Monday morning, Senator Marco Rubio sent out a tweet with the horrifying news that “one of our canvassers wearing my T-shirt and a Desantis hat was brutally attacked by 4 animals who told him Republicans weren’t allowed in their neighborhood.” Rubio’s account was quickly repeated by conservative organs like the New York Post (“Rubio campaign canvasser ‘brutally’ beaten by man who told him GOPers not allowed in his neighborhood”), National Review (“Rubio Supporter Savagely Beaten While Canvassing in Florida”), Washington Free Beacon (“Marco Rubio Canvasser Violently Attacked in Dem Neighborhood”), and Washington Examiner (“Rubio canvasser brutally assaulted in Florida, senator says”).
Rubio and his supporters held up the attack as evidence of his opponents’ predilection for violence. (“Since the Supreme Court’s summer ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, conservative people and organizations across the country have been repeatedly targeted for vandalism, harassment, and outright assault,” noted National Review by way of context.) What it actually revealed was something different than, and close to the opposite of, Rubio’s intended point.
There is no question the canvasser, Christopher Monzon, was the victim of a ghastly assault. But mainstream media reporting on the episode quickly cast doubt on Rubio’s central claim: that the assailant told the canvasser Republicans weren’t welcome there. The initial police report noted no political motivation for the attack, which took place in a high-crime neighborhood. The assailant had been charged with two prior felonies and, according to his mother, has never voted and has no interest in politics.
The true significance of this episode is a detail that emerged shortly after Rubio’s tweet: Monzon turns out to be close with the Proud Boys, a right-wing paramilitary organization. The Proud Boys, a sort of hybrid social club and political gang with racist and violent tendencies, played a central role in organizing the January 6 assault.
Last June, the New York Times reported on how the Proud Boys has begun to take over the powerful Miami-Dade Republican Party organization. It is one of the more alarming signposts of the Republican Party’s evolution into authoritarianism — I would say “most,” except that there are so many — because it signals violent and explicitly racist organizations are being formally welcomed into the party structure.
Monzon was one of the characters featured in the story. Before he joined the GOP, Monzon was involved in other white supremacist causes. He participated in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, where he allegedly used his Confederate flag to attack counterprotesters. His social-media posts from that period are filled with slurs like “Here’s to all the filthy n- - - - - - out there” and “Dirty n- - - - - - love abusing power.”
Monzon told the Times he has been on a “path to de-radicalization.” But when the Miami New Times tried to interview Monzon in the hospital, its reporter was denied access by a contingent of former and current Proud Boys. This suggests his self-professed “de-radicalization” has been, at best, incremental.
The HuffPost reports that Monzon was paid more than $10,000 by the Florida Republican Party this year. Rubio described him as one of his canvassers. Rubio was the Republican establishment’s choice to defeat Donald Trump in 2016, and he briefly gave a convincing performance as a person who was anguished by Trump’s abuse and lies. That he appears perfectly comfortable to work within a party that is developing a racist paramilitary wing is the clearest sign of the party’s complete surrender to extremism.
In June, a local reporter asked Rubio if he was okay with Proud Boys working in the Republican Party. Rubio deflected the question with the kind of hypothetical whataboutism that hackish partisans regularly employ: “Well, when you ask me about the Communists and socialists that are part of the local Democratic Party, then we can talk about members of the Republican Party.” There are some “socialists” in the Democratic Party, but advocating policies like single-payer health care and high tax rates is hardly equivalent to advocating racism and violence. I’ve never come across a Communist who views the Democratic Party with anything other than contempt.
This deflection is revealing for the way one of the smears that has become normalized in conservative discourse — that Democrats are Marxists and Communists — can be repurposed as a justification for Republican extremism. The false charge that Democrats are committed to violent authoritarianism has become Rubio’s pretext for doing that very thing.