When Barbara Ashcraft donated $500 to a group called “Latinos for Trump” in April, the California resident was excited about helping a pro-Trump organization with a seemingly mainstream goal.
The group “said they wanted to help bring in a lot of Latinos,” Ashcraft, 80, recalled in an interview with The Daily Beast.
In reality, “Latinos for Trump” has promoted a far more fringe cause.
Multiple leaders of the violent, far-right group Proud Boys are also top players in Latinos for Trump, which is tied to a political action committee that has raised tens of thousands of dollars in the president’s name, despite a strained relationship with the official Trump campaign.
The Proud Boys are an extreme-right outfit that glorifies street violence against the left. Their current leader, Enrique Tarrio, is also the Florida director for Latinos for Trump, as the anarchist news site It’s Going Down reported last year.
Latinos for Trump, and its affiliated PAC “Latinos for the President,” conduct fundraisers and rallies in Donald Trump’s name. But multiple times throughout a year of civil unrest, the PAC has also promoted the Proud Boys, including videos of a second Latinos for Trump leader who leads his own Proud Boys chapter.
That puts the Trump-supporting Latinos for Trump in a tricky spot with the official campaign, which sought to create distance from the Proud Boys this week, after Trump told them to “stand by” during Tuesday’s presidential debate. He later claimed not to know who the group was.
Latinos for Trump is, confusingly, not related to an official Trump campaign effort of the same name. The Trump campaign actually sent the group a letter in 2019 asking them to stop implying any official affiliation, as the New York Times reported.
Nevertheless, the pro-Trump group faced new scrutiny after Tuesday night’s presidential debate, when Trump was asked to condemn white supremacists, militia groups, and the Proud Boys in particular. As he previously has when discussing white supremacists, the president dodged.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said. “But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.” On Wednesday he walked back the statements, saying he didn’t know who the Proud Boys are, but that they should stand down.
In an interview, Tarrio told The Daily Beast that Trump’s Wednesday comments weren’t hurtful, as he didn’t think Trump knew much about the Proud Boys. He denied that Latinos for Trump’s Proud Boy ties hampered its operations, which include door-knocking for the president.
But the Proud Boys are becoming difficult to avoid in the GOP, where members like Tarrio have both quietly and clumsily sought to make inroads with more mainstream politicians.
“Latinos for Trump” embodies that increasingly cozy relationship.
Tarrio, who attended 2017’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally with other Proud Boys, is currently listed as the group’s Florida director. Thad Cisneros, who could not be reached for comment, is listed as the group’s Salt Lake City, Utah director. Cisneros is also the leader of the Proud Boys’ Salt Lake City chapter, and the subject of multiple pro-Proud Boys videos shared by Latinos for Trump before and after Tuesday’s debate. Latinos for Trump has also posted pro-Proud Boys content as early as August 2019, sometimes alongside promotions for Tarrio’s failed congressional campaign.
“#FreeTheBoys,” “#Tarrio2020,” read one November 2019 post alongside a video about a Proud Boys banner campaign.
Neither the group’s president, vice-president, or treasurer returned The Daily Beast’s request for comment. The vice-president Ozzy Perez-Cerezal has posed multiple times in a Proud Boys shirt, including once in a group pictures of similarly attired Florida Proud Boys in front of a large Proud Boys flag. The president, Bianca Gracia, is a former Hispanic outreach official with the Republican Party of Texas, with which she is no longer affiliated.
“Bianca Gracia has not been with Texas GOP for almost three years, and her organization is not affiliated with the Trump Campaign or officially sanctioned by the GOP or the Trump team,” spokesperson Luke Twombly told The Daily Beast.
Republicans have long struggled with perceived embrace of Proud Boys. Manhattan’s Metropolitan Republican Club hosted the group’s founder, Gavin McInnes, for an event in October 2018 that led to a brawl resulting in multiple arrests of Proud Boys and anti-fascists. Roger Stone, a Trump operative who recently received a commuted sentence for lying to Congress, obstruction, and witness tampering, is a longtime associate of the Proud Boys, and of Tarrio in particular. Donald Trump Jr. has posed for a picture with Tarrio, and Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Devin Nunes have also posed for pictures with Proud Boys.
Asked twice by The Daily Beast whether a Proud Boy would be allowed to hold an organizational role with the Republican Party of Texas, spokesperson Luke Twombly declined to answer, instead offering comments on anti-fascists. Asked a third time, Twombly stated that no member of a violent group could hold a role in the party.
In fact, Twombly has himself recently retweeted a video of Cisneros, the Proud Boys’ Salt Lake City chapter leader. He told The Daily Beast the video was intended to be “educational” but was not an endorsement. Asked whether he disavowed the Proud Boys, he stopped replying.
Meanwhile, Latinos for Trump has raised more than $65,000 in two years, according to Federal Election Commission data. That’s a small sum in the context of billion-dollar presidential campaigns, but it hasn’t stopped the group from fundraising from people who know little about it.
Many of the group’s top donors are senior citizens who’ve given widely to conservative groups. One of the top-three recipients of Latinos for Trump money, according to FEC data, is a company that provides lists of possible donors. The company specializes in “Christian,” “conservative political,” and “veteran and troop support” audiences.
For her part, Ashcraft said that the group had seemed “very patriotic” but that she had not answered a renewed request for money from them.
“Are they not legit?” she asked.