Report: Violent, far-right groups on the rise in Nevada (updated)

Report: Violent, far-right groups on the rise in Nevada (updated)
Members of the Proud Boys at a re-open Nevada protest May 2, 2020 in Carson City. Image: Ty O'Neil / This Is Reno

By Jeri Davis and Bob Conrad

RENO — A report this week warns of armed militia groups in Nevada and speculates about their potential to disrupt voting in the upcoming election. The report is the product of a collaboration between national nonprofit Political Research Associates and local progressive groups Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) and Indivisible Northern Nevada.

“This report was motivated by the increased presence of armed militia groups at political events around Nevada and by a growing number of violent incidents and plots in Nevada and nationwide,” it states in its opening. 

The report also says “that such groups could carry out violent attacks both before and after the 2020 elections” and questions the possibility that “armed groups will show up as ‘poll watchers’ and attempt to intimidate voters.”

It gives an overview of different armed militia groups—including the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Bois and the Three Percenters. The document also highlights numerous instances of far-right violence, including the armed re-open Nevada protest at the Governor’s Mansion in May and the August attacks on Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Douglas County. The report lists incidents as far back as 1988, when Tony Montgomery, a Black man, was murdered in Sparks by two Neo-Nazis.

The authors urge public officials to use existing state laws, which it outlines, “to clamp down on illegal militia activity.”

Political Research Associates has also helped organizations in other western states to similarly document the rise of right-wing militia activity, including a 2016 Oregon report penned shortly after the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Identifying modern armed militias

The authors say violent, right-wing organizations are growing in the Silver State.

“Right-wing organizations, armed militias and white supremacy groups are a shifting concatenation of organizations that regularly expand, contract, split into factions and rebrand themselves to become less politically toxic,” the authors say.

It correctly notes that today’s armed groups go by names that may not even have existed a decade ago—like Boogaloo Bois, Oath Keepers, Three Percent Militia, Proud Boys and Atomwaffen Division—and each of which have a presence in Nevada. 

Each is also a part of what the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has labeled the “most persistent and lethal threat to the homeland.”

The DHS annual assessment in which this statement was made was not released until earlier this month when, according to the New York Times, an “intelligence chief-turned-whistle-blower … accused the department of blocking the report and directing analysts to play down the threat of violent white racism as well as Russian election interference to align the agency’s message with the president’s.”

According to the Times, this assessment echoed a similar warning by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who recently told Congress that white, racially motivated violent extremism makes up the majority of domestic terrorism threats.

The report contradicts “President Trump’s continued insistence about the dangers posed by ‘Antifa’ and other ‘radical left’ movements.” While pockets of far-left violence exist, such as in Portland, Oregon, Black Lives Matter demonstrations comparatively have far less documented violence. Another report released yesterday also found that most arrested at protests are young suburban adults, not left-wing radicals.

The report acknowledges that white nationalists and Neo-Nazi militants constitute “a tiny minority of Americans” and of Nevadans, in a state that is currently run by a Democratic governor and Democratic majority state legislature. 

Nonetheless, it warns, the concern is “that even a tiny minority of far-right activists” and white supremacists could cause many problems leading up to and even following the presidential election on Nov. 3.

“Most dangerous of all, they have been encouraged by President Trump’s false claims about election fraud and his all-too-explicit message to ‘stand back and stand by,’” the report reads.

Armed groups explored

The report examines and outlines armed militia groups with presences in Nevada: the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Bois, the Three Percenters, Atomwaffen Division and the Oath Keepers.

According to the report, “the Proud Boys presents itself as an edgy male drinking club for ‘Western chauvinists.’ Members of the Proud Boys have engaged in violence at past protests.” 

The report notes that the FBI has designated it an extremist group with ties to white nationalism. It is designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the group has been suspended from Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms.

The Proud Boys have made their presence in Nevada known at rallies in Reno, Carson City and Minden. They’ve been visible and vocal at events like the “Mask-free Nevada” and “Re-open Nevada” rallies, as well as the Reno Elections rally at City Plaza in 2018, at which Proud Boys attended to show support for right-wing political candidates for mayor, school board and Reno City Council.

