“I’m going to tear you to pieces or I’m going to fucking barbecue you and eat you alive.”
That’s the message Tusitala “Tiny” Toese barked at Luke Mahler during a Facebook livestream on Oct. 10. Toese is sidekick to Joey Gibson, founder of the right-wing protest group Patriot Prayer.
Mahler had been ranting to his Facebook friends that Gibson was refusing to pay former PP supporter and co-founder of the American Freedom Motorcycle Association John Beavers money he owed him from May.
Toese joined the stream to defend Gibson, adding, “I’m going to laugh when I beat your ass at the next rally. Anybody that’s watching that wants to come against Joey, well guess what? I’m gonna be up front. You’re gonna have to go through me to get to him.”
Mahler has a long history of dramatic virtual fall-outs with PP members. Toese said all the online badgering from Mahler is “breaking my head.”
The simple online squabble that prompted Mahler’s video rages on.
Beavers says Gibson owes him $450 for a plane ticket and taxi service for a trip to New York in May. Gibson says he never gave Beavers permission to buy him a ticket, and will therefore not pay him back. Beavers posted screenshots of text messages from Gibson where he admits owing the money. Gibson says Beavers steals from people. Beavers mentions small claims court.
The comments range between “stop airing your dirty laundry online” and “pay Beavers back if you’re a man of your word.”
How have the right-wing celebrities that dominated regional and national news coverage all summer been reduced to petty online arguments?
Over the last two months, more former Patriot Prayer supporters have come forward to denounce Gibson. Disgruntled Patriots describe him getting drunk and becoming aggressive. Some say Gibson’s motivational speeches have misled supporters and put them in danger.
The complaints add to an already disorganized picture.
Portland State Vanguard has been following PP’s saga since April, and a bewildering storyline has taken place.
From the far corners of Reddit and secret Facebook groups, neo-Nazis and white supremacists emerged to join Gibson in the media spotlight at a rally on June 4. Under public derision, Gibson eventually denounced his controversial followers in an interview on June 30, but those with alt-right connections and a hunger for conspiracy theories, like Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman and Allen Puckett, remained at Gibson’s side. Ever-intensifying brawls dominated media coverage.
High-profile allies then told Vanguard in August they felt Gibson was a weak leader. In San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif. on Aug. 26–27, Gibson cancelled events last-minute. Then he took a beating in Berkeley from anti-fascist protesters and emerged victoriously, claiming baiting antifa was his goal all along.
Now Gibson seems to be back to square one.
Motivational YouTube videos, like those he produced before the summer, have come back online. His rallies have dwindled in size. Gibson’s two Facebook feeds are filled with PP merchandise for sale.
As protest energy has died down since the summer, whatever slim media coverage Gibson has received in Portland has not been complimentary.
At Gibson’s most recent Portland rally, a professed supporter of Jeremy Christian and convicted felon brought an illegal firearm onto federal property. At the rally before that, a PP supporter seemingly accelerated his truck toward counter-protesters in the street in Vancouver, Wash.
Meanwhile, white supremacist rallies continue to form across the country, and some attendees, like those in Charlottesville, Va. and Gainesville, Fla. come with the intent to kill.
“The ‘white nationalists’ are in charge now and the Pandora’s Box [Gibson has] opened locally will leave him by the roadside,” said white supremacist expert and former PSU professor Randall Blazak in an email. “He’s their unwitting pawn.”
Gibson the pawn plays others
Patriots haven’t just been mad at Gibson because he owes Beavers money. Gibson’s core group began to split apart in New York this spring.
During a spirited evening after an anti-Sharia law protest on May 25, 2017 in New York City, Gibson, Beavers, Toese, PP supporter Tyler Smith, and AFMA member Justin Harrington joined a loud party hosted by local Proud Boys at The Upstairs Pub, an unassuming bar above a Manhattan deli.
Gibson got very drunk. Harrington said Gibson repeatedly head-butted himself and Beavers in the back. Gibson then chased Smith down the street, reportedly kicked over a park bench and a trashcan, and threw up in front of a McDonald’s.
Gibson said he can’t remember everything from that night but admits his friends had to “babysit” him. “I don’t ever drink at events or anything like that,” Gibson added, “so that was a lesson for me.”
He said he believed Smith had stolen a credit card to buy his plane ticket to New York and had been asking Gibson for money. “When [Smith] refused to leave, I was getting ready to do what I had to do, with [Toese], to get him out of there,” Gibson said.
Smith denied stealing a credit card and claimed Gibson was just trying to challenge him because he was drunk and Smith is a professional mixed martial arts fighter.
For Harrington, Gibson’s carousing added insult to injury.
Earlier that afternoon, Harrington was arrested for throwing a counter-protester to the ground during the anti-Sharia-law march. Gibson caught the incident on camera.
In the video, a scuffle or argument somewhere out of sight interrupts chants of “build that wall.” Gibson shoves supporters aside and races forward yelling, “go go go,” and, “watch out.” Gibson approaches Toese, who yells, “I don’t care who the fuck you are,” at black-clad counter-protesters.
Just in front of Gibson, a masked activist swings at a marcher. Harrington rushes forward and tackles them from the side. New York Police immediately snatch Harrington, but Gibson, Beavers, and AFMA co-founder David Fry defend Harrington on camera, shouting at police that the masked activist had already punched a few other people.
Gibson and Beavers yell at Harrington to stay calm. A moment after the crowd quiets and watches the arrest, seemingly everyone except Gibson chants, “let him go,” and, “self defense.”
Harrington was certain Gibson would defend him to the police. However, though Harrington was released within three hours, Gibson refused to fill out an affidavit for Harrington’s lawyer. Gibson then walked Harrington from the 17th precinct to the party.
