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Article was updated to reflect that KOMO news fired Johnathan Choe.
Johnathan Choe, a now-former Seattle reporter for Sinclair-owned KOMO News tweeted out a video Saturday promoting a public relations event for local chapters of the Proud Boys. The “Meet your local Proud Boy” event was at Tivoli Fountain in Olympia Saturday. The video was a slideshow of their event with a song called “We’ll Have Our Home Again,” which the Proud Boys lifted from a neo-Nazi podcast network called the Mannerbund in the lead-up to the Capitol riot and have been using ever since. Choe later deleted the slideshow video without explanation (though it is archived here.) The rest of his uncritical coverage of the group from the day remains untouched Sunday evening but was deleted apparently overnight. KOMO News fired him on Monday.
If you don’t know about the Proud Boys by now, they call themselves a “mens’ drinking club” that just wants to celebrate “western chauvinism.” Their founder, Gavin McInnes, (formerly of Vice Media) got the group’s name from a show-tune in the Broadway version of Aladdin. McInnes stepped down in the aftermath of two Proud Boys in New York being convicted of a gang assault. Their next leader was Enrique Tarrio, who is currently in jail until trial for his alleged role in organizing the January 6th 2021 coup attempt. Canada declared the group a ‘terrorist entity’ in the aftermath of their heavy participation in J6. According to their rules, Proud Boys members are not allowed to masturbate.
The Proud Boys have been a menace since their inception. They attach themselves to right-wing events or hold their own rallies, which are often just excuses to show up in “liberal” cities like Portland, Boston, etc. and commit gang assaults, usually with police looking the other way. At a previous Proud Boys event in Olympia, the group and their associates ran amok terrorizing downtown, spraying mace at families dining on a street they marched through and gang assaulting a journalist before an antifascist counter-demonstrator shot one of the Proud Boys’ leaders in the leg. That local Proud Boys leader, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, has assaulted numerous people and said he was in favor of genocide against Jewish people on video.
Choe neglected to say any of this in his coverage. His only allusion to the Proud Boys’ background was an uncredited repetition of the group’s line that J6 arrestees are “political prisoners who have been denied basic rights while imprisoned.”
The march Choe filmed was largely without incident and had a heavy police escort. When one person flipped off the Proud Boys marching by, Choe pointed his camera at the man, everyone standing around with him and the store he was standing in front of, giving anyone who wanted to find and harass these people information to go on whether he intended to or not.
“Members of the Proud Boys and the organizers with “Medium Free” declined my requests for interviews or comment. They are leery of the mainstream media. But they allowed me to record freely on public property without interference,” Choe said during his coverage.
As mentioned before, the Proud Boys and their associates targeted and sexually assaulted a journalist during a previous demonstration while members cheered it on. You can read her account here.
“No umbrellas or hands in my face,” Choe added. He was referring to leftist protesters who sometimes use umbrellas as a counter-surveillance tactic and are sometimes aggressive about being filmed—especially when the person filming or sharing the footage has an audience full of right wing trolls eager to doxx and harass people. On an unrelated note, Choe and far-right disinfo peddler Andy Ngo regularly cross-pollinate content with each other.
Choe’s main beat as a reporter, by his own description, is “covering Seattle’s homeless crisis/riots,” or as he put it in his pinned tweet, the “[hashtag] Homeless Industrial Complex.” He’s well known and mocked in Seattle for his sensational coverage.
In LCRW’s analysis, Choe follows the same kind of dehumanizing “broken windows” propaganda model that right wing media usually weaponizes against the unhoused—painting them as filthy drug users that cities need to sweep up and clean away. Many of Choe’s videos on Twitter are of him poking around peoples’ tents, going out of his way to photograph drug paraphernalia and watching unhoused people get arrested.
This has become more difficult lately. Seattle residents tell LCRW that when Choe films sweeps of encampments, he often can’t use the footage on air because people scream obscenities and otherwise disrupt him, though they say this hasn’t stopped him from escalating his rhetoric and tactics. Choe and Ngo even went after someone who disrupted his filming, deadnaming and outing the activist as trans online. Choe relented after the QLaw Foundation got involved. Recently, he went in plain clothes undercover to film a sweep, presumably to avoid hecklers.
According to sources at KOMO who spoke to Rich Smith of The Stranger, Choe has been “candid about telling people he wants to get fired.” Presumably this was he can have an “I was cancelled” story and tread the now-predictable and familiar path of being a right-wing media personality. Others who spoke to Smith said Choe had gone “full-blown rogue” and that photographers at the news station wrote letters saying they wouldn’t work with him anymore.
People outraged by Choe’s uncritical coverage of the Proud Boys’ event called in to KOMO to complain. During the event, Choe told attendees “I’m with KOMO news,” but spokespeople for the station told one caller that ““He was not on that story for KOMO.”
“Called the Newsroom line again, asked if Choe was in Olympia on a KOMO story. Was told that his tweet was not sanctioned by KOMO. Asked if KOMO knew if he had neo-nazi sympathies when they hired him and got the best response yet, ‘I work weekends, do you think I have any pull?’,” Adam Henderson said on Twitter.
“I also asked how many calls they’d gotten about Choe, was told “a lot”. Was told “management is going to address it,” Henderson added.
On Monday, management did address it:
Choe’s name no longer appears on KOMO’s masthead.
LCRW reached out for comment in Choe’s Twitter DMs on Sunday evening.
“You can no longer send messages to this person,” an automated response from Twitter read this morning.
Choe had blocked LCRW, as he has with other journalists who reached out for comment.