Updated May 21, 2021 - 11:22 pm
A group of far-right activists, alleged to have threatened several prominent Republicans, is considering running for leadership of the Clark County Republican Party.
Its members have deep ties to the local chapter of the Proud Boys, classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group contemplating election to leadership has planned its movements through an online social media forum soaked in what existing county party leadership deemed antisemitic content while promoting Israel publicly.
They provided deciding votes in the state party’s censure of Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, having allegedly swelled the ranks of the state party’s central committee just hours before because she refused to support the false narrative that fraud decided last year’s election.
The party conflict mirrors the national struggle for control of the Republican Party, as strident Donald Trump loyalists — including many who believe the former president’s re-election was stolen in 2020 — try to cast out dissenting voices who oppose extremist views within the party.
Two Republican women in public office told the Review-Journal they’ve been threatened by leaders of the fringe movement, as did the current board of the Clark County party, which is hiring security for a crucial meeting Tuesday.
The group is also deeply connected to an organization known as the “Republican Chamber of Commerce,” which lists a Las Vegas headquarters, charges exorbitant membership fees and features a slightly altered Republican National Committee logo despite not being affiliated with the Republican Party and having no public record of being licensed to operate as a business or political entity within Nevada.
While dozens have been involved, three men — Rudy Clai, Matt Anthony and Paul Laramie — appear to be the primary engines of the movement.
Anthony denied having made any threats or knowledge of the antisemitic content in an interview with the Review-Journal, saying leadership of the Clark County Republican Party is “playing dirty” as it attempts to keep him and other lawfully registered Republicans from participating in party meetings.
Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald denied having influenced either the Cegavske censure vote or the upcoming Clark County race, chalking up claims of his support to rumors flung as part of a well-known series of disagreements between the state party and Clark County Chair Dave Sajdak.
Anthony, Clai and eight other people filed a lawsuit Thursday against both the county and state party central committees, claiming they have been illegally boxed out of Clark County party meetings. Clai and Anthony are the purported chair and vice-chair challengers to a more mainstream slate headed by state Sen. Carrie Buck, whom existing county party leadership is supporting.
“We have the numbers, and they don’t, so they have to play dirty,” Anthony said in an interview Thursday. “It’s that simple.”
Clai gained some notoriety in the past year as the head of Fight for Nevada, one of several committees that failed in qualifying a recall election of Gov. Steve Sisolak.
A biographical website apparently belonging to Clai references mob associations in the Chicago area, where he previously lived.
“Now I use my old-school mobster knowledge and experience and apply it to everyday life — doing good!” it reads.
Another website for “The Know-All Team,” also styled as the “Know It All Team” on the same page, claims Clai worked for the Chicago mayor’s office as an administrative aide, the Illinois secretary of state’s office as an investigator and the Illinois State Republican Party as a campaign coordinator. It also claims Clai has managed and owned restaurants.
An attempt to reach Clai by phone for comment was not successful.
Anthony is also listed as a member of the Know-All team.
Anthony has recently received some local media coverage as one of Las Vegas’ most outspoken Proud Boys. He claims the Las Vegas chapter of the group is nonviolent and does not promote racism or hate.
The Anti-Defamation League describes the Proud Boys as “bearing many of the hallmarks of a gang, and its members have taken part in multiple acts of brutal violence and intimidation.” It notes multiple violent acts by Proud Boys during protests and public events, claiming the group has managed to insert itself into mainstream Republican politics in recent years.
“After several years of forging alliances with members of the Republican political establishment, the Proud Boys have carved out a niche for themselves as both a right-wing fight club and a volunteer security force for the GOP,” the League writes.
The U.S. Department of Justice has charged several Proud Boys with conspiracy and other accusations related to the Jan. 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol.
Anthony, whose given name is Matthew Anthony Yankley, is currently wanted in the state of Michigan for absconding from probation related to a 2012 drug possession charge, according to a Michigan corrections official.
Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz told the Review-Journal that Anthony was arrested in 2011 after he was pulled over for speeding. Police found 0.7 grams of heroin, two syringes and other paraphernalia and charged him with felony possession.
When he was released from jail in May 2012, Anthony told the court he wanted to return to Nevada, Gautz said. Michigan corrections allowed the move, but Nevada’s Department of Corrections declined to supervise his probation. Anthony was contacted and ordered to return to Michigan, but never did.
