Photo via Politcal Salsa/Facebook
A planned social media forum at this week's annual Political Salsa
, a private "non-partisan political mixer" for Central Florida candidates, has been canceled after one of the hosts was discovered to have connections with the "Proud Boys" alt-right group.
Though the rest of the event will still happen, organizers have scrapped the social media portion of Political Salsa, which was designed to have local politicians interact and answer questions from two hosts covering the political spectrum: Orlando Sentinel
contributor and local activist T.J. Legacy-Cole and Central Florida Post
publisher and InfoWars contributor Jacob Engels, who's a supporter and self-described "investigator" of the Florida Proud Boys chapter.
For those unfamiliar with the Proud Boys, the group was founded by Vice News
co-founder Gavin McInnes, who has a long history of gross statements – like when he told a New York Press
reporter that he lived in the progressive-leaning Williamsburg neighborhood because, “Well, at least they’re not niggers or Puerto Ricans. At least they’re white,” or that time he told NBC, "I’m not a fan of Islam. I think it’s fair to call me Islamophobic."
The Proud Boys, known for wearing black-and-yellow polo shirts and not masturbating so they'll feel more inclined to impregnate women (seriously
), don't shy away from advertising their stances on things like Islamophobia, anti-semitism
and misogyny, all of which are threads in something they call "Western Chauvinism."
Last year, the group was part of the Charlottesville
"Unite the Right" rally, which resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer
at the hands of a white supremacist
It's also worth noting that the Southern Poverty Law Center
classifies the Proud Boys as a "hate group" (the Proud Boys say they are not), and that Engels has been featured on SPLC's "Hate Watch
" for what he says was "standing against forced female genital mutilation and attacks on women/LGBT from Radical Islam."
When asked about Engels' connection with the Proud Boys, because he is frequently seen wearing the uniform and is often at organized rallies alongside Proud Boys
, he said, "[I] have many friends in the organization and have spent time at meet-ups, trying to investigate these accusations of racism, homophobia. As a gay man, I’ve encountered nothing but an atmosphere of welcoming and intense love for America."
Engels, who can be seen in the bottom right, wearing the Proud Boys shirt and giving the alt-right 'OK' hand signal
So when it was announced
on Aug. 3 that Engels would join Legacy-Cole as a moderator, commenters argued that Engels should not be invited, calling him out as a "Proud Boy white supremacist." Following weeks of intense public backlash
, specifically from the Orlando Democratic Socialists of America, last night Legacy-Cole posted a Facebook Live video
saying he has withdrawn from the event.
"There was a lot of infighting going on, and there was a personal vendetta between Engels and Stephanie Murphy's camp," says Legacy-Cole. "My intentions were to increase voter awareness, and to have an opportunity to go head-to-head with Engels and challenge his beliefs and affiliations."
Besides a nixed moderator, at least one candidate has also pulled out of the event. A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy's campaign says the Congresswoman will not be participating in Thursday's event despite previously confirming her attendance. The spokesperson wouldn't confirm if Engels' presence caused Murphy to decline the invitation, but Murphy has been a frequent target of Engels' publication.
The Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida, the organization that hosts Political Salsa, said the decision to invite Engels was not "fully vetted" by its board, according to Marie E. Masson, the association's president.
"That was a decision made by the event organizer and not the board," she says. "That was the reason we decided to remove the [social media aspect]. … We do not want to present at all any appearance or involvement with any organization that supports hate groups. They don't represent our core values and we can't share our platform."
Legacy-Cole says that this is actually false, and that Engels was fully vetted. "I'm not defending Engels' or his affiliations," says Legacy-Cole, "but I'm disappointed in this statement." While his event was cancelled, Legacy-Cole says he has yet to receive media credentials.
On Wednesday, the PRBAF released a statement regarding the cancellation, pointing out that the ordeal has become a "distraction from our main goal to bring voters and candidates together" and that their decision was not meant to "curtail anyone’s freedom of speech."
"Regardless of what may have been rumored, or posted on social media recently, please be assured that the PRBAF does not endorse media personalities, or organizations that promote extremism, hate, racism, or bigotry," the statement said. "We have never agreed to provide a platform for racism, or white supremacy, and our intent to involve social media collaborators was simply to engage a younger generation of voters and provide a two-sided perspective on the same political issues that are normally covered by traditional media."
Masson added that Engels will not be allowed to attend the event as a credentialed member of the press, though he can attend with the rest of general public.
Engels responded to the cancellation, arguing that it's a shame Legacy-Cole was pressured to cancel.
"While I’m being accused of being racist, which I am not, a bunch of radical white liberals ruined an event where a progressive like TJ Legacy was being featured," Engels said in an email.
The 2018 Political Salsa is still planned for Thursday, Aug. 16. As of now, several candidates will be in attendance, including: Orange County Sheriff candidates Joe Lopez and John Mina; District 9 congressional candidates Darren Soto, Alan Grayson and Wayne Liebnitzky; and Orange County mayoral candidates Pete Clarke, Jerry Demings and Rob Panepinto.
Except for Stephanie Murphy, the rest of the candidates for Congressional District 7 will be in attendance, including State Rep. Mike Miller, Chardo Richardson and Scott Sturgill, a Republican who has hilariously said he wants undocumented immigrants to somehow pay for Trump's border wall
Editor's note: This story has since been updated to include quotes from Legacy-Cole.
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