A conservative microcelebrity’s upcoming open-carry gun event at Kent State University has support from fringe militias, including members of a hate group, who have pledged to attend, according to social media posts.
Kaitlin Bennett became a Fox News favorite this year after she posed with an AR-10 rifle in her graduation pictures at the Ohio university still infamous for the 1970 killing of anti-war protesters by National Guard troops. Despite graduating, Bennett has hung around Kent State, and is this weekend hosting an open carry event on campus.
The event’s Facebook page reveals support from members of far-right groups that have recently collaborated to form a series of ad-hoc militias at public demonstrations.
“Kent State is in no way sponsoring or endorsing this event, nor did we invite any outside groups to campus,” the university said in a Thursday statement.
But as a public school, they can’t do much to stop it, either. While school policy prohibits students and faculty from carrying guns, guests are allows to carry guns openly on campus.
Neither Bennett nor the group administrating the event returned The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Among the “attending” RSVPs on the event’s Facebook page are more than a dozen people with profile pictures reflecting membership in “three percenter” militias: a loose affiliation of far-right groups that formed in opposition to President Barack Obama immediately after his election. The pro-gun group initially espoused anti-government views but pivoted to supporting the Trump administration.
At least four members of the Proud Boys, a violent ultra-nationalist group, have also said they will attend.
But activists monitoring the event have voiced the most concern over posts indicating American Guard, a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group, will be armed and on campus.
“The American Guard will be there,” one member of the group commented on the event page last week.
The anti-fascist news site It’s Going Down previously flagged comments from that same American Guard member, who indicated that Bennett had reached out to him directly regarding plans for the rally. At least one other person with pictures of himself in American Guard apparel RSVPed for the event.
ACN News, a Facebook page presenting itself as an American Guard news source, said the group would be there with the Proud Boys.
“American Guard Michigan and Ohio chapters will be present with the Ohio Proud Boys,” ACN News announced atop a promotion for the event.
American Guard’s national public relations team said the hate group does not officially sanction ACN News, although American Guard members contribute to it.
“ACN News does not have any official relationship with the American Guard. There are AG member contributors, as well as contributors from other groups, but those roles are independent of the AG,” Ryan Ramsey, the group’s national director of public relations told The Daily Beast.
Ramsey added that he did not know about plans to attend the event. “The Kent State event was unfortunately canceled, as I understand it,” he said.
The event is not canceled.
American Guard’s flagship Indiana chapter, according to the SPLC, sent members to the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last year. Footage of the white supremacist rally showed American Guard members laughing and marching with a crowd of fascist groups who had been chanting “gas the kikes.” Brien James, one of American Guard’s founders who also led the Indiana chapter, has spent decades involved with violent white supremacist groups, and in 2000 allegedly beat a man nearly to death for refusing to throw a Nazi salute, according to the SPLC.
A man the SPLC identified last year as the president of Florida’s American Guard chapter has a large swastika tattoo on his shoulder. The Anti-Defamation League has previously documented American Guard members’ previous membership in white supremacist skinhead gangs and the Ku Klux Klan.
Despite those documented ties to overt white supremacist groups, American Guard joined a number of hate groups in trying to shed its racist image after the Charlottesville rally, going as far as to expel Augustus Invictus, a member who voiced extreme racist views.
“Several of us are former white nationalists,” James, the American Guard leader, said in a Facebook comment about the rift with Invictus. “We are not ashamed of the choices we have made in life. We learn from them and move forward.”
Instead of rallying around white supremacy, American Guard has joined a series of neo-fascist groups ostensibly rallying against leftists. ACN News’ announcement that American Guard would attend the Kent State rally alongside the Proud Boys is typical of these newfound alliances between far-right groups.
Membership between the two militant groups sometimes blurs: Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, a Proud Boy involved in violent brawls in Portland, Oregon earlier this year, posted a Facebook picture indicating American Guard membership or support in July. The photo includes an American Guard logo featuring a person being thrown from a helicopter, in reference to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who threw leftist political foes from the aircraft. Pinochet has become a meme among this set of paramilitary groups, members of which call for the murder of political foes and wear “Pinochet did nothing wrong” shirts in reference to an older fascist meme that declares “Hitler did nothing wrong”.
The two groups, along with other militant organizations, have recently come out in force at events that claim to be pro-free speech or anti-Marxist. American Guard members recently provided security for a Boston event by “Resist Marxism,” a group that markets itself as conservative, but actually serves as a mingling ground for far-right militants, ThinkProgress previously reported.
Proud Boys have planned cross-country trips to the east coast events. Toese and Ethan Nordean, a Proud Boy who made headlines for brawling under the pseudonym “Rufio Panman,” are currently fundraising to pay for a trip to a Resist Marxism event in Rhode Island in October, according to a link Nordean shared on his Facebook page.
The Kent State open carry rally, with its Fox News-approved frontwoman and purported focus on Second Amendment rights, is already being discussed as a potential brawling ground for far-right militias and anti-fascists.
On September 2, a group overseeing the rally attempted to address the potential for fights.
“If you want to come to engage with protestors with hopes of them being physical towards you so you can retaliate, DO NOT COME,” the group wrote. “If you only decided to come AFTER you heard of protestors, DO NOT COME. if you want to fight with protestors, DO NOT COME.”
“Proud boys will be in attendance,” one person with a Proud Boys profile picture responded.