On Wednesday, as New York City’s 12-and-up vaccination rate neared 80 percent, a small crowd gathered outside a Staten Island hospital to listen to an Illinois white nationalist rail against vaccines.
“Ninety-eight percent of the people in that building are vaccinated,” Nick Fuentes announced of the hospital. The crowd booed.
Fuentes is a leader of the Groyper movement, a youth-focused white nationalist collective with ties to far-right elected officials like Rep. Paul Gosar. Fuentes is also on an anti-vaccine speaking tour, promoting vaccine hoaxes to fans who travel interstate to stand inside police barricades with him. He’s not the only far-right figure to convert his events into anti-vaccine rallies. From Boston to Los Angeles, longtime extremists are repurposing their rowdy events for vaccine-reluctant crowds.
Fuentes, who attended 2017’s deadly Unite The Right rally and gave a speech outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, advertised Wednesday’s short rally on Telegram, where it was promoted by far-right figures like Baked Alaska, a racist livestreamer currently awaiting trial for his role in the Capitol riot.
Other recent lineups at anti-vaccine events have looked like a Mad Libs for far-right figures.
In Boston this Sunday, the group Super Happy Fun America (SHFA) announced a “Rise Against Tyranny” event, decrying vaccines and face masks. The rally drew predictable backlash, in part because 81 percent of all Massachusetts residents have received a COVID-19 shot, and also because SHFA is a notorious far-right troll collective. The group is a spinoff of the Boston-based organization Resist Marxism, which was founded by violent Proud Boy brawler Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman. Resist Marxism events featured frequent crossover from white supremacist groups like Patriot Front, another rebranded organization that changed its name from Vanguard America after a Vanguard affiliate murdered a woman with a car at Unite The Right.
After establishing itself as SHFA, the group made national headlines for hosting a “Straight Pride” parade that drew more counter-demonstrators than supporters.
A pair of SHFA leaders are currently facing charges for their alleged roles in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The group’s founder, Mark Sahady, as well as SHFA operations director Suzanne Ianni, are co-defendants in a Capitol riot case. Sahady was pictured inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 and has boasted that his group helped organize 11 buses to the pre-riot rally. Nevertheless, he and Ianni have continued to attend far-right rallies, despite bail conditions that lawyers say might require them to keep away from such events.
Ianni promoted the Sunday anti-vaccine rally online, the Natick Patch reported. Two people were arrested at the rally: a counter-demonstrator who was charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with police, and a SFHA member who was charged with operating a motor vehicle to endanger, disturbing the peace, and disorderly conduct. The SFHA member is accused of plowing a U-Haul through police barricades after a confrontation with counter-demonstrators. A police report casts doubt on the driver’s self-defense claims, noting that “a reasonable person would not have accelerated so quickly to ram down a barrier and risk seriously injuring anyone in the general area around the van or the barrier.”
In Los Angeles, meanwhile, far-right figures have led regular scuffles at what are ostensibly anti-vaccine demonstrations. In reality, those events have served as meet-ups for members of the far-right group the Proud Boys and their associates, who have been filmed assaulting journalists at the event.
During one such August rally, a far-right brawler was filmed assaulting a female journalist while shouting at peers to “unmask them all.” At that same rally, a reporter for National Public Radio affiliate KPCC was shoved and kicked and verbally assaulted, reportedly by Proud Boys, while trying to conduct an interview.
Fuentes’s Wednesday rally in Staten Island was conducted inside a police barricade with a large police presence. Still, Fuentes wore a protective vest and described himself as being in danger, announcing that “they are gonna have to kill me before I get this vaccine.”
A gentle stream of Staten Island traffic continued unimpeded behind him, as he went on to announce that the event’s planned march to an anti-vaccine pub was canceled, because the bar was actually closed.