“I felt like I got used,” Harrington said. He added that Gibson had encouraged him to be “on the front line” and defend himself. In this encounter, Harrington felt like he had defended his fellow Patriots.
Gibson said he had been ready to stand up for Harrington. However, after reviewing the video, he decided the tackle did not count as self-defense.
Gibson defends a similar situation that happened later in the summer, however.
Toese attacked, with no obvious provocation, a person walking by with a skateboard at an Aug. 6 rally. According to Toese, the victim had been hitting people with their skateboard earlier and was trying to approach Gibson from behind. Gibson said the skateboarder was also later arrested.
Piecing together the truth of what’s said behind the scenes is tricky. Gibson and his supporters have gone through cycles of tight brotherhood and passive-aggressive online shaming for months. Though most interviews for this article were conducted before Beavers made his feud with Gibson public, it is possible disgruntled Patriots want to exploit the media for their own personal vendettas.
Plus, Smith and Harrington don’t have the prettiest pasts.
Smith, a Washington native, is a convicted felon and sex offender. He was arrested three years ago for appearing on The History Channel’s “Doomsday Preppers” special, showing off supposed illegally-owned firearms and claiming he would plunder his neighbors’ belongings in the event of some elusive disaster.
Soon after the NYC trip, Gibson announced on a Facebook livestream he was severing ties with Smith.
Though Harrington claimed he stopped going to rallies after May 25, he actually participated in one last Portland PP march on June 30. He was caught sneaking up on and sucker-punching another anti-fascist marcher.
A few weeks later, Beavers and Fry told Vanguard they stripped Harrington of his patches. Gibson, on the other hand, said he told Harrington he could keep coming to rallies as long as he didn’t start any more fights.
Patriot stories aside, one unlikely ally has been watching PP’s background drama unfold since the beginning.
Activists call out violence in Gibson’s wake
“I’ve said from the start that I would stand with anyone who spoke out against the violence and racism that was being encouraged by these events,” said an anti-fascist activist and college student who calls himself Spencer Backlash.
Backlash has participated in protests as a “blocker,” carrying Maalox and hefty first-aid bags to nurse injured participants in the streets. Backlash said he does not usually mask up during protests, but he does in front of cameras.
When Gibson and his crew aren’t in town, Backlash spends a lot of time criticizing PP and calling out individual Patriots online. This has included Gibson, Toese and Harrington.
After Harrington left PP, Backlash said, “I was still tagging him in my complaints, and since no one else would talk to him, he started talking to me.” Backlash added that Harrington was seen as a “traitor” by far-right activists but understandably was shunned by the anti-fascist side.
After several conversations, Backlash said, “I knew [Harrington] was genuinely remorseful. He then made a public statement that he hated [his violent actions] and that he hated that the behavior was normal in that circle.”
Indeed, Harrington told Vanguard that participating in PP had made him “somebody that I really wasn’t.” He added, “Going to rallies and backing Joey up, I felt I was blinded. Other people were fighting back and getting hurt, and Joey seemed to get excited about it.”
When Beavers left the movement but still shunned Harrington, Backlash talked with them both about what they think is PP’s biggest flaw: its obsession with violence.
Backlash doesn’t just talk to Patriots to build bridges between the left and the right. In order to mutually protect their communities, Backlash wants people like Gibson to stop pushing an “us vs. them” narrative.
“My goal is to protect the community,” said Backlash. “We can disagree. We can never interact again. But Joey and the other far right b-string social media personalities have called for an attack on liberal strongholds. Their followers don’t realize these sanctuary cities aren’t far away places owned by the enemy. They are here and the people standing in counter-protests aren’t just masked anonymous college kids. They’re churches, our neighbors, our families, our friends.”
That “us vs. them” narrative is what critics see as the glue binding Gibson to white supremacists.
In an interview with Gibson last month, investigative journalist Al Letson pointed out that Gibson’s tactic of “baiting antifa” was the same tactic “Unite the Right” organizers used in Charlottesville this summer.
Backlash said self-titled Patriots have the right to their values. “[But] as soon as they realize this is their community too, and acknowledged the violence and racism,” Backlash qualified, “[and if] they start speaking out against it and start defending their neighbors, I’m going to do my best to encourage that and make sure it continues.”
Gibson, as always, insisted he discourages violence. He said his newest tactic is to keep rallies as small as possible to filter out those “looking for a fight.” He added that any kind of fighting doesn’t make his group look good, no matter who “throws the first punch.”
However, anger still bubbles in PP’s blood.
Twenty-one-year-old Toese said he has a “very violent” past. Following Gibson has helped change that, he said, but incessant badgering from people like Mahler or physical provocation incites his rage again.
“It’s not healthy for me and it’s not healthy for the movement,” Toese added.
Toese said his threat on Mahler’s video was aimed at AFMA members. Contrary to Gibson’s given reason for keeping his rallies small, Toese lamented on a Facebook livestream on Oct. 15 before a 20-person flag rally in Salem, Ore. that the rally was so small because AFMA was threatening PP supporters if they went.
Toese could not provide evidence of these threats. AFMA had planned to attend the Salem flag rally to confront Gibson about the money he owes Beavers, but Beavers denies that any physical threats were made against PP supporters.
Now, once again, PP’s tactics have shifted. Earlier this month, Gibson announced PP will be planning more rallies to protest specific politicians. Backlash thinks Gibson might be re-focusing on “problems with the establishment.”
Time will tell whether Gibson sticks with this plan. For now, Blazak thinks PP’s thunder is gone.
“[Joey Gibson]’s been trolled, and I think he’s probably confused at what comes next,” Blazak said. “It’s clear the alt-right movement is evolving past Gibson and he’s served his purpose.”