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Nevada GOP thrown into turmoil after avowed Proud Boys member said he participated in censure vote of state official

Supporters of President Donald Trump protest the election results outside the Clark County Election Department in North Las Vegas on Nov. 8. (John Locher/AP)

The leaders of the Nevada Republican Party are facing an internal revolt after an avowed Proud Boys member said he was invited with friends to attend a state party meeting last month and cast the deciding votes in the censure of a state official who concluded that the 2020 election in the state was not tainted by fraud.

In the past week, the Nevada Senate GOP caucus and the chairmen of the two largest Republican county organizations have called for an audit of an April state party vote to uncover who cast ballots as seated party members and proxies for a resolution against Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske (R).

The Republican state chairman, Michael McDonald, a close ally of former president Donald Trump, has so far declined to release those details, other Republican officials said.

“We need to find out who attended, who paid for them to attend, and what impact they had on this censuring of Barbara,” state Sen. Carrie Buck (R) said in an interview. If the claims of the self-described Proud Boys member are true, she said, “of course the current leadership of the state [party] should resign.”

The conflict is the latest flash point in the tumult playing out within the Republican Party nationwide, as officials rush to prove their allegiance to Trump and his election falsehoods.

In D.C., House Republicans this month voted to expel Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming from her leadership post after she continued to condemn Trump’s rhetoric. And communities across the country are grappling with demands by local residents to review and audit the 2020 vote.

Republicans struggle to define a new governing coalition as Trump closes grip on party

The three-page censure approved by the Nevada GOP claimed, among other things, that Cegavske disregarded “her oath of office by failing to investigate election fraud.” The April 10 vote was 126 to 112, according to the Associated Press.

In fact, an investigation by Cegavske, the only statewide elected Republican, found there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the state, which President Biden won by more than two percentage points. And a number of judges — including the Nevada Supreme Court — rejected an appeal from Trump’s campaign to overturn the state’s election results.

“My job is to carry out the duties of my office as enacted by the Nevada Legislature, not carry water for the state GOP or put my thumb on the scale of democracy,” Cegavske said in a statement after she was censured.

The furor over the censure vote comes as local GOP officials in Nevada said they have been alarmed by recent attempts by people espousing extremist views to get involved in the party — including at least one man who has said he is a member of the Proud Boys.

Members of the all-male far-right group have a history of violence, often clashing in fistfights with left-wing street protesters. More than two dozen alleged members or supporters of the Proud Boys have been charged with committing crimes connected to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and the Canadian government recently labeled the chapter there a terrorist entity, leading it to dissolve.

In Las Vegas, the clash over the party’s future has pitted the new band of activists against elected Clark County GOP officials, who said they have already banned seven people from participating in local functions because of ­racist and antisemitic material they said was distributed on the messaging app Telegram in a channel connected to a group called Keep Nevada Open.

The situation has grown increasingly tense in recent days. The county party canceled a regularly scheduled meeting this week after members of the same group of activists issued online calls to protest the event under the banner “STOP THE RINO STEAL,” a phrase that combined slogans of the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” movement with an acronym for “Republican in Name Only.”

At a news conference Monday, Clark County GOP Vice Chair Stephen Silberkraus said the local party made the decision after far-right activists affiliated with Keep Nevada Open “indicated their intent to blockade and disrupt our meeting.”

He said the party has reported a number of online attacks and threats to law enforcement, adding: “Our management team has decided that the risk to our members outweighs the value of this meeting.”

Activists affiliated with Keep Nevada Open, who did not respond to requests for comment, have said they do not condone hate or violence.

The activists came together last year online, through Facebook and Telegram groups, to protest covid-19 restrictions and support Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, according to one of the organizers, Matthew Anthony Yankley, who goes by the name Matt Anthony.

The self-described nightclub promoter said on a recent podcast that he is a member of the Proud Boys, which he said was not violent or racist.

Anthony also said one of the online groups that he helps run, Fight for Nevada, has been urged by the “heads of” the state Republican Party to help in political efforts, including at the recent statewide party meeting where the secretary of state was censured.

“We got about 30 people to actually go up to Carson City, which ended up being the deciding votes to censure,” Anthony said on the “Johnny Bru Show” podcast on May 16. “Our votes absolutely made the difference in censuring.”

Anthony did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

David Sajdak, the chair of the Clark County Republican Party, said in an interview that he had been assured by state party leaders at the Carson City event that his organization had approved all the members from his county who were seated to vote.

Sajdak said he was concerned to see Anthony and one of his colleagues, Rodolfo “Rudy” Clai, seated separately from the county organizations at the state party meeting. He said he now fears state leaders allowed other people to have voting rights, and then allowed Anthony and his friends to offer proxy votes on their behalf at the event.

