Photo by Dave Decker for Creative Loafing Tampa Bay
During a Friday Trump campaign rally at Florida’s largest retirement community, the Villages, a man wearing a Proud Boys hat was spotted repeatedly flashing the “White Power” hand gesture directly behind the president’s podium.
At one point the president said, “We have made America proud again.” The man then responded by throwing up the gesture, while smirking towards the camera.
Since the 2016 election, the far-right extremist group Proud Boys has typically been relegated to the wings of Florida politics. But ever since Trump ordered the self-described “Western Chauvinists” to “stand down, and stand by” at the first presidential debate, the group has become increasingly visible, especially at recent Republican campaign rallies in Florida.
Just days following the debate, Proud Boys were present at Donald Trump Jr.’s Tampa rally
. And, last weekend, multiple members of the group provided event security for a “Pro America” event in Milton, Florida, that featured Congressman Matt Gaetz, reports WEAR-TV
It’s important to note that Gaetz has a long history of cozying up with far-right figures like the Proud Boys (including white supremacist Holocaust deniers
The congressman expressed this during his weekly podcast, where he claimed (in the most Trumpian way possible) that he didn’t know anything about the group. "I don't know much about the Proud Boys in terms of their doctrine and ideology, but I do know a Proud Boy and he's a gay rights activist," said Gaetz, seemingly referencing an Orlando provocateur who claims to be “embedded” in the group
The congressman also stated that the Proud Boys can’t possibly be violent racists because they were helping secure an event that featured “Black voices for Trump.”
"As I was leaving the event, someone came up to me and said did you notice who was helping with security," Gaetz shared on the podcast. "I said no and she said, the Proud Boys. I thought, my goodness, the Proud Boys providing security and safety for the Black voices for Trump attending a pro-America rally in the Deep South … doesn't seem to match their characterization."
Gaetz later confirmed to WEAR-TV that the Proud Boys did in fact provide security for the event.
Like QAnon and Blacks for Trump
, the Proud Boys have now become a regular fixture at GOP events. Of course, none of this should be too surprising. Trump has forced the fringe into the mainstream, and very few leaders in the GOP seem to care enough to disavow any of it.
We’re now at the point where major GOP super-PACs are throwing massive amounts of money at QAnon-pushing Republican candidates
, so why wouldn’t the GOP embrace a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group that was part of the Charlottesville
"Unite the Right" rally?
This story first appeared on our sister paper's site, Creative Loafing Tampa.
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