MIAMI — At the iconic Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach, just after Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida rallied donors and activists to their feet during a well-attended April fund-raiser for the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County, a scuffle broke out by the valet parking station. Several men in suits and a woman in a cocktail dress tussled over who should and should not have been allowed at the $250-a-plate dinner.
Someone alerted the police. The next day, a woman who had been escorted out of the dinner renewed a request for a restraining order against one of the men involved in the dispute, writing in her court petition that he was part of a “Far Right Wing Extremist Cult.” She was referring to the Proud Boys, the far-right nationalist group that was at the forefront of the riot at the U.S. Capitol last year.
The man was one of at least a half-dozen current and former Proud Boys who have secured seats on the Miami-Dade Republican Executive Committee, seeking to influence local politics from the inside. Their ranks include adherents who face criminal charges for participating in the Capitol attack: Gilbert Fonticoba has been charged with obstructing Congress. Gabriel Garcia, a former Army captain who says he has left the group, has been charged with interfering with law enforcement officers during the civil disorder on Jan. 6, 2021.
The concerted effort by the Proud Boys to join the leadership of the party — and, in some cases, run for local office — has destabilized and dramatically reshaped the Miami-Dade Republican Party that former Gov. Jeb Bush and others built into a powerhouse nearly four decades ago, transforming it from an archetype of the strait-laced establishment to an organization roiled by internal conflict as it wrestles with forces pulling it to the hard right. The conflict comes at a pivotal moment for Republicans nationally, as primary voters weigh whether to wrench the party from its extremist elements — or more fully embrace them.
get involved in local issues, with the goal of amassing support in advance of this year’s midterm elections.
“The plan of attack if you want to make change is to get involved at the local level,” Jeremy Bertino, a prominent member of the North Carolina Proud Boys, told The New York Times last year in the midst of the shift.
What they intend to do with their power is unclear. Still, following a trend pushed by far-right figures like Stephen K. Bannon, Proud Boys started showing up at school board meetings to protest coronavirus mask mandates and the teaching of antiracist curriculum.
In California’s Central Valley, members of the group have intimidated protesters who did not want a church to buy an L.G.B.T.Q.-friendly theater in Fresno. A Proud Boy declared his candidacy for the Oregon Legislature. A former Proud Boy in Kansas lost a race for a Topeka City Council seat.
vastly improved their showing in 2020, a swing that has soured Democrats’ prospects.
Chris Barcenas, a Republican committeeman and Proud Boy, said he started thinking about running for a committeeman seat about a year ago.
“Instead of sitting on the sidelines complaining about RINOs or whatever,” he said, referring to “Republicans in name only,” “I realized that in order to make changes, I had to be involved and be part of the process.”
Mr. Barcenas, 34, voluntarily testified a few months ago to the House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6 about his understanding of the Proud Boys’ role in the Capitol attack. He protested at the Capitol that day but did not go into the building and has not been charged with any crimes.
Gabriel Garcia, 37, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges from the Capitol attack, said the party was once the province of country-club Republicans.