The audience at a meeting last month of the Ankeny, Iowa, school board exploded over the prospect of the board reinstating a mask mandate, with parents shouting at board members who supported the mask rule.
“We know where you live!” one parent yelled at the school board members. “We’re going to stalk you!”
The scene, which ended with the board voting to reimpose the mask rule, looked like so many other school board meetings across the country this year over coronavirus restrictions. But the Ankeny school board has become a larger flashpoint in the fight over mask mandates in schools, thanks in large part to a leather-clad, tomahawk-toting QAnon personality named Scott McKay.
McKay, a middle-aged former bodybuilder whose followers call him “Patriot Streetfighter,” has used his sizable online platform and frequent use of violent rhetoric to turn the Ankeny mask debate into a national event among followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory, urging his followers to bombard specific school board members with complaints.
Despite his bizarre demeanor and online presence, McKay has marshaled his fan base to engage in sometimes hostile activism at school board meetings against mask mandates—despite his own recent experience with a COVID outbreak at one of his rallies.
McKay inserted himself into the Ankeny mask debate in late August when he devoted an episode of his online Patriot Streetfighter talk show to the “Iowa Mama Bears,” Ankeny mothers Emily Peterson and Kimberly Reicks. The pair have become rising right-wing personalities for their opposition to mask requirements in Ankeny schools, hobnobbing with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) and QAnon celebrities like former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
During the interview, the women urged McKay’s viewers to specifically contact pro-mask mandate Ankeny school board members Amy Tagliareni and Lori Lovstad.
McKay, who uses “fork” as a euphemism for “fuck” in what’s become a sort of catchphrase for his fans, urged his audience in menacing terms to “carpet bomb these boneheads with emails” and “beat the shit out of them.”
“You forkin’ scumbags will not walk away from this clean,” McKay said in his video, addressing the school board members. “Believe me. Because when this army, the Patriot Streetfighter nation comes at you, you’re forked. So I would say, run the white flag up the pole now because if you haven’t realized at this point with these ladies that they’re coming, all you shitheads, there will be nowhere to run. There’s nowhere to run. You’re all hypocrites, you’re forkin’ scumbag losers.”
McKay said he wanted to see a world where officials like Lovestad and Tagliareni were “yelled at” and “scorned” wherever they went.
“Ok, Lori Lovestad, you now have been called because this particular episode is probably going to get about half-a-million to a million views,” McKay said, later adding, “You want to be famous, now you are.”
In the school-board video, McKay also promoted the idea of using violence against police officers who enforce coronavirus restrictions.
“Sooner or later, we the people show up with arms, outnumbering you 50-to-1,” McKay said. “Then at that point, you’re going to have a decision to make. Do you want to go home, or do you not want to go home to your family?”
McKay didn’t respond to a request for comment. Lovestad, citing concerns for her and her family’s safety ahead of an anticipated Patriot Streetfighter event in Iowa, declined to comment.
McKay’s ability to direct his audience to harass the school-board members demonstrates hyper-partisan anger now targeted at school board officials across the country. And it reveals how the right’s focus on school boards this year has allowed fringe figures who openly advocate for violence to grab the spotlight.
McKay styles himself as a sort of QAnon biker, frequently wearing leather chaps and a leather Harley-Davidson in his public appearances. He rides a motorcycle with a “Patriot Streetfighter” paint job. Last weekend, McKay posed in the crowd at a Trump rally behind the podium in his leather outfit.
But nothing is more crucial to McKay’s branding as the “Patriot Streetfighter” than his tomahawk. McKay poses for pictures with his fans with the tomahawk, uses it as a prop onstage, and incorporates it into the Patriot Streetfighter logo.
McKay has told his fans that the tomahawk, which includes a pipe-like fixture he claims can be used as a “peace pipe,” represents a threat to politicians and government officials. Following traditional QAnon thinking, McKay claims the world is run by a 1,400-year-old cabal that commits Satanic rituals against children.
At a rally in Nebraska, McKay explained the tomahawk’s significance. If the Democratic officials McKay claims make up the “cabal” will resign peacefully, he’ll share the peace pipe with them. But if officials refuse his demands, they’ll face the tomahawk.
“It’s symbolic of what we are going to do to the political class in this country,” McKay said as he cut the air with the blade, later adding, “If they choose to maintain their current course and the destruction of humanity, the only thing left in this peace pipe is the blade of war of the American people.”
It’s difficult to gauge the exact size of McKay’s audience, because he often creates new channels on platforms like YouTube after earlier accounts are banned. Still, he’s clearly managed to amass a somewhat large audience that’s willing to turn out to see him in person. Starting in the summer, McKay started touring the country, often speaking to crowds of hundreds at each stop. McKay’s tour raised enough money to pay for a wrapped bus that declared him the “full throttle truth hammer.”
McKay’s rallies play host to some of his most violent language. In an indoor July 11 rally in Pennsylvania, McKay addressed the audience of hundreds of unmasked people with the tomahawk in his hand and the butt of a handgun sticking out of his waistband. McKay urged them to become involved with their school boards, then quickly transitioned to imagining the deaths of his political enemies.
“I can tell you, in the long game, this doesn’t stop for me until these people that are doing what they’re doing to kids are dead,” McKay said. “I’m going to keep raining down this thunder, I’m going to do it every forking day.”
That Pennsylvania rally took a turn a few days later, when McKay and a number of his associates, including his 81-year-old father, became sick. In posts on the social media app Telegram on July 19, McKay acknowledged that a number of people who attended the rally had become ill with an unspecified disease. But McKay added that he was taking hydroxychloroquine, suggesting that he had contracted COVID-19.
“Many people came down sick from the Penn State event,” McKay wrote. “Many of you have heard about it and those rumors are true.”
Minutes before posting about the apparent coronavirus outbreak at his rally, however, McKay posted a picture of himself lifting up his mask on an airplane to flaunt mask rules.
As McKay and members of his entourage remained sick on July 22, he began to blame the outbreak not on lax coronavirus safety measures at the Pennsylvania rally, but on a “toxin” attack from “the deep state.” On July 31, McKay announced that his father, a well-known figure to Patriot Streetfighter fans, who called him “The General,” had suffered a stroke caused by the coronavirus.
“The targeted attack on the Penn State event that took down my team and my entire family resulted in a COVID clotting massive stroke on The General,” McKay tweeted on July 30, blaming “deep state motherfuckers.”
On Aug. 6, according to an obituary, McKay’s father died. McKay has insisted his father’s death was caused by shadowy forces, vowing “massive retribution.”
While some prominent one-time QAnon promoters like Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-GA) have distanced themselves from the conspiracy theory in the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat, McKay has continued to embrace some of the most outlandish facets of QAnon belief, even adding on some of his own. In a recent broadcast, he claimed that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is secretly an anti-Democratic “white hat” working for conservatives.
“AOC is a white hat that is running an operation to completely demolish the left,” McKay said, adding that Ocasio-Cortez had been paid $52 million in funds to an offshore account by benevolent forces to bring down the centuries-old cabal.
Along with the “Iowa Mama Bears,” McKay’s show has become a hub for other coronavirus conspiracy theorists. A Canadian police officer is under investigation after appearing on McKay’s show.