“(Anthony) has a bench warrant out of Oakland County for failing to report to his probation agent, for failing to return to Michigan after Nevada denied his inter-state transfer and failure to pay his supervision costs,” Gautz said. “That warrant has been active since August of 2012.”
Anthony denied having violated his probation.
Laramie refers to himself as a business consultant and entrepreneur who, in addition to Right News, also lists the Republican Chamber of Commerce in his portfolio. The Chamber’s website refers to him as president of the Las Vegas chapter. Until last week, Clai was listed as president of the Henderson chapter.
On his website, Laramie writes that the Chamber’s purpose is “helping businesses and down ballot politicians succeed in making Nevada a better place for all.”
Unlike dozens of other chamber organizations throughout the state of Nevada, there is no record of a business called the Republican Chamber of Commerce in the Nevada secretary of state’s business registry. There is also no state record of a political organization by that name.
An emblem prominently featured on its website mirrors that of the Republican National Committee, except that it features a red elephant on a white background encased by a red circle with the letters “RCC” and “Republican Chamber of Commerce” on it. The RNC emblem is a white elephant with a red background and a white circle.
The Chamber’s website notes at the bottom that it has no affiliation with the RNC.
The website uses a Google pay system to charge memberships, ranging from a $10 student rate to $99 for a “business level” Republican membership all the way to an “executive level/non-Republican” membership for $1,395.
It also sells a book of “spiritual healing” poetry for $5.99.
The page was offering $35 tickets for a May 12 live music event at Canyon Gate Country Club. A similar event featuring Wayne Allyn Root, a Newsmax contributor, conservative talk radio host and former Las Vegas Review-Journal freelance columnist, with Laramie and Anthony speaking before him, was also advertised with $35 tickets at the same place and time.
Root cancelled his appearance upon being alerted to the group’s background by other Republicans. In an email to the group the day he was scheduled to appear, and provided by Root to the Review-Journal, Root said he wanted no association with the chamber.
“I thought this was clearly a conservative business group. I was invited to give a business speech. I thought the audience would be business owners. I’ve been warned this is not the case,” Root wrote.
“And last night I was presented with direct evidence of the kind of social media posts that have been put out by people involved with your group. I witnessed anti-Semitic symbols, Nazi symbols, Jew hatred, and other posts I find distressing and objectionable. I cannot speak or attend any event involving leaders, organizers or promoters with these views.”
Attempts to reach Laramie for comment were not successful.
The group began attending county party meetings in November and has since openly clashed with Sajdak.
Panic in Clark County
Sajdak called an emergency meeting of the party’s executive board on May 11.
As most of the board and its attorney gathered in a small Las Vegas office, chief of staff Richard MacLean thumbed through the “Keep Nevada Open” group on Telegram, a social media site. The group was an offshoot of a somewhat popular Facebook group of the same name, where some 17,000 people planned anti-mask demonstrations, protests and generally railed against Democratic Party politics.
The Telegram group lists Anthony as its owner and Clai as a moderator.
MacLean showed his fellow board members several pictures and videos posted within the group, though not specifically by Anthony and Clai.
One photo blamed the 9/11 terrorist bombings on Jews. Another video featured a long clip of an Adolf Hitler speech and Nazi soldier marches. Some featured cartoon characters with negative Jewish stereotypes, and one photo featured messages written on dollar bills.
A post even poked fun at Republicans, claiming they seemed to be shocked at certain current events while white nationalists were thrilled by them.
Sajdak said the county party’s executive board voted unanimously to remove Clai, Anthony and others associated with the Telegram group.
“Our board met last week to deny membership to the people hosting the antisemitic and white supremacist group and materials online,” Sajdak said in an interview. “We voted to impose uniform membership standards, which is within our purview.”
The posts have since been taken down, and Clai and Laramie have publicly decried antisemitism on their Facebook accounts.
Anthony, who said he is part Jewish, said he did not see the posts on his Telegram group.
“I’ve since made a statement condemning (the posts) and removed them, and I blocked and banned the guy who did it,” Anthony said. “I condemn any type of hate.”
At the May 11 meeting, Sajdak also played a voicemail that he said was from Clai, whom he accused of harassing him. He said Clai and Laramie had threatened him through FaceTime, but he did not have a record of it. He also showed a missed call from Buck, which he said was actually from Clai and Laramie, who he claimed somehow altered their phone number to apparently impersonate Buck on Sajdak’s caller ID.
