One of the star TV reporters for Seattle’s venerable KOMO-4 News operation this weekend traveled to Olympia, Washington, to attend a scheduled Proud Boys-sponsored “March for America” to protest the continued detention of people arrested for attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. But Jonathan Choe wasn’t there to report for KOMO, and instead wound up posting a series of tweets Saturday that served primarily as thinly disguised promotional material for the hate group.
He ended up getting fired for the tweets and his handling of them on Monday. “KOMO did not direct or approve Jonathan Choe’s decision to cover this weekend’s rally, nor did his work meet our editorial standards,” read the statement from news director Philip Bruce. “We have decided to end our employment relationship with him effective today. We cannot comment further on personnel issues.”
One of the Twitter video posts—which Choe subsequently deleted—featured a soundtrack comprising a white-nationalist “anthem” titled “By God We’ll Have Our Home Back” running behind a series of eye-pleasing shots from the march, while the text informed readers that members were planning to linger and “answer questions if anyone is interested in learning more about their cause and their mission.” A follow-up tweet praised the Proud Boys because they “allowed me to record freely on public property without interference,” presumably in contrast to his experiences with antifascists.
The rally only attracted about two dozen marchers, who strolled up downtown avenues in a block-long group with music playing at high volume from a portable player carried by a Proud Boy. A number of them carried banners—yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden flags, Proud Boys banners, pro-Trump banners (one read “Jesus Is My Savior, Trump Is My President”), along with a few standard American flags. There were no counterprotesters other than a handful of hecklers along the sidewalks, separated from the marchers by Olympia police on bicycles.
It was billed on social media as a protest in defense of the Jan. 6 defendants. Among the dozens of people currently in prison and awaiting trial on charges related to the attack on the Capitol are six members of the Proud Boys leadership, including National Chairman Enrique Tarrio, indicted on conspiracy and obstruction charges. At least 17 Proud Boys have been identified by the Anti-Defamation League as participants in the insurrection.
Moreover, the leader of the Western Washington chapter of the Proud Boys—Ethan Nordean of Auburn—was the de facto leader of the Capitol siege that day, organizing the first attacks on the barriers around the building as well as the mob siege on the stairs and landing on the west side that led to the first breaches of the Capitol. He and other Proud Boys “Elders”—including Joe Biggs and Zachary Rehl—are currently awaiting trial alongside Tarrio.
The Proud Boys were designated a “general hate” group in 2018 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which noted that the group “plays a duplicitous rhetorical game: claiming to reject white nationalism while espousing a laundered version of popular white nationalist tropes”:
The Proud Boys’ actions belie their disavowals of bigotry: Rank-and-file Proud Boys and leaders regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists. They are known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric. Proud Boys have appeared alongside other hate groups at extremist gatherings such as the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Former Proud Boys member Jason Kessler helped organize that event.
Finally, the Proud Boys’ entire raison d’etre is violence: As we have experienced here in the Pacific Northwest these past five years, they offer up an entirely fungible variety of ostensible causes for their rallies and protests, ranging from free speech to gun laws to COVID denialism to men’s rights, all of them folded into the Proud Boys’ “Western chauvinism,” what Choe would describe as “their cause and their mission.” But these have all been mere pretexts for the real reason—often explicitly stated—that these men universally take to the streets: the opportunity to beat the shit out of liberals, leftists, Black Lives Matter, and “antifa.”
It’s unclear whether Choe was aware of any of this, though it seems unlikely that one of the top reporters for one of the Seattle area’s largest and most prominent news operations would be ignorant—or at least would fail to perform due diligence before covering them independently (he was not assigned to report on the event by KOMO, which had no coverage of it) and posting about it on Twitter while tagging his employer in the tweets.
It’s also possible that Choe was unaware that the song he used as the soundtrack for his “That’s a wrap” video—apparently played during the march—is a notorious white nationalist anthem known as the “Männerbund,” or “By God We’ll Have Our Home Again,” performed by a white nationalist band called Pine Tree Riots, featuring lyrics complaining that “In our own towns we’re foreigners now, our names are spat and cursed.” Proud Boys have adopted it as their anthem and sing it at public events. It’s less clear, however, why Choe would use such a song in his video without any idea of its origins.
KOMO’s news operations has come under sharp criticism since the station was purchased by Sinclair Broadcasting, the company with right-wing ownership that has suggested a white nationalist agenda previously in its handling of the Unite the Right protests and its edicts for anchors to read scripted pro-Trump editorials. To their credit, the staff and anchors at KOMO have openly resisted some of these initiatives.
Choe in particular has played a prominent role in demonizing homelessness in Seattle, producing an endless series of reports on squalid conditions at encampments that were part of KOMO’s execrable “Seattle is Dying” coverage. In recent months, he’s assiduously targeted key downtown locations—particularly at Third and Pine, a historically crime-ridden area—with coverage that sensationalizes the problems and plasters over any underlying causes. In Seattle, as in other large West Coast cities, out-of-control income disparity is the biggest driver of homelessness and crime, but Choe has never managed to report on that issue.
Rich Smith at The Stranger notes that Choe had been courting a dismissal for awhile, having appeared on right-wing radio host Dori Monson's show without approval, which prompted a staff-wide email from the news director reminding everyone that KOMO policy prohibits reporters from doing interviews outside the station without being cleared to do so. Choe’s increasingly antagonistic tweets afterwards produced another reminder from the boss that reporters had to follow the same rules on social media that they did when reporting.
"We're not in the opinion blog business or on a mission built around any particular cause. We are journalists and we tell stories. And we are not ever the story. If you are reposting or retweeting posts on our platforms that do not share our professional standards, that is unacceptable," the news director wrote.
Daily Kos’ sources at KOMO, like Smith’s, indicate that Choe seemingly wanted to be fired and candidly told people that. With “cancel culture” the hot topic on media from the Breitbart to The New York Times, it’s clear that Choe has spotted his next gravy train. A well-timed firing might set him up for life.