniting people in this country.”
(Photo credit: Anthony Crider/Flickr)