Clai did not respond to requests for comment. After the Clark County meeting was canceled this week, Clai posted a message on his Facebook page saying he and his allies do not “condone or call for violence.”

Later, he added, “Another great day WINNING over the lying cheating Rinos in Clark County.”

The Clark County GOP has taken the position that if any state party officials are found to have let members of the Proud Boys into the party, they should resign.

“My concern is that every other county in the state was allowed to check in their own people for the county, and our people were not allowed to check in our own people,” Sajdak said. “We just feel it is a little ironic that the organization that is calling out the secretary of state over voter integrity is not showing voter integrity itself.”

Sajdak’s concerns are shared by the chairman of the Washoe County Republican Party, Michael Kadenacy, who represents Reno-area Republicans. Washoe and Clark counties represented 245 of the 390 eligible votes at the April meeting, Sajdak said.

Kadenacy said that normally the county party is responsible for keeping track of proxy votes for their members, and that the audit would find out if that happened in April.

“Washoe is not interested in a having a food fight,” Kadenacy said. “We are interested in having a party that runs itself correctly and within our statutes and bylaws.”

A spokeswoman for McDonald, the state party chairman, did not respond to specific questions about Anthony’s statements or ­Sajdak’s complaints.

In an unsigned statement, the party accused Sajdak of spreading “slanderous lies” and said it was false that McDonald “personally and improperly” seated additional members at the event.

The party’s statement said Clark County was permitted to seat additional members for the vote. Sajdak confirmed that, but said it was irrelevant to the question of whether other people were permitted to participate in the censure vote.

Those who have called for an audit of the censure vote say it is not yet clear who would conduct the review. “We are not going to have a role in the investigation,” said Jennifer Russell, a spokeswoman for Cegavske, the secretary of state.

McDonald, who has long had a tense relationship with the Clark County leaders, has been outspoken about his personal relationship with Trump. He has also been critical of efforts by other party members to exclude activists from the party for controversial views.

“What I don’t like is that I have people in my party saying, ‘Oh no, we are going to select who can come and who can’t,’ ” McDonald said at a recent Las Vegas event for a group called the Republican Chamber of Commerce, which was captured in a video posted on Facebook. “My tent — everybody’s invited. My party — everybody’s invited.”

Both Kadenacy and Sajdak declined to say whether they still had confidence in McDonald’s leadership.

The Clark County party compiled an extensive file of offensive images and posts that officials said came from the Telegram account connected to Keep Nevada Open, a group Anthony helps run, according to a bio on his website. The file included antisemitic memes, with quotes from Adolf Hitler and his propagandist Joseph Goebbels, posts describing the United States as a “white nation” and videos praising the Nazi regime, party officials said.

“When I signed up, I signed up to talk about policy issues,” Sajdak said. “I never thought I would have to defend against racist zealots and Nazis.”

In an interview last week with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which first reported on Sajdak’s concerns, Anthony told the paper that he had been unaware of the anti­semitic content shared by members of the online groups he has helped manage, and said he had banned the person responsible.

“I condemn any type of hate,” Anthony told the Review-Journal. He said the county party leaders had decided to “play dirty” because Anthony and his allies have enough people to vote in a new slate of leadership later this year.

Anthony and Clai have publicly urged conservative activists to embrace more-aggressive types of confrontation. They have also spoken with nostalgia about the days when Las Vegas was controlled by organized crime figures. Anthony was convicted in 2012 of felony drug possession in Michigan, where there remains an outstanding bench warrant for his arrest after he did not continue requirements of his probation, according to Michigan court records.

“Most of the average people out here are starving for some kind of old-school tactics that used to go down in this city,” Anthony said in an episode of his eponymous YouTube show. “Because that’s what we need right now. We need toughness. We don’t need keyboard warriors.”

Clai has started a Las Vegas consulting group with Anthony called the Know-All Team, according to a website for the group. On it, Clai describes himself as a fixer who used to work in Chicago for “the goodfellas, the deal makers, politicians, mobsters.” After a health scare, the website says, he decided to change his ways and “use my old school mobster knowledge and experience and apply it to everyday life . . . DOING GOOD!”

Clai has said his group would help return Las Vegas to its glory days, when organized crime was a force in the city.

“Early Vegas had Meyer Lansky and ‘Lucky’ Luciano, and everybody. And they had Murder Inc. That was the beginning of Vegas,” Clai said on the YouTube video, adding: “Now we are at a new beginning in Vegas. We are going to start, and we got the Know-All Team behind us.”

Alice Crites and Amy Gardner contributed to this report.