Hardcore MAGA candidates on the fall ballot present a dilemma for Republican Party officials in blue states: As their nominees, party leaders are obligated to get behind them and offer at least nominal logistical support, but their inevitable extremism threatens to taint every other Republican by association since the bulk of those candidates are furiously working to downplay the GOP’s MAGA radicalism. Inevitably, the extremism wins out.
Exhibit A is Joe Kent, the GOP congressional nominee in southwestern Washington state’s 3rd Congressional District. Kent’s long-running propensity for associations with right-wing extremists—including Proud Boys and white nationalists—wound up casting a shadow over the state Republican Party this week when it was revealed that a neo-Nazi who interviewed Kent for his podcast had also been hired, and then abruptly fired, as a campaign worker by the Washington GOP.
Greyson Arnold, who runs a white nationalist media outlet called Pure Politics (booted from Twitter, but still present on Telegram) based in Arizona, not only interviewed Kent for his podcast in person in a small town in Washington, but actively campaigned for awhile for both Kent and the Republican Party, Daily Beast’s Zachary Petrizzo reports.
The Washington GOP cut Arnold a check for $821.87 on July 15 for his campaign work. But a state Republican spokesperson said he had been fired shortly after being hired.
“When the Washington State Republican Party became aware of this individual staffer’s conduct and views expressed on social media, we terminated the employee,” Communications Director Ben Gonzalez told Petrizzo. “He no longer works for the party. The stated viewpoints in question do not reflect the values of the Republican Party.”
CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski had previously reported that not only had Arnold been photographed with Kent at an April fundraiser, he also canvassed for GOP candidates with Washington State Young Republicans. At a Trump rally in Michigan, he was photographed wearing a Joe Kent shirt. In April, according to the Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner, Arnold also posted a photo taken at a King County Republican Party fundraiser, saying he was there “after a personal invite.” Arnold was also photographed with Kent at his victory party in July.
Arnold apparently traveled to Yelm—a small town south of Olympia—for a Kent campaign event in July to interview him there, and had to ask Kent what town they were in. They eagerly conversed about the “America First agenda”—which Republican officeholders like Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz, and Marjorie Taylor Greene use to describe their Trumpian caucus in the House, but which also indicates their allegiance to Nicholas Fuentes’ white nationalist organization of the same name, and with which all of them have associated. Gosar in particular has become white nationalists’ favorite Congress member, and Kent told Arnold that he had been getting advice from Gosar while visiting Arizona.
“Paul Gosar has been excellent, obviously immigration—border state down there. He took me down to the border, so I got a firsthand feel of all the crises we face there,” said Kent. “Representative Gosar also has some awesome legislation he’s proposed about getting rid of a lot of the legal immigration.”
On his “Pure Politics” Telegram channel, as well as his now-suspended Twitter account, “American Greyson” (as he refers to himself) has shared posts describing Nazis as the “pure race,” and complaining that Americans should have sided with the Germans in World War II. He also has referenced antisemitic conspiracy theories, claiming there were “Jewish plans to genocide the German people,” and shared a quote saying that the “Jewish led colored hordes of the Earth” were attempting to exterminate white people. Arnold has advocated shooting refugees and killing undocumented immigrants.
Arnold also praised Hitler on Twitter: “He is definitely a complicated historical figure which many people misunderstand, the events of Weimar Germany are not taught for a reason,” he wrote.
When the association became public, Kent’s campaign tried desperately to create distance between the candidate and Arnold. Spokesperson Matt Braynard at first told Kaczynski that the campaign “does not do background checks on the thousands of people who’ve asked to take selfies with Joe.”
Then, when the video of the Yelm interview—in which it was fairly clear the two were acquainted, and it’s unclear how or why Arnold would have made it to the locale without help from the campaign or Kent—Braynard retorted: “Joe Kent had no idea who that individual was when he encountered him on the street and Joe Kent has repeatedly condemned the statements that the individual is accused of making.”
The campaign added that Arnold “is not in any way part of our campaign nor would we allow our campaign to be associated with someone who has that background. We also have no record of any contribution from that individual and if we had received one, we’d return it.”
Arnold created a stir in Oregon in 2021 when he interviewed one of the state’s top Republican officials, Solomon Yue, for his podcast. Yue promised on the podcast to use his influence within the GOP to promote “America First” candidates. “If somebody like the NRCC (National Republican Congressional Committee) came to us, asking for favors both in terms of money and in terms of a boots on the ground, I would have leveraged that,” Yue told Arnold. “I would ask, ‘What are you going to give to me in return,’ right? In return, you cannot support, in the primary, you can’t support your incumbents. You have to allow people to decide, and Republican voters to decide.”Campaign Action
Arnold is one of Fuentes’ top lieutenants in America First. However, in February, Kent got into a well-publicized spat with Fuentes after the latter’s infamous America First PAC convention at which a number of Republicans spoke. Fuentes also caught considerable attention for praising Russia’s Vladimir Putin and comparing him favorably to Adolf Hitler.
These remarks sent Kent—who has continuously embraced the America First label, and reportedly had conversed with Fuentes about social media strategy—running for cover. Fuentes went on his popular podcast and described the call with Kent. One of Kent’s Republican opponents called on him to denounce the association with Fuentes.
