Weeks after the Capitol Hill insurrection, a WBUR investigation has found two Massachusetts-based organizations — a fringe conservative group and a neo-Nazi hate group — are gaining membership and plotting a future without Trump in the White House.
The two entities, Super Happy Fun America — a self-described “pro-heterosexual” group that sent 11 buses of protesters to D.C. — and the neo-Nazi group Nationalist Social Club (NSC-131), have vowed to increase their respective ranks across the Northeast.
Super Happy Fun America (SHFA) claims heterosexuals are an “oppressed majority.” It organized the buses to D.C. on Jan. 6, charging $75 per person for the trip. In a Facebook post advertising the trip, Suzanne Ianni, an elected Natick Town Meeting member, is referred to as SHFA’s director of operations and the contact for the caravan.
The message includes details about where to catch buses throughout the state and says: “WE THE PEOPLE are being called on to "Stop the Steal". Let's put the fear of God into these Demo-Corruptionists and their RINO allies in Congress, and take back AMERICA.”
But that hasn’t stopped the group from expanding its ranks.
“We’ve got over 400 members, and we’re growing rapidly because people are frustrated, and we are probably the most activist conservative group in New England,” says John Hugo, 57, of Woburn, who describes himself as president of SHFA.
“We get out there on the street and we confront; confront what we consider evil,” says Hugo, in an interview with WBUR.
According to Hugo, who ran an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2018 as a Republican challenger to Rep. Katherine Clark and was a taxi dispatcher, those evils include what he called a fraudulent 2020 presidential election — a false allegation cultivated by former President Donald Trump. Dozens of court cases challenging the election have been tossed out of court — including by Trump-appointed judges — for lacking legal merit.
Still, Hugo and his group push, without evidence, the theory of a Trump victory.
“We think we’re living in a post-constitutional America at this point, and we’re going to fight back against that in any way we can,” Hugo says.
SHFA, according to researchers, isn’t the only group seeing a rise in membership after the Capitol riots.
Extremist and far-right organizations are also seeing an influx of new subscribers on messaging apps like Telegram and Signal. This increase comes in the wake of tech giants’ recent crackdown on Parler, a social media website popular with right-wing groups. Apple and Google have banned downloads of Parler’s app, and Amazon has stopped hosting Parler’s website for allowing posts that incited violence.
Nationally, membership on one of the Telegram channels associated with the extremist group the Proud Boys has spiked from 17,000 just after the riots to more than 45,000 members as of today, according to Telegram Analytics, a website that tracks data on more than 150,000 Telegram channels.
A designated hate group according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Proud Boys has had at least six members charged for storming the Capitol, with two facing conspiracy charges by federal prosecutors. Canada on Thursday declared the Proud Boys a terrorist organization; the U.S. is reviewing domestic terrorism classifications of such groups and could follow suit.
The Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin recently warning that extremist groups opposed to “the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition” could incite violence.
Robert Trestan, New England regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), says far-right organizations and hate groups are leveraging the D.C. protests.
“The leaders sort of rode the coattails of swarms of people who have this particular belief,” he explains. “I think there’s a real danger of people suddenly becoming supportive, becoming affiliated with some of these organizations.”
Massachusetts-based Nationalist Social Club (NSC-131) was also at the Capitol riots. Labeled a neo-Nazi group by the ADL, the organization has 1,281 subscribers on its Telegram channel, gaining over 250 members in the wake of the riots.
Christopher Hood, a 22-year-old from Dorchester, is cited as a leader and confirmed to WBUR in an interview that he is a representative of NSC-131 in New England. Hood was arrested in 2019 for carrying a dangerous weapon in an area of East Boston where flyers endorsing white supremacy had recently been posted.
Hood wouldn’t say whether he was in D.C. for the riots, but he did confirm members of the group attended. Messages on the NSC-131 channel on Telegram showed they went to the Capitol to ensure “white safety.”
Whereas SHFA advertised its D.C. trip, gathering members to show support for Trump, Hood says NSC-131 has no allegiance to the former president. According to Hood, his group tends to keep a lower profile. When concerns over COVID-19 subside, though, he says his group will gather in public.
“I mean, one day when we get all these people out on the street, I mean, the commonwealth is going to be shocked,” he says.
The group espouses anti-Semitic and racist views in its propaganda and engages in vandalism, counter-protests and flash demonstrations, according to the ADL. As NSC-131 supporters appeared to be posting pictures last month from the Capitol, some researchers are seeing a culmination of the group’s consistent efforts paying off.
“If you look at the last several years, as the sort of dissemination of hate symbols and hate messaging from these groups continues to increase and becomes bigger and bigger in our community, their ranks are also growing,” Trestan explains.
“So these things, they’re not a coincidence.”
SHFA is a registered non-profit and is not designated as a hate group by either the ADL or SPLC. It publicly introduced itself to Boston in 2019 when it hosted a “Straight Pride” parade, in a provocative attempt to galvanize support for heterosexuals. The event led to dozens of arrests and several minor injuries as hundreds of counter-protesters showed up in defiance of what many believed was an event aimed at promoting bigotry.
But over the years, SHFA’s protests and rallies, which are an important piece of the group’s agenda, have served as attractive recruitment opportunities for some of the more extremist groups in the state, according to experts.
It’s this unofficial intermingling of groups that the ADL’s Trestan says has the potential to shift someone’s view points from conservative to extremist.
SHFA “may hold an event, but they draw in many other groups,” he says. “And so people may go for one particular reason, and they may find themselves on the side of the barricade that includes white supremacists.”
Ben Lorber, an analyst who studies hate groups at the Boston-based progressive think tank Political Research Associates, says members of NSC-131 circulate freely at events hosted by better known organizations like SHFA.
“They’ve helped serve as the security detail, for example, for a Reopen Rally that Super Happy Fun America held in 2020,” he says. “I think…[it] really illustrates how all of these groups, even if they might stress very strong differences between them, really operate as part of a broader, far-right ecosystem.”
Hugo, the SHFA president, disavows neo-Nazi groups like NSC-131, calling them “scum.” He says NSC-131 has not been invited to his group's events.
Yet, Hood tells WBUR that his neo-Nazi group has provided security and participated in SHFA rallies.
“We talk to people about their ideas, our ideas,” Hood says. “We hand out flyers, and we have discussions with people.”
After the fallout of the D.C. protests and insurrections, and with criminal prosecutions underway, many of the organized groups involved are now hatching new pathways forward in a post-Trump nation.
For Hugo and SHFA, that means clinging to conspiracy theories about what he calls a “stolen election.”
For other more extremist groups, the future means disavowing Trump — and politics — altogether.
NSC-131’s Telegram channel and another channel affiliated with the Proud Boys have adopted an apocalyptic tone. Since the insurrection, the groups have been posting propaganda about tyranny of government and fighting a war of survival for Western civilization.
Lorber sees this as a natural progression, warning that resentment could boil over in the near future, particularly among extremist groups, and fuel militancy and radicalization for years to come.
“What we’ve seen,” he says, “in previous waves of white nationalist and far-right organizing is that when people become disillusioned with the ballot, they turn to the bullet."
This segment aired on February 5, 2021.