Sajdak told the board he planned to hire armed security for the next meeting, originally scheduled for May 18 but moved to May 25 due to a Jewish holiday.
It was Sajdak’s understanding that Clai and Anthony would seek party chairmanship and vice-chairmanship, respectively.
Anthony said he was “thinking about” running for party leadership, but the slate has not yet been finalized.
A message on the party’s website confirms the meeting will be held May 25 at the First Baptist Church of Las Vegas. It warns the church has a no-weapons policy on its property, which includes parked cars.
The meeting’s agenda confirms executive board candidates will address the party. The election is not until July, Sajdak said.
Clai and Anthony’s lawsuit claims the party has: “Removed and/or threatened to remove members from the committee without cause as required by (state law), inconsistently and arbitrarily applied the rules with respect to online applications by granting membership to some individuals and rejecting others and failed to hold meetings as required by the committee’s bylaws.”
The complaint also accused the party of racial discrimination, but does not elaborate. It seeks to stop all meetings until the plaintiffs are properly seated within the party.
MacLean, the county party’s chief of staff, denied the allegations on Friday.
He said the party has not discriminated against anyone, but rather some groups have mistakenly viewed two lists — one that contains people removed from the party central committee due to having moved or other typical reasons, and another of people who have been added after attending two meetings — as lists of attendees for upcoming meetings.
A screenshot of a Telegram post shows the user identified as Anthony planning an “all day event” ahead of the planned May 18 meeting to announce his and Clai’s candidacy for vice chair and chair of the county party. Anthony also claimed to have met with Nevada Republican Party Chair Michael McDonald.
The screenshot was given to the Review-Journal by Sarah Ashton, who said she is a progressive Democrat who attended events with Anthony’s group, collected information from online forums and worked with several Republicans during the 2020 campaign season as research for a book.
“Ultimately, much of what residents across the United States fear is true,” Ashton said of her time spent with the group. “Many of (former President Donald) Trump’s supporters despise the values of our nation, and hate those who believe in a prosperous, equitable future for all.”
Ashton is now running for Las Vegas City Council Ward 2 in 2022 as a Democrat. The nonpartisan seat is currently held by Republican Victoria Seaman.
According to Sajdak, Clai, Anthony and about 40 others were added to Clark County’s massive majority portion of the state party’s central committee at the April 10 state party meeting in Carson City.
Sajdak claims McDonald added the group to the roster in order to secure the votes needed to censure Cegavske, the secretary of state, after she publicly opposed the party’s attempts to discredit the 2020 election’s integrity.
Sajdak said the group was added to his party’s roster without following the normal verification practices, and the state party refused to show him the roster until the following week.
On a Sunday episode of the Johnny Bru podcast on Right News America, Anthony said Fight for Nevada, which Anthony said he serves as vice president of, was approached by the state party.
Anthony said the state party leaders told him they needed to “get Clark County in line” with the rest of the state, which votes Republican.
Anthony said he and about 30 people from the Fight for Nevada group went up to Carson City on April 10, “which ended up being the deciding vote to censure Cegavske.”
The final tally in Cegavske’s censure vote was 226-212.
“Our votes absolutely made the difference in censuring,” Anthony told host Johnny Bruchhagen, who has since announced an end to his relationship with Right News to focus on advocacy.
One stated reason for the action, according to the Nevada Republican Party, was that Cegavske “failed to investigate voter fraud.” Cegavske has maintained her office did investigate instances of alleged fraud reported by the party and others, but did not find widespread fraud.
According to Clark County voting records, Anthony voted in both the primary and general elections as a registered Republican. Changes to state law made in 2019 restore the right to vote to those convicted of a felony, provided they have “fulfilled the terms of their probation for the entire period thereof.”
According to the state of Michigan, Anthony has not fulfilled his probation terms.
During the podcast, Anthony was asked if McDonald knew Anthony was a Proud Boy.
“I believe so. It’s not like it’s a secret,” Anthony said.
The two podcasters also mention a recent speech McDonald gave at a Republican Chamber of Commerce event, a video of which was posted to Bruchhagen’s Facebook page.
On May 5, Laramie shared a Facebook post in support of Cegavske’s censure. It’s unclear if he was part of the group that went to Carson City and voted for the measure.
