Southern Poverty Law Center lists 2 LI groups as anti-government
Two Long Island groups have been identified as antigovernment organizations by a nonprofit that tracks racism, xenophobia and far right militias in the United States.
Nassau County-based Long Island Mutual Assistance Group and Suffolk County-based Long Island Loud Majority were among 488 “extreme antigovernment groups” active in 2021, according to a report by the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center. The law center has released a yearly report of hate and antigovernment groups since the 1990s, based on group publications, citizen and news reports, law enforcement agencies, field sources and internet postings.
Leaders from the groups disputed the law center’s descriptions of their organizations. Mutual Assistance calls its members "service-minded citizens"; Loud Majority's supporters are patriots "tired of watching their liberties eroded away by an ever-expanding government," according to its website.
The listing does not imply that the groups are engaged in criminal activities, but is intended to bring public scrutiny to groups whose activities the law center says are antidemocratic. The law center categorizes antigovernment groups separately from hate groups. Anti-government groups tend to be motivated by the belief that government is tyrannical and may traffic in conspiracy theories, the center said. Hate groups target people based on characteristics such as race, religion and gender identity.
Anti-government group numbers peaked in the 2010s, but "the conspiratorial and permanently dubious view of government was pervasive" last year, according to the law center's report. An FBI spokesman did not comment specifically on the groups, but said in an email the agency does not initiate investigations based on the exercise of First Amendment rights.
Loud Majority co-founder: 'We’re not anarchists'
Loud Majority is “more political in its interests and involvement,” law center researcher Rachel Carroll Rivas said.
It has made “what we would call threats of political violence around issues of vaccines, masking, COVID restrictions,” she said. There’s “also anti-LGBTQ activity and targeting students and schools around issues of education and inclusive communities.” Those preoccupations reflect what the law center said was a widespread shift by similar groups after the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., to local politics focused on COVID-19 protocols and school curricula.
Loud Majority co-founder Shawn Farash, 31, of West Babylon, disputed the law center’s characterization of his organization: “We’re not anarchists, we’re not revolutionaries, we’re certainly not violent,” he told Newsday.
In an email, Suffolk police said the department knew of 18 events organized by the group since September 2020, with no reported criminal activities.
Loud Majority was formed in 2020, the year Farash used Facebook to organize a Copiague-to-Shirley convoy to support then-President Donald Trump.
The group later mobilized parents around issues of school masking. “Because we stayed loud … they have chosen to capitulate to us,” he said in a podcast last June after the state lifted an order that required masking in schools.
Asked for group membership numbers, Farash recited social media statistics. His social media presence includes a TikTok account where his 285,000 followers can watch his Trump impressions and a Twitter account with 84,000 followers. On that platform, he has likened the Smithtown schools superintendent’s behavior to Stalin’s, mused about the "tyranny" of mask mandates and made repeated false claims that the 2020 election was “stolen.” In recent weeks, he has tweeted about the "gender hoax," calling several prominent transgender women "still men."
On a podcast following a school board meeting in Manhasset earlier this year, Farash called an all-gender bathroom sign he saw in one of the district’s school’s "horrifying" and "disgusting … The life of your country is on the line."
Farash said he believed there were similarities between the Manhasset school district’s gender equity forum and actions taken in "Soviet Communist Russia" to undermine nuclear families. He didn't know "if there are actual card-carrying Communists pulling the strings” in schools, he said, but “I do know a Communist was in charge of the CIA.” He said he was referring to former CIA Director John Brennan. PolitiFact, an independent fact-checking website, evaluated that claim in 2018 and deemed it false.
Farash’s politics and business are mingled. He makes his living as a “content creator,” he said, and sells sound clips of himself impersonating Trump, along with pro-Trump and anti-Biden merchandise including mugs and sweatshirts on his website. Loud Majority US is a limited liability company registered to his address, but Farash said its revenue — from merchandise sold on the Loud Majority website, podcast sponsorships and donations — go toward operations and are not personal income.
Describes itself as part of a 'Militia Coalition'
Mutual Assistance, which also appeared on last year's list of antigovernment groups, was formed in 2018 or earlier, Rivas said. The group maintains a website where it describes itself as part of a “Militia Coalition” ready to respond during “strife” or “catastrophe” should the authorities become overwhelmed.
Rivas said some of the group's 24 to 36 members showed interest several years ago in vigilante patrols of the U.S. border with Mexico.
Andrew Poliakoff, a member of the group, did not agree to a Newsday interview, but wrote to Newsday in an email from a Mutual Assistance account that “while members are free to have their own feelings, the group is not anti government nor are its members. We are a constitutional group that believes in civil rights and individual liberty.”
Mutual Assistance’s website describes its membership as including military, law enforcement, fire/EMS, nurses and teachers.
“These groups purposefully recruit among people who hold positions of leadership, and it lends credibility to their extremist ideas,” Rivas said.
Poliakoff also wrote in an email: "We are a relatively small, local group, which as I said does not contain rank structure, who’s members are ready to assist other members, and community during an emergency situation, like a natural disaster. The group is not involved in politics, and has never had any of its members arrested for any illegal or anti government activity."
Suffolk police have had no interactions with Mutual Assistance, the department said. Nassau police did not respond to a request for comment.
Mixed views on groups
State Sen. Anna M. Kaplan (D-North Hills), who criticized Farash’s podcast comments earlier this year, said in an email she welcomed Loud Majority's listing.
“Extremist groups thrive when they can spout their hatred and conspiracy theories unchecked by those who fear confrontation, or those who cravenly align themselves with such groups for political gain,” she wrote. Groups as such “are cynically pretending to stand for freedom and our Constitution while disgracing our American values and undermining our democratic institutions.”
In September, Loud Majority organized a Stony Brook University vaccine mandate protest with conservative group Turning Point USA. Photographs on the group's Twitter feed show group founders at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Loud Majority uses those events to network and access “a unique demographic that has come around to patriotic ideals on the college campus,” Farash said. “What they get from us is access to New York, which everybody thought was a lost cause.”
Loud Majority has endorsed school and library board candidates in Smithtown, Nassau County Supervisor Bruce Blakeman and Rep. Lee Zeldin, both Republicans, and posted pictures on its Facebook account of those men smiling alongside Farash and others in Loud Majority sweatshirts. State Republicans have named Zeldin their designee for governor.
Rivas said Loud Majority members "cozy up to politicians to flex their power and appear bigger. We, however, are concerned about growth of the group over the last year and hope New Yorkers will take a hard look at what they are being asked to support and get involved in with this group."
Zeldin (R-Shirley), in an email, said: “These reports are meant to serve SPLC’s own biased political agenda and should not be taken seriously. Conflating someone who is pro-freedom and pro-liberty with the title of anti-government is … dangerously un-American."
A spokesperson for Blakeman did not respond to a request for comment.