Affirmative action opponents are facing criticism this week after a YouTube video surfaced showing a local Proud Boy apparently providing security for the "No on Referendum 88" campaign. The campaign's willingness to get help from the Proud Boys, a far-right fringe group known for proudly spewing racist taunts online and in street brawls across the country, earned a quick rebuke from the opposing, pro-Affirmative Action campaign.
In the video posted to YouTube in August, local Proud Boy Zachary Staggs appears to sit in the back of a paneled van surrounded by boxes of apparent referendum signatures. Staggs tells the camera about a call he says the Proud Boys received from the campaign to repeal the Washington State Legislature's passage of a new Affirmative Action law (the repeal would happen via a "No" vote on this fall's Referendum 88). According to Staggs, the "No" campaign couldn’t find anyone else to provide security for transmitting referendum signatures to the Secretary of State’s office, so they wanted the Proud Boys to help.
“No one would take the job for doing security for them,” Staggs tells the camera, “so they gave us a call and we went down and did security for them and the signatures got down there safely and securely.”
For those who are understandably confused at this point by all the double negatives involved in the Referendum 88 fight, a quick un-wrinkling:
What this all means is that affirmative action opponents (the "No on Referendum 88" folks) now have the support of Crosscut's conservative columnist Jon Carlson, the Sizzling Pot King chain of restaurants (the campaign's largest donor), and the Proud Boys. While the pro-Affirmative Action side (the "Yes on Referendum 88" folks) has the support of the ACLU, the Democratic Party, the NAACP, nearly all major labor groups, and Microsoft.
The video was apparently produced by a different man named Zachary Thomas, who had this to say when he started the video:
Hey guys, welcome to Correct the Record with your host, Zachajewa, your favorite Black Trans Native woman. we’ll be showing you a little bit of a video here today showing you what we do here for the community around Seattle.
Linda Yang, the head of WA Asians For Equality, the referendum’s sponsor, initially denied the connection to the Proud Boys. “The Proud Boys’ (sic) were never hired by the campaign and do not work nor are they associated with this campaign,” Yang said in an e-mail.
When I pointed out that the video clearly shows members of her campaign working with the Proud Boys (Yang herself even appears to be in the video), Yang clarified that they didn’t know their hired security guards were Proud Boys.
“The Referendum 88 petition drive worked with many volunteers during the signature gathering phase,” Yang said. “We didn’t know the association of these individuals you refer to, nor did they tell us.”
April Sims, co-chair of the pro-Affirmative Action campaign, said it was troubling to see the opposing campaign enlist the support of the Proud Boys.
“It’s troubling to see an organization that is running a campaign that touts anti-discrimination, to turn to a known white hate group like the Proud Boys,” Sims said. “It’s shameless and it’s also part of their overall tactic and growing concerns that we have about the tenor of the overall campaign.”
Sims, who is also the secretary-treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, pointed to a recent Seattle Times podcast in which anti-Affirmative Action campaigner Kan Qiu compared Affirmative Action to the Jim Crow segregation laws.
“Comparing [Affirmative Action] to Jim Crow laws is disgusting and insulting to the people that fought for civil rights to overturn those Jim Crow laws,” Sims said. “This is part of an extremist national agenda to deny equity and access to people of color.”
Voters will get a chance to weigh in on affirmative action in this November’s election (ballots are already in the mail!) when they decide on Referendum 88.
Approving Referendum 88 would allow affirmative action to be used by state institutions. Voting down Referendum 88 would continue Washington’s ban on affirmative action, which has been in place since 1998.
State Sen. Joe Nguyen, who has been campaigning for Referendum 88, said he wasn't surprised to see the opponents work with the far right fringe group.
"I’m not surprised at all," Nguyen said. "The folks that are fighting against racial equity align with the folks that believe that other ethnic minorities are less than them. Of course I’m not surprised by this relationship."