An anti-affirmative action campaign used members of the Proud Boys for security—and is now claiming it didn’t realize its protection team was an organization labeled a hate group.
On Nov. 5, voters in Washington state are set to decide on the future of Referendum 88, a measure that would allow affirmative action hiring in public jobs. The measure has support from civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), but faces opposition from a state veterans group and the organization Washington Asians for Equality, which claims the measure would lead to preferential treatment for some groups.
This summer, some of those opponents partnered with a more notorious organization: the Proud Boys, who featured the signature drive in a recently surfaced propaganda video.
The Proud Boys—designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center—prioritizes street fights and has extensive connections to more explicit white supremacist organizations. But unlike many other extremist groups, the Proud Boys frequently cozy up to the more mainstream right. Their current leader, Enrique Tarrio, is a Florida director of Latinos for Trump, despite marching in 2017’s deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In the August video, a Washington Proud Boy claims Referendum 88 backers solicited the Proud Boys’ help in delivering signatures to the secretary of state’s office.
The group “gave us a call asking for security to help take the signatures for Referendum 88 down to the capitol building,” he says in the video, which referendum supporters like the group Washington Fairness surfaced this week.
The video goes on to show the group riding in a truck with the signatures and speaking into walkie-talkies for reasons that are not immediately apparent. The clip concludes with an advertisement for gas masks, which the Proud Boy says he used during a summer brawl with anti-fascists in Portland, Oregon.
Reject Ref. 88, the organization that allegedly hired the Proud Boys, disavowed knowledge of them.
“The Referendum 88 petition drive worked with many volunteers during the signature gathering phase,” organizer Linda Yang said in an email. “We didn’t know the association of these individuals you refer to, nor did they tell us. The Reject Ref.88/I-1000 campaign welcomes people from all walks of life who believe in equality for all, regardless of race. Those who don’t believe in that principle—be they on the far left or the far right—are not welcome in this campaign.”
But as the Seattle Stranger noted, Yang even appeared in the Proud Boys’ video, explaining her opposition to Referendum 88. In the video, she gives different account of her group coming to work with the Proud Boys.
After trying and failing to hire a security company to help deliver referendum signatures, “I got a call saying ‘hey there’s a group, they’re willing to help,’” she said in the video. “I said ‘we’ll take it.’”