A suspected Boogaloo Bois in tropical print shirt at a protest July 11, 2020 in Carson City.

The report next discusses the Boogaloo Bois—a loosely organized movement comprising far-right extremists, according to multiple sources, which also claims to be anti-racist—whose members’ trademark Hawaiian shirt under an armored vest with weapons and ammo magazines started as a racist meme and only morphed into an in-the-flesh movement in recent years. The name stems from the 1984 movie Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, but it has long been associated with racist violence and the prediction of a second civil war. More than 30 people associated with Boogaloo Bois have been arrested since 2019 with charges ranging from conspiring with terrorists, illegal firearms possession, trafficking steroids, possession of an explosive device, child exploitation to making terrorist threats.

“That vision came close to realization in Las Vegas on May 30, 2020,” the report notes. “Three Boogaloo members were arrested on their way to a Black Lives Matter rally and charged by federal prosecutors with conspiring to ‘maliciously damage or destroy, by means of fire and explosives, buildings and other personal or real property.’ According to the prosecutors’ complaint, the three had originally planned to firebomb a Nevada Energy substation, but instead they went to the Black Lives Matter rally with the intention of tossing Molotov cocktails.”

The third group the report discusses are the Three Percenters. This group’s name stems from the incorrect claim often repeated by people that only 3% of the American colonists took up arms against the British during the American Revolution. The group’s members say they’re pushing back against tyranny within the state and federal government—but they also push back against liberal ideas and movements like Black Lives Matter.

In Nevada, the Three Percenters are deeply entrenched. Several of the group’s members were involved in Cliven Bundy’s armed standoff in Bunkerville against the Bureau of Land Management in southern Nevada, as well as in Ammon Bundy’s 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

The report notes that one “of the most visible Three Percenters in Nevada is Corey Lequieu, who was sentenced in 2016 to 2.5 years in federal prison for his role in the 41-day armed occupation of Malheur. Lequieu is a vocal and avowed racist who celebrates the Confederate flag in person and on social media. He also supports QAnon, which foments the conspiracy theory that a ‘deep state’ dominated by Democrats is conducting child sex trafficking.” QAnon was recently banned from Facebook for stoking unfounded conspiracies. YouTube has also severely curtailed the group’s ability to post videos.

Known Three Percenter Corey Lequieu stands with capitol police and other law enforcement outside the Capitol during a Black Lives Matter protest in Carson City on Aug. 29, 2020.

This Is Reno reporters and photographers have encountered Lequieu while covering protest activities in Carson City. He and other armed demonstrators sometimes “stand guard” over the police memorial in Carson City since someone made the unfounded claim that BLM movement supporters had plans to tear it down. Lequieu and the other “guards” are openly hostile toward media members and others who get near the memorial while it’s under their watch.

The Oath Keepers, also present at the Bundy standoff in Southern Nevada, according to the report, “presents itself as an organization of current and former members of law enforcement, the military and other first responders. Its stated purpose is to organize and train its members to refuse to obey ‘unconstitutional orders.’”

However, the Oath Keepers have shown up to oppose rallies for racial and social justice, including the ones that took place in Ferguson, Missouri, following the killing of Michael Brown.

“Two weeks before the 2016 presidential election, Oath Keepers issued a ‘call to action’ for its members to station at polling places and guard against purported election fraud,” the report reads. “At the time, then-candidate Donald J. Trump was making vocal accusations that the election would be ‘rigged.’”

Atomwaffen Division is an active hate group here in Nevada. According to the report, it’s a “notorious neo-Nazi group that has been eager for a race war and whose members have conspired to carry out attacks on Jewish institutions.” In 2018, ProPublica reported the group held a three-day “hate camp” in the desert to train its members on combat and the use of weapons.

Nevada law prohibits some militia activity

After laying out a timeline of acts of violence perpetrated or attempted by members of various militia in Nevada, the report argues that it is within the power of the state to prohibit militia activities the likes of which have been seen increasingly during protest gatherings.

