Melee follows GOP club event

Police circulated video of street violence on 82nd Street that occurred after the Oct. 12 event at the Metropolitan Republican Club. Image: NYPD
NYPD under scrutiny for response to violence following Gavin McInnes event; police seeking 12 individuals

New York became the latest American city to play host to riotous political violence Oct. 12 when violent clashes between members of a far-right group and anti-fascist protesters erupted on the streets of the Upper East Side following a Metropolitan Republican Club event featuring the right-wing agitator and provocateur Gavin McInnes.

Police are seeking nine individuals affiliated with the Proud Boys, a far-right organization founded by McInnes, on charges of riot or attempted assault. The NYPD is also seeking three anti-fascist protesters police say were involved in the fighting, also on charges of riot or attempted assault.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson described the incident as “a violent mob attack by a hate group” at an Oct. 15 press conference in front of the Metropolitan Republican Club, at 122 East 83rd St.

The Proud Boys' “sole mission is to stoke fear and incite violence, not just here in New York City, but around the country,” Johnson said, referencing members' involvement in recent violence in Portland, Oregon, and the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, at which a woman was killed by a car driven by a white supremacist and dozens of others were injured.

“Did we learn anything?” Johnson asked. “The Metropolitan Republican Club apparently did not.”

Videos widely circulated on social media after the event show Proud Boys members kicking and punching several individuals on the 82nd Street sidewalk after the McInnes event as police officers arrived on scooters. Some witnesses and elected leaders have questioned the NYPD's failure to make any arrests at the scene.

NYPD Commissioner James P. O'Neill rejected the criticism at an Oct. 15 press briefing. “Did you see the video?” O'Neill asked. “It was two or three cops on scooters. There was a group of about 20 people. As soon as they pulled up, everybody dispersed. The cops went to render aid to the people that appeared to be injured and they were refused, quite frankly.”

“We should not be scapegoating our cops, who responded to a very chaotic scene,” NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan said at a later press conference.

Donovan Richards, the chair of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, which is responsible for oversight of the NYPD, forcefully criticized the department's response to the incident as “nonexistent,” and called police “inept, incompetent and derelict in their duties.”

“We've seen schoolyard fights where people have been arrested on-scene,” Richards said. “Officers witnessed these individuals kicking and punching individuals. Without a doubt, those folks should have been arrested.”

In a statement, the Metropolitan Republican Club defended its decision to invite McInnes: “We want to foster civil discussion, but never endorse violence. Gavin's talk on Friday night, while at times was politically incorrect and a bit edgy, was certainly not inciting violence.”

The clubhouse was vandalized early on the morning of the event by two masked individuals who broke windows and spray-painted anarchy symbols on the building's doors. Police are seeking the suspects.

The Metropolitan Republican Club's statement continued, “We must forcefully denounce any suggestion that the Club somehow deserved the hostility and threats we have received in recent days, simply because we invited a speaker that some people might disagree with. We in no way encouraged any violent behavior. We cannot say the same about the folks who left threatening messages, vandalized our property or showed up in ski masks and threw glass bottles.”

Johnson called the vandalism “unacceptable” and condemned the individuals behind it, but added, “Republicans equating this brutal beat down with that vandalism is ridiculous.”

“Why were the Proud Boys invited here?” Johnson said. “Their agenda is violence — to stoke fear and incite violence — and to equate them with the other counter-protestors is a false equivalency.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo blamed President Donald Trump for creating a divisive political atmosphere. Cuomo called on the FBI to investigate the incident and directed the State Police Hate Crimes Unit to coordinate with federal and local law enforcement in carrying out an investigation. “The bottom line is that I hold the president responsible for demonizing differences, fanning the flames of racism and division and creating a fire of hatred and violence,” Cuomo said. “These vile acts of racism, division and discrimination are repugnant to American values, and have no place in our state. Why did this club invite the Proud Boys, a hate group with a history of inciting violence?”

Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a tweet nearly 24 hours after the violence, writing “The NYPD is fully investigating the incident” and continuing, “Hate is never welcome in NYC and we will punish those responsible — whether they threw punches or incited violence — to the fullest extent of the law.” The mayor did not address the violence in comments at an Oct. 15 NYPD graduation ceremony at Madison Square Garden, and he did not attend a press conference with O'Neill at the event.

The night ended with three arrests; none of the arrested individuals were Proud Boys members. Police arrested three people several blocks away from the other fighting after a Proud Boys member accused the individuals of assaulting and robbing him.

Johnson called for a full and transparent investigation of the incident and for all video collected by the NYPD to be released to the public. “Why was no one arrested if the NYPD was here on the scene when people were being physically beaten up?” Johnson asked. “These are questions that need to be answered.”

O'Neill said the NYPD is “vigorously investigating all leads” and “will make arrests.” Deputy Inspector Kathleen Walsh, the commanding officer of the Upper East Side's 19th Precinct, said police “are doing a thorough investigation of this whole event.”

Members of Proud Boys, which bills itself as a “pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world; aka Western Chauvinists,” were also involved in violence at a Feb. 2017 rally at New York University. McInnes, who was a co-founder of Vice Media and left the company in 2008, has advocated for the use of violence against political opponents, calling it “a really effective way to solve problems.”

Pax Hart, a member of the Republican club who attended the event, described McInnes as “a political entertainer.” McInnes' performance at the club consisted of the reenactment of the 1960 assassination of a Japanese socialist leader by a nationalist with a traditional samurai blade, followed by what Hart characterized as “some politically incorrect humor.”

McInnes exited the club at about 8:20 p.m.; videos and photos show him brandishing a samurai sword (Hart said the sword was plastic) at protestors across 83rd Street. A bottle was thrown in McInnes' direction. “The precipitation of violence started from the counterprotestors across the street,” Hart claimed.

In comments after the event, McInnes said, “I have a lot of support in the NYPD and I very much appreciate that, the boys in blue.”

Richards took note of McInnes' remarks, saying, “This better not check out. The NYPD's actions over the next few days better prove that this narrative is wrong.”

In an emailed statement, the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council wrote, “By the end of the night, no Proud Boys were arrested, and several anti-fascist protesters were hauled away in handcuffs. Infuriating? Yes. Surprising? No.”

“Ultimately, the Metropolitan Republican Club, the NYPD, and the Proud Boys all have the same objective: maintain the status quo, whether it be with racialized economic policies or plastic samurai swords,” the statement continued.

Keith Powers, who represents the neighborhood in the City Council, criticized the club for inviting McInnes. “I don't believe they all believe what the Proud Boys believe [...], but I do think there's a problem when you invite them into our neighborhood,” Powers said of the club's members.