Clai, Anthony and others have since widely encouraged membership in the Clark County Republican Party through social media in anticipation of their leadership bid.
In an interview with the Review-Journal, McDonald said he first became aware of issues between the Clark County party and the Anthony/Clai faction when several groups, including Keep Nevada Open and Fight for Nevada, reached out to him for help with Sajdak.
He told the groups he was not responsible for the county party’s dealings, but said the state party welcomes any registered Republican to its meetings.
Sajdak and McDonald have feuded in Republican circles for years, with McDonald summing it up as there being “no love lost” between the two of them.
McDonald said he did not recruit Keep Nevada Open or any other group to participate in the April 10 meeting, nor was he involved in the censure that took place.
“That was brought by a central committee member,” McDonald said. “I wasn’t even there. (Las Vegas City Councilwoman and RNC committeewoman) Michele Fiore spoke out against it. Several of our board members voted against it.”
In his interview, McDonald said he was not aware of, and did not condone, any antisemitic or hateful messages or threats to elected officials.
McDonald denied supporting any slate for the Clark County party’s leadership, and said he only recently met Anthony for the first time. He added he is always actively recruiting members for his party through social media and public appearances.
He confirmed having spoken at the Republican Chamber of Commerce, but he said it was not a planned event. He was asked to speak on the spot by Mack Miller, whom he said runs the organization.
Miller, a frequent local candidate who previously came under fire for deserting his U.S. Army unit and impersonating a police officer, did not respond to requests for comment.
McDonald is a former Las Vegas police officer and Las Vegas city councilman, having served for nearly a decade in the ’90s and early 2000s. He is the longest-serving chairman in state party history.
He has faced prior allegations related to several high-profile scandals over his long political career. He has never been charged or convicted of any crime related to them.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated McDonald as part of the 2003 “G-Sting” operation, in which four current or former Clark County commissioners were convicted of charges related to collecting bribes from a strip club owner. McDonald has denied any wrongdoing.
In 2015, McDonald was among the defendants sued by Miracle Flights for Kids, a Las Vegas-based charity, after he allegedly received a $200,000 finder’s fee for a $2.2 million loan from the charity to a medical lien company he co-owned while also serving on Miracle Flights’ board of directors.
In 2019, the charity told the Review-Journal it had settled the lawsuit and recouped most of what it was owed.
After initial online publication of this article, Clark County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Weiss called the conflict within the local Republican parties “a natural progression” after four years of former President Donald Trump.
“This is further proof that GOP is an antiquated party that is not leading our state toward progress, but instead, is willing to support and prop up individuals who are devoted to bigotry and white supremacy,” Weiss said in a statement.
In an interview earlier in the week, Sajdak accused Laramie of threatening Clark County District Judge Nadia Krall, a Republican holding nonpartisan office.
Reached by phone, Krall confirmed Sajdak’s claim. She said she was not comfortable saying anything more when pressed about the threat.
Clark County School Board Trustee Katie Williams, also a Republican, mentioned a threat publicly at the May 13 meeting ahead of the board’s vote on whether to extend Superintendent Jesus Jara’s contract.
“Specifically, what it was was (Anthony) telling me to vote the right way and that people wanted him to do much worse to me,” Williams said in an interview. “I don’t take too kindly to threats, so I’m going to do what I need to do.”
Despite openly criticizing Jara as she campaigned for office in November, Williams said at the meeting she had gotten to know Jara better in the months since. She cast what was ultimately a deciding vote to keep him.
Williams told the Review-Journal she did not take the threat too seriously, which is why she did not name Anthony at the meeting.
Anthony denied making any threats against Williams.
Williams was accused of being affiliated with the local Proud Boys and other right-wing groups, such as the QAnon conspiracy, for months, culminating in an April article in Time magazine.
She told the Review-Journal she had been friends with Anthony, having met him at an anti-mask rally in May 2020. But she has since ended the friendship and denounced both the Proud Boys and QAnon, Williams said. She said she stopped attending Anthony’s events in January.
Williams said she had received a prior threat, promising to recall her from nonpartisan office, made by the local Proud Boys.
“They said I was going to lose a lot of followers,” Williams said. “If those are the type of people (supporting me), then I don’t want them in my corner. And they’re welcome to try and run a Proud Boy against me.”