Extremists mobilizing in Republican primaries to take out party leaders

Covid deniers and conspiracy theorists have been let loose in the Western states
Idaho Lieutenant Gov. Janice McGeachin (R) holds a Bible and a gun in a message opposing governmental closure orders to reduce the spread of the SARS-CoV2 virus. Oct 27, 2020. Photo via screenshot.

This article was first published at Daily Kos.

One of the consequences of the GOP’s sidelong embrace of its extremist elements—from the insurrection denialists and Big Lie gaslighters to the QAnon cultists like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert—is that far-right extremists are now perfectly comfortable identifying as Republicans. In some cases, they’re demanding the overthrow of the party’s establishment—which can’t seem to decide whether to fight back or just succumb willingly to the incoming far-right tide.

Establishment Republicans in Western states are particularly under siege from extremist elements among their voting base. In Idaho, for instance, armed-standoff-guru-turned-pandemic-denialist Ammon Bundy filed paperwork to run for governor, in a race already featuring another leading state “Patriot” movement figure. In Nevada, an insurgent far-right group organized on social media and led by Proud Boys members are attempting an open hostile takeover of the Clark County GOP, the state’s largest county-level Republican organization.

Bundy’s filing is rich in irony. For starters, he is currently banned from the Idaho Statehouse in Boise after his two ejections and arrests for defying masking requirements, for which he is currently standing trial. For another, as KTVB notes, Bundy himself is not even registered to vote in Idaho, and has apparently never done so in the five years or so that he has lived in Emmett.

He also named himself the treasurer of his campaign, which means that he will have to refile the paperwork, according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, which tweeted out an explanation: “Because a treasurer must be a registered Idaho voter, Ammon Bundy will either need to register and refile or name a new treasurer by refiling.  IDSOS staff have notified him as such.”

The Republican field to replace incumbent Governor Brad Little (who has not announced whether he will seek re-election) is already large, and Bundy’s competition in the primary already features another leading “Patriot” movement figure, Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin, who announced her candidacy last week. While Bundy was probably the earliest far-right figure in Idaho to take up the cause of opposing COVID-19-related public-health restrictions, McGeachin—who has supported Bundy and his fellow standoff-loving “Patriots” steadfastly from her office in Boise—has also been on the pandemic-denialist bandwagon.

McGeachin appeared alongside Bundy at one anti-restriction rally in Boise. More notoriously, she appeared in a video in which she brandished a handgun and a Bible while sitting in the driver’s seat of a pickup, railing against coronavirus restrictions.

The political insurgency inside Clark County’s GOP was reported Friday by Rory Appleton at the Las Vegas Review-Journalwho explained that a group of far-right activists with deep ties to the Proud Boys are positioning themselves to take over the county Republican leadership. Some of its members, meanwhile, are alleged to have threatened a number of prominent Republicans.

The group, Appleton reported, organized online—primarily using the encrypted chat app Telegram—while reveling in anti-Semitic and white-nationalist memes and rhetoric. “Two Republican women in public office told the Review-Journal they’ve been threatened by leaders of the fringe movement, as did the current board of the Clark County party, which is hiring security for a crucial meeting Tuesday,” the story reads.

Calling itself the “Republican Chamber of Commerce” (despite lacking ties to any known GOP organization), the far-right group first made its presence felt last month when it organized a late surge in votes favoring the censure of Barbara Cegavske, the state’s Republican Secretary of State, for refusing to play along with attempts to overturn the 2020 election results based on Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud.

Since then, it has been preparing to provide a similar wave of votes to sweep three of their three leading figures—Rudy Clai, Matt Anthony and Paul Laramie—into the leadership of the Clark County GOP. The group has no record of doing business anywhere in the state of Nevada, and has no connection to any of the known chamber or Republican groups already established in Nevada.

Yet its website appears to be a nominally mainstream GOP group. Its primary emblem resembles the Republican National Committee’s logo but inverted, with a red elephant on a white background encircled in red with the letters “RCC” and “Republican Chamber of Commerce” within.

Anthony has achieved a level of media notoriety as one of Las Vegas’ most prominent Proud Boys, though he insists the local chapter is nonviolent and nonracist. After the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, he defended the people arrested and warned against a law-enforcement crackdown on “Patriots”: “They’re basically going all in on tyranny, guys. … They’re watching. It’s to be expected. They’re the enemy. They’re going to shut down our ability to communicate.”

As it happens, Anthony is also a fugitive: He is the subject of an arrest warrant from the state of Michigan after he broke probation by moving to Nevada and then refusing to return after Nevada declined to oversee his probation, all stemming from his 2012 arrest on a drug charge.

The group’s Telegram channel—owned by Anthony, and administered by Clai—is titled “Keep Nevada Open,” apparently an offshoot of a Facebook group with the same name that boasted 17,000 members and organized anti-masking and other pandemic-related protests. Appleton describes a review of the channel’s contents by the Clark County GOP executive board, led by chief of staff Richard MacLean:

MacLean showed his fellow board members several pictures and videos posted within the group, though not specifically by Anthony and Clai.

One photo blamed the 9/11 terrorist bombings on Jews. Another video featured a long clip of an Adolf Hitler speech and Nazi soldier marches. Some featured cartoon characters with negative Jewish stereotypes, and one photo featured messages written on dollar bills.

A post even poked fun at Republicans, claiming they seemed to be shocked at certain current events while white nationalists were thrilled by them.

The board promptly ejected the three men from the party. However, on Thursday, 10 people including Anthony and Clai filed a lawsuit against both the county and state party central committees, accusing them of illegally boxing them out of Clark County GOP meetings. They claim Clai and Anthony are heading up an alternative leadership slate, and are running against a mainstream ticket headed up by state Sen. Carrie Buck.

Despite the pushback by local Republican officials, the extremist elements remain emboldened in no small part because national-level Republicans have shown their eagerness to ignore the radicalism and even embrace it. Certainly, the local far-right leaders are confident that the party’s base supports them, and not the establishment players.

“We have the numbers, and they don’t, so they have to play dirty,” Anthony said in an interview Thursday. “It’s that simple.”

McGeachin’s campaign signs feature the hashtag #IAmIdaho. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are at a pivotal moment in history, not just for Idaho but for our nation,” McGeachin said.

Bundy told NBC News on Monday that, despite the filings, he hasn’t formally announced his candidacy, but is preparing to build a campaign organization.

“The people of Idaho are very freedom-minded,” Bundy said. “I had never desired (to run for office), but I knew as early as 2017 that I would run for governor of Idaho.”