Joe Kent checks all the boxes: He spouts extremist rhetoric that reflects a white nationalist worldview. He associates with far-right extremists, including Proud Boys and their neofascist street-brawling cohorts. He insists that Donald Trump won the 2020 election, angrily defends the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as innocent, patriotic Americans, and is currently demanding the disembowelment of the FBI and the Justice Department for their recent search of Mar-a-Lago. Naturally, he also sports Trump’s avid endorsement.
So it wasn’t terribly shocking when the final results of last week’s Washington state primary election showed that Kent, a political novice, had defeated six-term Republican incumbent Jaimie Herrera-Beutler after she had made the politically fatal mistake of voting to impeach Trump in February 2021. But his victory represents much more than just Trump’s revenge: It manifests the intimate and profound relationship between Trumpism and the far-right extremism that has overwhelmed the Republican Party.
Kent, an Iraq War veteran who served 11 tours of combat, led the parade of Republicans who showed up on Fox News this week to denounce the Department of Justice and FBI for serving a search warrant at Trump’s Florida estate. Appearing on Tucker Carlson’s nightly program on Fox—where Kent had previously appeared to attack the Jan. 6 committee—he essentially reiterated his tweet from earlier that day claiming that “we must bring the national security state to heel or we won’t have a country anymore,” and that “we start with the FBI & DOJ.”
He told Carlson’s fill-in host, Will Cain:
We’ve seen the complete and total weaponization of our national security state. You mentioned how this all began with the Russiagate sham hoax and we saw the national security state at the highest levels weaponized against President Trump and his campaign throughout his administration. And now with the narrative coming from Jan. 6—and make no mistake, this is where the narrative really really was fortified to turn these potent tools against not just President Trump, but many of his top advisers, people who were working on the ground Jan. 6, and then people who were put away, thrown essentially into political prisons without any kind of due process.
Now the national security state continues to be on the hunt against President Trump, or now even all the way down to parents who show up to school board meetings. We have to realize that we are at war. When we take back the House in 2023, bringing the national security state to heel must be our top priority. Any Republican who is not ready for that fight is unfit for duty.
In June, Kent had appeared on Fox News with Carlson himself as they attacked the Jan. 6 committee hearings—and Republican Liz Cheney particularly—for conducting what they considered one-sided hearings. Carlson complained that the hearings would only be worthwhile “if there was somebody defending the rest of the county up there, and there doesn’t seem to be.”
No, and that’s supposed to be the Republican Party, and that’s a big reason I jumped in and decided to run for Congress. The woman who I voted for, the Republican I voted for, voted for the impeachment of President Trump, which gave this Jan. 6 narrative, which is being smeared against every conservative or anybody who has an issue with the way things are being conducted in the country or the way the last election went, it’s being used to turn the national security state against us. She voted for that impeachment, and then she voted for the formation of this very sham trial, Soviet kangaroo court Soviet-style.
Carlson and Kent were particularly put off by how Cheney shamed Republicans at the end of that day’s hearing. Kent huffed a thin rationalization and then threatened Democrats with dire consequences in classic conspiracist “Patriot” movement fashion:
She also brings up this whole, ‘Oh, it must be a Trump thing.’ No, it’s not a Trump thing. There is, the fact of the matter, the reason people were there on that day of Jan. 6, is that the American people, a vast majority of them, did not feel that their voices were heard at the election box, and therefore things started to get a little bit dicey.
And if our ruling class won’t actually go back and adjudicate what happened with our elections, our system is going to continue to decay. And no matter how much people in Congress lecture us or ignore these problems, our system will continue to crumble, until we get people in there, like I think we’re going to have this November, that can actually say, ‘Hey, we hear you, we’re going to go back, we’re going to look at the election of 2020, we’re going to have a full committee, we’re going to keep the Jan. 6 committee going, we’re going to disclose to the American people once and for all what really happened.’ Disclose all the footage. Disclose the government’s involvement.
Those far-right notes weren’t an accident: Kent’s entire background in politics is imbued with his close relationship to far-right Patriot movement activists and their Proud Boys cohorts. As Brian Slodysko’s recent profile of Kent for the Associated Press lays out in gory detail, Kent’s associations with conspiracists and far-right activists, including white nationalists, are extensive and varied.