“If armed groups go one step further and show up as purported ‘poll watchers’ at voting places, they will effectively be engaging in voter intimidation—a felony—and threatening the most fundamental practice of  democracy,” the report warns before giving its reasoning behind the claim that the state already has the power to stop militia gatherings at public protests and pretty much anywhere else they congregate.

“The Nevada Constitution takes up the issue in Article I, Section 11, which provides that ‘the military shall be subordinate to the civil power’ and thus expressly forbids militias not under state authority,” the report explains.

The issue is also taken up in Nevada Revised Statutes, something the report explores in depth.

NRS 412.604, about “State Militias,” covers the “unlawful drill or parade with arms by voluntary company or voluntary organization without license.” Violating it constitutes a misdemeanor.

Subsection (1) reads: “It is unlawful for any body of persons whatever, other than the Nevada National Guard and the troops of the United States, to associate themselves together as a volunteer military company or volunteer military organization to drill or parade with arms in any city or town of this state, without the license of the Governor, which license may at any  time be revoked.”

NRS 203.080, in the chapter on “Crimes Against the Public Peace,” prohibits people associating with unauthorized military companies.

Subsection (1): “It shall be unlawful for any body of individuals other than municipal police  university or public school cadets or companies, militia of the State or troops of the United States, to associate themselves together as a military company with arms without the consent of the Governor.” Violation here is also a misdemeanor.

Three Percenters “stand guard” at the Pioneer Center in downtown Reno during a peaceful Black Lives Matter vigil June 7, 2020.

Other provisions in the Nevada Revised Statutes cover issues that also pertain to formal or informal militia activity. These cover the usurpation of law enforcement authority, including people who falsely impersonate police or the military; the display of deadly weapons; and the publication of materials aimed at inciting the commission of a crime.

NRS 197.120 includes a provision on “Crimes By and Against the Executive Power of the State.” It provides that “Every person who shall falsely personate [sic] or represent any public officer . . . or who shall willfully exercise any of the functions or perform any of the duties of such officer, without having qualified therefore [sic] . . . shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor.”

NRS 202.320 is titled “Drawing deadly [a] weapon in a threatening manner.” Although the title only refers to “drawing” a deadly weapon, Subsection (1) also prohibits exhibiting a deadly weapon “in a rude, angry or threatening manner not in necessary self-defense.”

Having summed up the revised statutes pertaining to militia, the report argues that its provisions should make their activity illegal—whether that’s “poll watching” or “keeping the peace” at BLM marches or “guarding” the police memorial in Carson City.

“Contrary to the apparent perception of many armed militias, nothing in the law allows them to usurp the duties of official law enforcement officers; in fact, any such usurpation is plainly illegal,” the report concludes.

Law enforcement sympathetic to far-right groups

Militia activity in Nevada has received generally hands-off treatment by law enforcement, unless a major crime is committed. Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong has cited and arrested Black Lives Matter protesters while incidents frequently have armed militia screaming, one through a megaphone, at deputies to arrest the BLM members. 

The Minden violence in August is being reviewed by the Nevada Attorney General’s Office following complaints. Douglas County Sheriff Dan Coverley had BLM protesters assigned to a designated area, which allowed them to be surrounded by hundreds of counter-demonstrators, many of them armed and shouting racial and hostile epithets. At least two assaults were recorded on video. 

Sheriff Dan Coverley after holding a press conference prior to the BLM protest in Minden on Aug. 8, 2020. Image: Lucia Starbuck / KUNR Public Radio

“I am looking for all video or audio recordings of the event,” said Steven LeMaire, criminal investigator with the A.G.’s office. “Also, if you were a victim of a crime that occurred against you on this date, please provide me with the details of the allegations and if you attempted to report the crime to the Sheriff’s office. Please also provide your name and phone number for a follow up interview.” (His number is 702-486-5889.) 

