Inside the Wild GOP Civil War Playing Out Under the Radar 1

When Stephen Lloyd showed up at the Multnomah County, Oregon, Republican Party’s most recent meeting on May 17, he was not treated like a man who, until earlier this month, had been the group’s chairman.

“I was met by a group of Proud Boys who had their arms crossed in front of their chest, kind of all puffed up in front of the doorways,” Lloyd told The Daily Beast.

Lloyd was allowed into the meeting, where he began passing out documents detailing his concerns with the party’s recent lurch to the far right. Others in his wing of the Portland, Oregon-based GOP local were not so fortunate.

“I get a text message on my phone from one of our party members saying, ‘Stephen, they’re not letting me in the building,’” Lloyd said. “So I go downstairs. I say, ‘Hey, why aren’t you letting a Republican Party member in the building?’ They said that she’s not a Republican Party member. And I said, ‘Yes, she is. She’s registered as a Republican.’ And then they said, ‘Well, she’s not a precinct chairperson. So she’s not allowed in the building.’” (The party’s acting secretary and chair did not return requests for comment.)

From Oregon to Arizona, local Republican parties are undergoing a reckoning. Some of their members want to look ahead after the chaos of the Trump era. Others are doubling down on election-fraud conspiracy theories and extreme associations, including with paramilitary groups like the Proud Boys.

Those feuds are increasingly playing out in local party elections, including for precinct-level roles. There, far-right voices are urging followers to run for office, forcing longer-standing party members to battle an insurgency that accuses them of being fake Republicans.

Lloyd, who observed a similar intra-party conflict unravel in Nevada this week, said the shift worried him.

“We shouldn’t be trying to measure who’s Republican enough in order to join some secret club,” he told The Daily Beast.

Some newly minted officers in Republican parties across the country might beg to differ. After Donald Trump’s re-election loss, his fans blasted Republican office-holders as traitors for accepting President Joe Biden’s victory. They vowed to replace party foes by running for vacant precinct-level roles.

They didn’t wait long to get started: Just two days after Biden’s inauguration, users on the extremist-friendly social media site Gab set up a group to discuss a takeover strategy.

“Conservatives COULD be RUNNING the Republican Party all the way ‘up’ to the RNC if they would flood into the Republican Party county committees and volunteer to fill the vacant precinct committeeman slots,” the group description read, “because, on average, in every county and state, over half of the slots are VACANT.”

Precinct committee members are generally party officers who act as a liaison between their local GOP and an area it represents. The Gab group was not the first to note that the often-vacant seats are prime territory for people hoping to overhaul their parties. In 2018, a prominent associate of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa quietly won an uncontested precinct seat in Washington. After his victory, he went on an Identity Evropa podcast to encourage others to follow his lead.

“You have a seat at the table,” he said on the podcast. “And that’s the most important thing, getting that seat at the table, and you can get that seat at the table by, yes, showing up, yes, by bringing people in, and again this doesn’t necessarily only have to be IE members.”

His local GOP ejected him the following year. But far-right voices have begun promoting a version of the strategy—which is not necessarily coordinated by any central actor or extremist group—in the Biden era. In a Feb. 6 episode of his podcast, former Trump chief strategist Stephen Bannon hosted Dan Schultz, an Arizona-based attorney who, since the Tea Party movement, has encouraged conservatives to run for low-level Republican office. In the interview, Shultz described a new wave of Trumpist committee members as fundamentally opposed to mainstream Republicans.

“We can take over the party if we invade it,” Shultz, who did not return a request for comment, said on the podcast.

The interview garnered interest in far-right corners of the internet, including on 4chan, Gab, and Telegram channels dedicated to the QAnon conspiracy theory, as Media Matters reported at the time.

Rather than dying off, those calls may be getting more fervent as local far-right factions notch victories—and the Trump presidency fades further into the rearview.

Last week, a far-right podcaster encouraged his more than 70,000 Telegram followers to follow Shultz’s advice. “If we want to drain the swamp, push the Rhino’s out of the party, set the agenda on America First and SAVE OUR REPUBLIC, we will take part, do our Civic duty and follow this plan,” the podcaster wrote.

Followers responded with claims that they were planning to run, or had already taken up party roles in Arizona and Florida. “We had 40 new chair people in April and we will have over 50 in June,” wrote one person, who claimed to be a new committee member in the Sunshine State. The local Republican Party to which the person appeared to belong did not immediately return a request for comment.

Although Shultz characterized new precinct committee officers as an invading force in local Republican parties, some of the new entryists have less than adversarial relationships with the GOP. The podcaster who encouraged his Telegram fans to run for office is slated to speak at a QAnon-heavy conference this week alongside Texas GOP Chair Allen West. West, in turn, recently spoke at the same event as the head of the far-right paramilitary group the Oath Keepers.

In Horry County, South Carolina, meanwhile, one of the earliest QAnon influencers won a leadership role in her local GOP last month. (The QAnon promoter, Tracy “Beanz” Diaz, could not be reached for comment.) The election saw party members accuse each other of being “RINOs” or “Republicans in name only,” a label long predating the Trump era.

Some local parties have drawn lines against the insurgent crowd: Clark County, Nevada’s Republican Party canceled a meeting this week over alleged threats by a set of Proud Boy-tied figures who have signaled interest in running for party leadership, as The Daily Beast reported. (Those far-right figures, in turn, are suing the party for allegedly boxing them out of proceedings.)

But in Multnomah County, the local Republican Party appears to be in limbo as two factions battle for titles. The trouble began, in part, after Lloyd proposed opening up party meetings to a more ideologically diverse crowd, including those who were not registered Republicans.

Opponents within the party balked, claiming the move would enable leftists to attack their events.

“In my opinion, it’s a false framing of the situation because in my time as chairman, we have never once received a threat from antifa,” Lloyd said. “We have never once received a threat from any other organization.”

Nevertheless, the party voted to oust Lloyd as chair in a May 6 meeting, at which an anti-Lloyd wing of the party asked a Proud Boys security group to patrol the nearby residential neighborhood. (A neighbor previously told The Daily Beast that the security group heckled him and other locals outside their homes while the meeting took place.)

On May 16, according to a message reviewed by The Daily Beast, Lloyd emailed party members to complain about the group’s recent contract with the Proud Boys. When he showed up to the party’s meeting the following day, at least one Proud Boy was present. That Proud Boy told Willamette Week that he was at the meeting as a member, not as security.

But while Proud Boys attended the meeting (according to Lloyd, they worked the door), two women from Lloyd’s wing of the party were not allowed entry. One of the women was en route to file paperwork to run for party chair. (Three attendees of the meeting told the Week that the party’s secretary, who had previously signed the security contract with a Proud Boy, barred the women’s entry.)

Irate, Lloyd and most of the meeting-goers left the event and reconvened in a parking lot, where they realized they had enough members to hold a vote. Lloyd, who had been recalled as party chair just weeks earlier, was elected as the new meeting’s acting chair.

“We had an acting secretary and we had an acting chairman,” he said. “We had everything required within our bylaws to hold a meeting. And so we did. We held a meeting out in the parking lot until the rain started.”