Two members of a nationalist group called the “Proud Boys” showed up at a public protest of a Democratic campaign event in Miami last Wednesday, and their actions are being used to unfairly smear Miami Republicans who not did not invite the Proud Boys and have nothing to do with that group. Missing in most of the media coverage of Wednesday’s events are key facts that show the distance between the Proud Boys and Miami Republicans.
Central to this story is the battle to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in Florida’s 27th Congressional District, a Miami-Dade County district that includes a large part of the city of Miami, Miami Beach, Coral Gables, and the heavily Cuban-American neighborhood of Little Havana. The candidates are the Republican nominee, a popular local media personality named Maria Salazar, and Donna Shalala, a former University of Miami President and former Health and Human Services Secretary for President Bill Clinton, for the Democrats.
The district leans Democrat but Shalala has proven to be a remarkably weak candidate, garnering criticism for her missteps as UM president and a growing narrative that she does not understand the community.
This criticism reached a fever pitch when Shalala’s campaign announced an event featuring House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). In most of the country, Pelosi’s name is a lightning rod for Republicans, who have successfully used her as a fundraising bogeyman for years, but in the 27th District, Lee’s name is the toxic one.
Why? Because of comments Lee made in 2016 after the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro — “We need to stop and pause and mourn his loss” — as well as her advocacy against sanctions for the dictatorial regime in Venezuela. According to Politico’s Marc Caputo, himself a longtime resident of the area, about 57 percent of the voters in District 27 are Hispanic — mostly Cuban, plus large populations of Venezuelans and Nicaraguans, with a strong opposition to the socialist dictators in their respective home countries, Nicolas Maduro and Daniel Ortega.
“Miami’s Republican-leaning Cuban exile community isn’t as powerful as it once was,” wrote Caputo, “but the influx of Venezuelans fleeing Maduro and the rise of Ortega has given Miami-Dade’s Republican Party a renewed sense of focus — and Shalala walked right into that buzz saw.”
In response to Shalala’s planned event with Pelosi and Lee, local Republicans planned to protest the event. After the outcry, Lee cancelled her appearance but Pelosi still showed up. Multiple eyewitness confirmed several dozen local Miami Republican activists showed up — plus the two “Proud Boys,” Enrique Tarrio and Alex Gonzalez.
The video of the rally has since gone viral, and shows the two Proud Boys yelling profanities at Pelosi — “look at this piece of sh** Pelosi” and “you don’t belong here, you f***ing communist,” among other comments — and rushing forward at her as she is escorted inside the event. After she is inside, several people are seen banging on the closed door.
The Miami-area Republican activists were not the ones yelling the profanities and threats at Pelosi, but Miami-Dade GOP Chairman Nelson Diaz was one of the people who joined the banging on the door, for which he has since apologized. Diaz also made clear that he had not invited the Proud Boys to the event, and rejected their hateful messaging as having “no place in our society.”
The protest has drawn criticism across the political spectrum, including from Miami native Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who denounced the protest as “behav[ing] like the repudiation mobs Castro has long used in Cuba” and “borrowing the tactics of left wing mobs.”
RedState reached out to Diaz for comment by phone on Sunday. Said Diaz, “I’ve repeatedly denounced these Proud Boys and all hate groups. I’ve never been associated with this group, will never be associated with this group, and had never even heard of this group until the day after the protest.”
Diaz said that he only recognized about ten of the protestors as members of his Miami GOP organization, out of about sixty who had showed up. Shalala’s event had received a lot of media attention because of a dustup between Shalala and Salazar at their debate the night before, where Salazar had sharply criticized Shalala for having this event with Lee despite Lee’s comments supporting Castro. Further chatter on Spanish talk radio the following day had boosted local awareness of the event, and presumably helped attract the additional protesters.
Predictably, much of the media coverage has failed to draw a distinction between the actions of the two Proud Boys and the Miami Republicans, with Democrats falling all over themselves to attack Republicans as fostering or encouraging the extremist hatred of the Proud Boys, and blaming them for the actions of two men.