The A.G.’s office said it could not confirm an investigation was underway and said LeMaire’s statement was “standard … when we receive complaints on a matter…”

There’s increasing evidence that law-enforcement officers are sympathetic to far-right groups while decrying leftist activities. UNR Police, Sparks Police and the Reno Police Department each have had officers posting antagonistic missives on social media about leftists. In most cases, officers remain on the force, officials won’t comment on their behavior, and they appear to get to keep their jobs with few repercussions, if any.

This Is Reno reached out to the attorney general’s office and sheriffs Coverley and Furlong, as well as Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam and Reno Police Chief Jason Soto to seek comment on the report and militia activity in their jurisdictions. Sheriff Balaam’s office informed us that he had been traveling and had yet to read the report. Chief Soto and sheriffs Coverley and Furlong did not respond.

Soto contacted This Is Reno after this story was published and offered the following statement about ensuring integrity in the voting process locally. He said the Reno Police Department will have a presence at polling locations.

“Just yesterday I spoke with the poll watchers at the Double Diamond Athletic Club regarding an individual that was told to leave the premises by RPD because of his inappropriate behavior(s) and poll watcher/staff members stated how incredibly professional officers were in handling the situation,” he said. “Up to this point, this was the only complaint we have received thus far and handled it immediately. I have also assigned eight…officers to work overtime on [Nov. 3] for polling locations to make sure voters feel safe in their environment.

“Although nearly all actual polling locations are being held at schools/county buildings, we (RPD) realize that they are within our city and want to ensure EVERYBODY is able to vote in a safe manner. Finally, RPD has also reached out to School police and [the Washoe County Sheriffs Office] to ensure all voting locations are accounted for,” he added.

Attorney General Ford’s office provided a written statement concerning militia activity: 

“AG Ford has been active in the fight against violent extremism in Nevada for years. During the last legislative session, AG Ford sponsored a law to criminalize producing fake court documents – a common tactic used by so-called “sovereign citizens” to scam and terrorize Nevadans. For example, these groups will produce fake liens against properties, send people judgments in fake courts, and even issue fake indictments and arrest warrants. Sovereign citizens were responsible for the Bundy standoff and a plot to kidnap and execute a police officer in Nevada. These individuals often target law enforcement officers, court officials, and others who represent the government of Nevada. In testimony on the bill, law enforcement officers testified to the increasingly aggressive threat from sovereign citizens in Nevada.

“A report from the Department of Homeland Security just weeks ago stated that, “Among DVEs [Domestic Violent Extremists], racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists—specifically white supremacist extremists (WSEs)—will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.”… The DHS report and the report you refer to…specifically reference the threat to election activities. Recognizing this threat and the need to safeguard our elections from any threats that prevent people from voting, AG Ford has taken swift action to protect Nevadans’ right to vote. Our office is working closely with the Secretary of State and our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to identify any threats to our elections. AG Ford has been very clear: if anyone attempts to intimidate voters or interfere with elections in Nevada, they will be subject to prosecution.

Is the threat of poll watchers real?

Armed militias “patrolling” peaceful events doesn’t seem likely to be stopped any time soon—and it’s also worth noting that right-wing arms bearers are not the only ones at events these days. 

Increasingly, people in support of social justice marches and Black Lives Matter have come to events armed. In fact, it was a BLM supporter who accidentally discharged his weapon at a protest in Carson City in August. 

However, when it comes to “poll watching” that’s a different animal—because while poll watching is perfectly legal, voter intimidation is a felony. Armed poll watching thus seems like a clear cut violation.

The report encourages the following from anyone who believes they’ve witnessed voter intimidation at the polls in the coming weeks: “Report any troubling actions to a poll worker and call and report to the nonpartisan Election Protection Hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE or the U.S. Department of Justice’s Voting Section at: 1- 800-253-3931. 

“Most importantly, do not be misled by the efforts of some to delegitimize the results of this election,” the authors state. “Understand that there are some unique challenges because of COVID-19, so we cannot expect to know the results on election night. 

“Please remember that voting is one of our most important rights as Americans, and election officials have the duty to ensure every eligible vote, each voice, is counted. Do not become impatient for the victor to be determined; remember, you can trust the process,” the authors add.