By Sabina Mollot
After an Upper East Side Republican Club was vandalized on Friday, followed by a street brawl that is believed to be between members of a far-right group and left wing counter-protesters, local Democrat elected officials said the club had itself to blame.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and a handful of other politicians, including Council Member Keith Powers, who represents the neighborhood, questioned why the Metropolitan Club invited Gavin McInnes, a speaker who founded the Proud Boys group. Proud Boys has been deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Johnson said that McInnes, the co-founder of Vice Media, has used anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, sexist, racist and homophobic language.
A Vox report this week said McInnes has made statements about why he hates Jews as well as wanting to defile women. He has also made statements about Muslims being inbred.
“Their goal is to incite violence,” said Johnson as he stood outside the club’s townhouse building. “Metropolitan Republican Club, I believe you owe New York City an apology.”
Powers also questioned the club’s judgment, saying he believed inviting McInnes put the Upper East Side community at risk. “By having him, they’re endorsing his views,” he said. “I don’t agree that this is about freedom of speech.”
However, Powers added that there needed to be a thorough and transparent investigation into the assaults as well as the vandalism. “Your political affiliation will not absolve you of vandalism or hate speech,” he said.
McInnes had been invited to the club planning to reenact a political assassination of a socialist leader with a fake samurai sword. In the week leading up to the event, the club was inundated with phone calls by people demanding the event be canceled — or making threats to shut it down themselves. On Friday morning in the wee hours, vandals spray painted anarchy symbols on the club’s doors, glued locks shut, broke windows and left a threatening note. Later, after the event, which went on as planned, there was an all-out brawl nearby, with men believed to be Proud Boys seen on video kicking and punching the protesters, who have been reported to be from the group Antifa, on the street while using a homophobic slur. Three people were arrested shortly afterwards.
On Monday, police said at a press conference that they planned to make arrests of nine more people after gathering surveillance video and images of numerous suspects and said that they believed riot and attempted assault charges would stick. Cops also defended not making more arrests at the time, saying that the fighters had run off when officers arrived and also said that the period of fighting from the time the crowd left the block of the club, East 83rd Street, to police arrival, was only 38 seconds.
Police think the fight, which began with both men from both sides yelling at each other from across the street, turned physical when someone in the group of people wearing black and in masks, tossed a bottle. At one point, a passerby reported a robbery with one of the suspects stealing a man’s backpack and attacking the victim when he tried to get it.
But that same day, elected officials also said police should have done more than make the brawlers scatter, and called for swift arrests.
Council Member Donovan Richards argued that black men in this country have routinely been arrested for a lot less than brandishing a samurai sword.
Meanwhile, the press conference ended with elected officials arguing with a couple of hecklers, who were members of the Metropolitan Club. One of the members, Pete Holmberg, a candidate running for State Senate in Manhattan’s 28th District, told the crowd that McInnes had once spoken at the club a year and a half earlier with no incident.
“I hate Gavin McInnes, but I think he has the right to speak,” said Holmberg. “I hate what he says, but I’ll defend his right to say it.”
He also said inviting McGinnes wasn’t his decision.
Another club member who said he coordinated the event, but added he wasn’t the one to invite McInnes, Pax Hart, nonetheless described McInnes as “an entertainer.”
The club didn’t respond to a request for comment on the concerns of the elected officials, but earlier, on Twitter, issued a statement defending free speech and its decision to host McInnes. “Gavin’s talk on Friday night, while at times was politically incorrect and a bit edgy, was certainly not inciting violence,” the club said. “We in no way encouraged any violent behavior. We cannot say the same about folks who left threatening messages, vandalized our property or showed up in ski masks and threw glass bottles.”
Prior to the event, Manhattan GOP Chair Andrea Catsimatidis condemned the vandalism of the club.
“Never before have we seen such cowardly behavior that shows how desperate the ultra left is,” she said.