Three months in as the House GOP conference’s new chairwoman, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) plans to take the stage next week with a MAGA operative who has an extremist past and played a key role in “Stop the Steal” efforts to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory.
The operative, Virginia native Scott Presler, has a years-long history of extremist activism, including serving as a top strategist for an organization that the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center deemed the largest anti-Muslim hate group in the United States. Presler, who in 2017 stunted for disgraced Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Judge Roy Moore, also helped organize multiple “Stop the Steal” protests leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. He later attended the riot, describing it as the “largest civil rights protest in American history” in a tweet with video of the crowd.
The joint appearance with Stefanik, slated for an Aug. 25 rally and voter registration drive in Saratoga, New York, highlights the four-term Republican’s ongoing pivot to an extremist MAGA base still in thrall to ex-President Donald Trump and the notion that the 2020 election was unfairly decided.
Stefanik, who for years both campaigned and voted as a right-of-center Republican, has pivoted to fully embrace the Trump wing of her party. In January she challenged the Electoral College results and later voted against a Jan. 6 commission. Most recently, Stefanik drew backlash for pushing false narratives about the attempted insurrection.
On a personal level, however, that pivot appears to have paid off.
In May, when House Republicans booted anti-Trump Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) as GOP conference chair, Stefanik landed the position—and touted Presler’s endorsement along the way.
Presler, 30, has generally skated below the headlines, but his social media extremist activism dates back years and, fueled by his 830,000-follower Twitter account, has attracted enough attention to spur protests at his events.
In 2014, Presler, who is openly gay, stumped for Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign, and two years later backed Trump’s 2016 presidential bid. Then, from 2017 to 2018, he worked as a strategist for ACT for America, an organization SPLC has designated as an anti-Muslim hate group.
According to SPLC, ACT “pushes wild anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, denigrates American Muslims” and intentionally commingles mainstream and radical Islamic beliefs. Extremist watchdog ADL says the group “stokes irrational fears” about Muslims and “traffics in paranoia that vilifies the American Muslim community.”
In his role at ACT, Presler took the lead in organizing a nationwide series of “March Against Sharia” rallies in mid-2017. As the group’s Facebook administrator, he oversaw what SPLC characterized as a “plentiful” outpouring of “racist and violent content,” collaborated with avowed neo-Nazi Billy Roper, and co-organized a rally with Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson in Portland, Oregon, which the city eventually canceled.
NPR reported that Roper said on a podcast ahead of the planned Arkansas march that “we want to send a message to Muslims that they are not welcome in our communities,” and “ultimately we want to send a message to Muslims that they’re not welcome in our nation and, of course, endgame, on our planet.” When SPLC flagged Roper’s involvement, ACT canceled the event, saying it “became aware that the organizer is associated with white supremacist groups,” according to a statement.
“This is against all of our values,” the statement said. (Roper’s wife posted emails Roper and Presler had exchanged earlier, in which Presler told Roper, “You are approved and ready to go.”)
Still, a number of fascist and militia groups were reportedly present at “March Against Sharia” events. Those groups include members of white supremacist organizations Identity Evropa and Vanguard America, both of which later played roles in 2017’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In 2019, Twitter suspended Presler’s account after he posted, “Black lives murdered by criminal illegal aliens don’t matter,” which the website said violated its rules against hateful conduct. And that summer, Pressler embarked on a concern-trolling venture to ostensibly clean up trash in West Baltimore, at the time represented by the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), after Trump tweeted that the district was a “rodent infested mess.”
Presler later took that show on the road, popping up to supposedly clean up streets in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Kenosha, Wisconsin. The San Francisco outlet Mission Local described Presler’s crew “filming trash, needles, and feces—and asking homeless people whether the government should prioritize their needs over immigrants.”
While Presler denies these clean-up stunts had anything to do with politics, he has an explicit parallel political history.
In 2017, Presler went to bat for Judge Roy Moore, a Republican Senate candidate in Alabama who was at the time under fire for allegations of child molestation. After the allegations surfaced, Presler sprang to Moore’s defense for weeks—pushing false claims about the accusations, pumping up Moore surrogate Steve Bannon’s assertions that the disgraced judge had “honor and integrity,” and attempting to discredit the victims.
“This Roy Moore accuser has a ‘violent nature’ and was arrested on a felony charge for forging checks,” Presler tweeted on Nov. 17. He also tweeted multiple times about a poll showing that 71 percent of Alabama Republicans believed the allegations are false. “Voters know the difference between unsubstantiated allegations versus photographic evidence of Al Franken molesting a sleeping woman,” Presler wrote.
Moore lost the election to former Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), the first Democratic senator to represent the state in 20 years.
Last year, Presler’s activism found him flirting with QAnon and COVID denialism. And after Trump’s election loss in November, he stepped into an organizing role for “Stop the Steal” rallies across the country, including in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he held an interview with white nationalist conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec. That movement culminated in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which Presler vowed multiple times he would attend. He later tweeted footage of himself at the event.
Presler, who spoke at CPAC 2021 in Orlando, has dedicated his 2021 to a nationwide tour aimed at unseating Trump dissenters in the GOP ranks. He aligned himself in that effort with Stefanik, who has easily defended her seat in a reliably conservative upstate district and has not yet drawn a serious primary opponent. But Stefanik’s rise to House leadership has made her a top target for Democrats, who will try to exploit her radical drift among moderate voters and have already begun pouring money into 2022 challengers.
And recent social media posts suggest Presler has planted himself in Stefanik’s home state of New York, where he has been “harvesting” voter registrations, according to an Aug. 15 Facebook post. He also appears on the payroll for RISE NY PAC, the state-level PAC behind the upcoming Stefanik event.
That PAC paid Presler only once—$5,000 in June, according to New York campaign finance records. It is listed as a “bonus.”