Of those soon facing elections, Kent stands out for the breadth of his ties to a deep-seated extremist fringe that has long existed in the Pacific Northwest but is often obscured by the region’s overwhelming liberal politics.
Campaign finance disclosures reveal Kent recently paid $11,375 for “consulting” over the past four months to Graham Jorgensen, who was identified as a Proud Boy in a law enforcement report and was charged with cyberstalking his ex-girlfriend in 2018. The charges were dismissed in late 2019. But a judge in Vancouver, Washington, issued an order of protection requiring Jorgensen to stay away from her, records show.
More to the point is Kent’s long association with Joey Gibson, the founder and leader of the street-brawling group Patriot Prayer, which has an extensive history with a rotating cast of violent extremists and white nationalists. Many of Kent’s early campaign appearances—including a January 2022 rally against the COVID-19 vaccine based on misinformation—featured Gibson joining him on stage as a speaker.
Kent announced his candidacy in February 2021 and made his first campaign foray with a video explaining that he had been inspired to run following his return to the Pacific Northwest and the Portland, Oregon, area where he had grown up.
“I left my job in the intelligence community and returned home to the Pacific Northwest. But peace wasn’t in store for us. Shortly after we returned home I watched Portland and Seattle devolve into nightly riots and lawlessness. Once beautiful cities destroyed by the left’s quest for power. I wanted to do something to stop the downward spiral that our society was heading.”
He went on: “The events of 2020, including the lockdowns, riots and a presidential election manipulated by a cabal of technocrats and bureaucrats followed by a sham impeachment—a sham impeachment that our congresswoman voted for—made it clear to me that I had to go forward and fight once more.”
By that summer Kent had formed an alliance with Gibson, both appearing at various COVID-denialist events as speakers, including an “Unmasked Unjabbed Uncensored Rally” at Vancouver’s Esther Short Park in August. Kent also was photographed socializing with Gibson and several of his Patriot Prayer cohorts at an August gathering at Cottonwood Beach near Washougal to honor the memory of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a member of the group who had been shot to death a year beforehand by a Portland resident who was tracked down and killed in short order. Kent also shows up in a Patriot Prayer group selfie taken by one of Patriot Prayer’s more notorious figures, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, currently awaiting trial on multiple felony assault counts.
By then, Kent had already secured Trump’s endorsement by coming out early as a critic of Herrera-Beutler for her vote to impeach Trump. A July Washington Post piece quoted Kent, speaking at conspiracist “America First” rallies and tweeting: “We need to fight for election integrity. Do not reward incumbents that refused to contest the 2020 election.”
Trump endorsed Kent in June. Within a matter of weeks, he had financial backing from pro-Trump billionaires like Steve Wynn and Peter Thiel.
Kent began appearing on a variety of far-right programs with nationwide reach. He was a guest of Infowars’ Owen Shroyer on two occasions. He started appearing regularly on ex-Trump aide Stephen Bannon’s War Room podcast. On one of those occasions, he promoted his and Gibson’s January 2022 rally against “COVID tyranny” and the “forced quarantine.”
Kent was one of the featured speakers at a September 2021 rally in support of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists currently awaiting trial for their actions that day, calling them “political prisoners.”
“Our fellow citizens when their constitutional rights are taken, if we do not speak out against that we are guilty of standing by and watching those rights erode,” he said, claiming that Jan. 6 rioters were “detained and have their due process denied.”
“That’s not the way this works—this is a slippery slope and we are on it right now,” he said, telling the audience that the Capitol Police officers who defended Congress from the rioters “are not our enemy.”
Our enemies are those that will deny people their constitutional rights, and will take a narrative that labels all of us as terrorists or insurrectionists for just questioning things. It’s our God-given right and duty as Americans to actually question things, to question the narrative. It’s our job.
In February, he got into a well-publicized spat with white nationalist Nick Fuentes after the latter’s infamous America First PAC convention at which a number of Republicans spoke. Fuentes also caught considerable attention for praising Russia’s Vladimir Putin and comparing him favorably to Adolf Hitler.
