New York's Republicans are divided on whether or not it was a good idea to invite Gavin McInnes and his frequently violent gang of Proud Boys to the Metropolitan Republican Club, after the appearance sparked street clashes between protesters and the far right hate group in the Upper East Side on Friday night.
After initially blaming the violence on "radical leftists," GOP gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro acknowledged in an interview with the Daily News on Tuesday that he is "a bit ashamed" by the Metropolitan Republican Club's decision to invite McInnes. Molinaro—who uses the Metropolitan Club as his campaign headquarters—accused McInnes of inciting violence, adding that "the institution was wrong [to invite him] and I think we were wrong not to call it out for what it is."
In addition to espousing racist, misogynistic and Islamophobic views, McInnes has repeatedly encouraged members of his group to commit violence, and bestows the highest rankings on Proud Boys who have beat up left wing protesters. He was initially invited to the Republican club to perform a skit depicting the killing of Japanese socialist Inejiro Asanuma, whose murder on live television in 1960 is considered an "inspiring moment" by the Proud Boys founder.
Other GOP leaders, meanwhile, have been far less willing to distance themselves from the Proud Boys' brand of belligerent ultranationalism. A state Republican party spokesperson, Jessica Proud, told Gothamist, "we condemned ALL political violence and the views of McInnes. Antifa is by no means an innocent party here." For the most part, Ed Cox, Chairman of the state GOP, has directed his anger toward Governor Andrew Cuomo's perceived indifference about the vandalism of the club.
Republican Chairman Ed Cox reacts to Cuomo blaming the Proud Boys-related violence on the GOP inviting Gavin McInnes to speak: pic.twitter.com/SFAVQlYUoI
— Nick Reisman (@NickReisman) October 14, 2018
The Metropolitan Republican Club has stood perhaps most forcefully behind McInnes and the Proud Boys. On Sunday, the group put out a statement touting their support for free speech, adding that "Gavin’s talk on Friday night, while at times politically incorrect and a bit edgy, was certainly not inciting violence."
Members of the club have also come to the defense of McInnes's First Amendment rights—defined, in this case, as his right to reenact a political assassination in front of a paying audience at the New York City Republican headquarters. During a press conference held by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Monday, an irate state Senate candidate and Metropolitan Club member, Pete Holmberg, interrupted Johnson to declare, "I hate Gavin McInnes, but I will defend his right to speak! That’s the First Amendment, Corey."
— Ivan Pereira (@IvanPer4) October 15, 2018
While both Cox and Molinaro have stressed that it was the Metropolitan Club's decision to invite McInnes, the close connection between the club and the GOP establishment has continued to generate controversy for local Republicans. On Tuesday, Bklyner revealed that Ian Reilly, Executive Committee Chair of the club, also works for state Senator Marty Golden's reelection campaign. Reilly previously defended the decision to bring McInnes to the club, telling Gothamist last week—before the event—that he had no misgivings about the invitation because the Proud Boys founder is "part of the right."
Asked whether the campaign took any issue with Reilly's support for McInnes, a spokesperson for Golden's office said they were not concerned.
"Ian Reilly is the Campaign's Office Manager, and will continue to serve in that role, as he has capably and professionally for several months," said Michael Tobman, a campaign spokesperson. "He is also Executive Committee Chair of the Metropolitan Republican Club, an old & distinguished political club. Mayors, Governors, and Presidents have been active in the institution. Ian is also, and has proven himself time and time again, my friend."