Kent, who has a Twitter following of 125,000, claimed his opponents were “spreading lies about me,” and insisted that he condemned Fuentes’ politics. He said he didn’t seek the white nationalist’s endorsement “due (to) his focus on race/religion.”
About a month before the dispute broke out, Kent had been interviewed by David Carlson of the Groyper-adjacent white nationalist group American Populist Union (which shortly thereafter rebranded itself as American Virtue), a kind of competing far-right organization that embraces most of the ideological fundamentals of white nationalism but tries to eschew the incendiary rhetoric of groups like Fuentes.
After the feud broke out with the Groypers—culminating in Fuentes taunting Kent, “You’re not for white people. You’re not for America. You’re not for Christianity. You’re not for our heritage”—Carlson reinterviewed Kent, who repeated his reasons for distancing himself from Fuentes, more for strategic reasons than ideological ones. He told Carlson:
Yeah, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with there being a white people special interest group. They have to be very careful about the way they couch that and the way they frame that, obviously in terms of messaging and in terms of getting credibility. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. As far as me running as a candidate, running out there and saying this is all about white people, that does not seem like a winning strategy.
Moreover, Kent’s associations with conspiracists and far-right activists, including white nationalists, are extensive and varied. This is particularly the case with Kent’s long association with Joey Gibson, the founder and leader of the street-brawling group Patriot Prayer, which has an extensive history with a rotating cast of violent extremists and white nationalists. Many of Kent’s early campaign appearances—including a January 2022 rally against the COVID-19 vaccine based on misinformation—featured Gibson joining him on stage as a speaker.
By that summer Kent had formed an alliance with Gibson, both appearing at various COVID-denialist events as speakers, including an “Unmasked Unjabbed Uncensored Rally” at Vancouver’s Esther Short Park in August. Kent also was photographed socializing with Gibson and several of his Patriot Prayer cohorts at an August gathering at Cottonwood Beach near Washougal to honor the memory of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a member of the group who had been shot to death a year beforehand by a Portland resident who was tracked down and killed in short order. Kent also shows up in a Patriot Prayer group selfie taken by one of Patriot Prayer’s more notorious figures, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, currently awaiting trial on multiple felony assault counts.
Gibson regularly promoted Kent’s campaign on social media. After Gibson spoke at a Kent fundraiser 2021, Kent lavished him with praise, explaining that Gibson “defended this community when our community was under assault from antifa.”
Campaign finance disclosures reveal Kent recently paid $11,375 for “consulting” over the past four months to Graham Jorgensen, who was identified as a Proud Boy in a law enforcement report and was charged with cyberstalking his ex-girlfriend in 2018. The charges were dismissed in late 2019. But a judge in Vancouver, Washington, issued an order of protection requiring Jorgensen to stay away from her, records show.
Donald Trump endorsed Kent in June, largely because he had openly condemned the vote by the incumbent Republican, Jaime Herrera-Beutler, to impeach him in February 2021. Within a matter of weeks, he had financial backing from pro-Trump billionaires like Steve Wynn and Peter Thiel.
Kent began appearing on a variety of far-right programs with nationwide reach. He was a guest of Infowars’ Owen Shroyer on two occasions. He started appearing regularly on ex-Trump aide Stephen Bannon’s War Room podcast. On one of those occasions, he promoted his and Gibson’s January 2022 rally against “COVID tyranny” and the “forced quarantine.”
After Kent defeated Herrera-Beutler in the July primary, he began working hard to cover up these connections. He now faces a Democratic opponent, Marie Glusenkamp Pérez, who finished with the most votes in the top-two primary. However, Kent will be favored in a district that has trended Republican over the past couple of decades.
Gluesenkamp Perez said the November race will be “a national bellwether for the direction of our country,” and denounced his ties to far-right nationalists, saying his “unapologetic extremism and divisive approach demonstrate he is unfit for public office.”
For his part, Kent has simply doubled down. Appearing on Bannon’s podcast in August, he declared: “We are at war.”
“The left isn’t the left of 10, 15 years ago,” Kent went on. “These guys don’t care about winning arguments anymore. … It’s a total, full-frontal assault, and they’re going after every one of us.”
“So what we have to do when we take back power … we have to play smash-mouth.”
Establishment Democrats, however, do not appear to be prepared for such tactics, considering that they have been slow to rally behind Gluesenkamp Pérez. The Democratic Central Campaign Committee, for example, has not invested in her campaign even though it’s rated a tossup by many pollsters and would be a prime opportunity for Democrats to take a Republican seat. A number of prominent Republicans have announced their support for the Democrat in the race.
“On the issues of the day, [Kent] is a radical extremist, and he continues to show poor judgment with the people he associates with,” GOP fundraiser David Nierenberg said. “I don’t want to be represented by somebody like that.”
Washington’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson, has been campaigning heavily for Gluesenkamp Pérez. Noting the size and energy of her campaign rallies, as well as her quality as a candidate, he told Crosscut’s Joseph O’Sullivan that abandoning the field would be “a mistake.”
“I'd encourage them to consider what folks on the ground here see,” Ferguson said. “And what I see is a race that's winnable.”
After an eruption of even more scandals among Republican Senate candidates, FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich returns to The Downballot to discuss the effect these sorts of scandals can have on competitive races; whether Democrats stand a chance to keep the House; and the different ways pollsters create likely voter models.