One particularly egregious headline comes courtesy of Think Progress, which flat out accused Diaz of having planned the Pelosi protest with Proud Boys. “Another Republican is connected to the far-right hate group,” accuses the sub-headline.
To be clear, the Shalala campaign event was a publicly announced event, as shown by the press release embedded below. (Interestingly, Shalala does not have this press release on her website, even though normally a campaign stop by Pelosi would be a big event for a Democratic candidate — the original inclusion of Lee apparently proved to be just too controversial.)
And again, as noted above, the Miami Republicans are not affiliated with the Proud Boys and did not invite them to join the protest. As Diaz told the Miami Herald and RedState, he was completely unaware of the group’s existence until a few days ago, and he has strongly denounced their actions and words.
Caputo appeared on Joy Reid’s show on MSNBC earlier today by telephone from Miami, and supported Diaz’s description of the event, noting that the most egregious actions shown in the video were by the two Proud Boys. With his long history covering Florida politics, and South Florida in particular, Caputo was able to easily identify the people shown in the video (his comments start at around 2:20 in the video). Caputo also noted that Tarrio, the Proud Boy holding the camera and yelling the profanities, identifies as “Afro-Cuban,” making the media’s portrayal of the Proud Boys as “white supremacists” rather odd.
As soon as Caputo got off the phone, Democrat activist Fernand Amandi still conflated the actions of the Proud Boys and the local Republicans. Amandi had previously tweeted an unfounded accusation that the “Proud Boys mob group” had been “organized by the Miami GOP.”
Not only are the Miami Republicans completely unaffiliated with the Proud Boys, these two Proud Boys have publicly criticized the local Republicans and are publicly supporting an independent candidate for the District 27 seat, Mayra Joli.
Both Joli and the Proud Boys Tarrio and Gonzalez have made public comments and social media posts attacking Miami Republicans and Diaz specifically.
Here’s where it gets even weirder: Joli has campaigned as a strong Trump supporter and criticized Salazar as being insufficiently dedicated to being on the MAGA train, but South Florida Republican activists have been questioning whether Joli is some sort of plant to divide the conservative vote. Joli was previously a lifelong registered Democrat and changed her party affiliation last year. She also has a documented history of donating to Democrats, including Rep. Charlie Crist (after he became a Democrat), Rep. Kendrick Meek, and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
To recap: About ten members of the Miami GOP were among several dozen protesters at a publicly announced Shalala campaign event that had drawn the ire of many in the community because of the planned appearance by a California Democrat who had supported Castro. Two members of the “Proud Boys” who are publicly supporting an independent candidate also showed up, uninvited by the Republicans. Both the Proud Boys and the independent candidate have repeatedly and publicly criticized the Miami GOP. The only noteworthy action by a Miami GOP members is when Diaz is knocking on the door — a steel reinforced door after Pelosi is safely on the other side. At no point was Diaz or any other Miami GOP member yelling profanities or doing anything to threaten or intimidate Pelosi.
But the media and Democrats still accuse the Republicans of “creating mobs” and engaging in hateful conduct. Shalala herself has posted on her Twitter account accusing the Miami GOP and Salazar of “unleash[ing] hate groups” because of the actions of the Proud Boys — again, the Proud Boys who are openly supporting another candidate.
The irony of Trump’s #jobsnotmobs:
Jobs: I’ve created 5,000 jobs in the community.
Mobs: Trump, the Miami GOP, and Salazar have created mobs, right here in Miami. https://t.co/3uTkTNJfsp
— Donna E. Shalala (@DonnaShalala) October 21, 2018
If Salazar as a candidate is willing to unleash hate groups at peaceful campaign events that she disagrees with, what will she do if she is a Member of Congress? 5/7
— Donna E. Shalala (@DonnaShalala) October 20, 2018