These remarks sent Kent—who had previously embraced the “America First” label, and reportedly had conversed with Fuentes about social-media strategy—running for cover. Fuentes went on his popular podcast and described the call with Kent. One of Kent’s Republican opponents called on him to denounce the association with Fuentes.
Kent, who has a Twitter following of 125,000, claimed his opponents were “spreading lies about me,” and insisted that he condemned Fuentes’ politics. He said he didn’t seek the white nationalist’s endorsement “due (to) his focus on race/religion.”
About a month before the dispute broke out, Kent had been interviewed by David Carlson of the Groyper-adjacent white nationalist group American Populist Union (which shortly thereafter rebranded itself as American Virtue), a kind of competing far-right organization that embraces most of the ideological fundamentals of white nationalism but tries to eschew the incendiary rhetoric of groups like Fuentes.
After the feud broke out with the Groypers—culminating in Fuentes taunting Kent: “You’re not for white people. You’re not for America. You’re not for Christianity. You’re not for our heritage”—Carlson reinterviewed Kent, who repeated his reasons for distancing himself from Fuentes.
But it was simultaneously clear that their differences were more stylistic than ideological. Kent assiduously avoided any direct endorsement of white nationalist views on race and demographics, but his own previously stated positions (particularly his endorsement of an “immigration moratorium,” a longtime white nationalist agenda item) made it hard to run too far away.
Kent ended up agreeing that he doesn’t see “anything wrong with there being a white people special interest group,” that America’s racial demographics should remain in their current state, and that “legacy Americans whose ancestors fought in the American Revolution” should have their needs prioritized over those of (in the words of a questioner) “Chinese-speaking anchor baby citizens.” These are all classic white nationalist positions.
The interview revealed Kent’s own inner white nationalist:
Carlson: If the constituency of the movement is young white Christian men that would be true the same way the constituency of BLM is black people, you know that doesn’t mean it’s only for those people, right, there’s also like white liberals that self-hate that are part of BLM.
Kent: Yeah, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with there being a white people special interest group. They have to be very careful about the way they couch that and the way they frame that, obviously in terms of messaging and in terms of getting credibility. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. As far as me running as a candidate, running out there and saying this is all about white people, that does not seem like a winning strategy.
Carlson seemed unpersuaded, and eventually posed a question shaped by white nationalists’ favorite conspiracy theory, that of “white genocide”:
Carlson: We’re talking about demographics here. American demographics right now are like what, 70 percent white, 30 percent minority. Um, I mean, at what point have we lost America?
Kent: It has a lot more to do with, like, who are we bringing in. I think America is very lucky in the fact that like the people to our south the Hispanic community most of them are Christians, they’re Catholic right, so I think that’s why they are so easy to kind of absorb. Again I don’t want to absorb all. But we are very lucky compared to Europe who their version of Mexico is Africa and the Middle East where there’s drastic cultural and religious differences, so we’re fortunate in that place. I don’t know what the ideal ratio is, I would never want to look at it in terms of racial percentages, I would want to keep it very close to the way it is right now.
After the Associated Press published Slodysko’s revealing portrait of Kent, his campaign was dismissive. “The establishment is attacking me b/c they fear us, 1 day they say I’m a Bernie bro, the next they copy a page out of the dem’s play book & call me a nazi,” he tweeted. “I’m targeted at my town halls by the far left & real racists—I take them all on b/c truth is on my side.”
He now faces a Democratic opponent, Marie Glusenkamp Perez, who finished with the most votes in the top-two primary. However, Kent will be favored in a district that has traditionally voted Republican.
Gluesenkamp Perez said the November race will be “a national bellwether for the direction of our country,” and denounced his ties to far-right nationalists, saying his “unapologetic extremism and divisive approach demonstrate he is unfit for public office.”
For his part, Kent has simply doubled down. Appearing on Bannon’s podcast this week, he declared: “We are at war.”
“The left isn’t the left of 10, 15 years ago,” Kent went on. “These guys don’t care about winning arguments anymore. … It’s a total, full-frontal assault, and they’re going after every one of us.”
“So what we have to do when we take back power … we have to play smash-mouth.”
If Kent does win this fall, he’ll certainly have one distinction: He will be the closest thing the Proud Boys get to having “their guy” in Congress.