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An anti-vax group in Las Vegas is experiencing tension and in-fighting as leadership seeks support from leftist groups and hardline fascists push the group towards militant white supremacy.
Freedom of Choice (FoC) is an anti-vaccine/mask-focused misinformation group based in Las Vegas headed up by Brandon Burns, a veteran who started the Facebook group after being fired for violating his workplace’s mask policy one time too many. The group has been relatively successful in the Vegas Valley, managing to bring hundreds to the Las Vegas Strip on September 7th to demonstrate against the concept of vaccine mandates. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by Vegas’s own Proud Boy chapter. Though they shy away from the spotlight, members of the white nationalist-adjacent street-fighting gang have ingrained themselves into the movement, and have been slowly but surely injecting their own brand of fascism into the antivax group. Further right and more radical members of FoC have also started conversations about civil war and militia building, and met very little resistance to their claims and suggestions. In a Telegram conversation about finding elected officials’ home addresses in September, one member replied “If they get scared, shit might change.”
Most notably, Nevada governor candidate and Jan. 6th insurrectionist Joey Gilbert (A.K.A. #PurpleMeatHead) has aligned himself closely with Freedom of Choice, utilizing their base to build support, hold rallies, and spread his brand. A recent promotional video for his campaign has included footage from FoC’s rallies and marches, and even a shot of Brandon Burns at the megaphone.
Interestingly, Burns has claimed to be talking with “Black Panthers and some of the people in BLM.”
“It’s ridiculous, the bigotry that some of you still have,” Burns told members of his group in a Facebook video on September 28th.
Burns told his group that they all have similar interests in “ending discrimination.” For Burns, “discrimination” means mask and vaccine requirements, not racial equality, but he’s happy to pretend they’re the same thing for the sake of building a coalition. But renowned meathead Joey Gilbert seems to disagree with Brandon Burns’ inclusionary nature, calling BLM a “Marxist movement that seeks to abolish this country.” This sentiment is shared by some members within FoC, as well. Proud Boys (PBs) within the group immediately scoffed at the idea of working with “terrorist commies.” Others complained that Burns’ hasn’t reached out to or spoken of local Proud Boys at all.
Most other Nevadan PBs, in the meantime, have been occupying their time with attempting a takeover of Vegas’ Republican Party. Former Trump campaign aide Jesse Law has headed up a slate of far-right committee members who are all either Proud Boys themselves or heavily supported by the city’s chapter. After an attempted lawsuit failed to prevent Law’s group from being voted in, following the re-election of Michael McDonald (another Trump ally and PB advocate) on Oct. 16th, the Nevada GOP officially confirmed his group as the true Clark County Republican Central Committee. This will mean Nevada’s Republican Party will be a platform to conspiracy theories of white genocide, stolen elections, and more relevantly, anti-vaccine misinformation.
Recently, some members in the anti-vax scene have fully disavowed Brandon Burns and Freedom of Choice Las Vegas, calling him a grifter and one even posting on Facebook bragging about burning their FoC t-shirts. They claim to be starting their own group for “true patriots” but have yet to actually do anything of substance. Meanwhile, Burns and FoC still have multiple future events planned and seem to believe they will continue to pull numbers onto the street.
FoC has mainly targeted the Las Vegas Strip and local school board meetings with their rallies. At Clark County School Board meetings, they’ve spent their time harassing board trustees and grandstanding during public comment, and getting ejected when they refuse to follow the rules. On the Strip, they’ve previously tended towards a relatively more passive approach, staying on sidewalks, following orders from police, and singing badly while marching past tourists and luxury resorts. On October 3rd, however, their rally pushed inside the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino. Since they refused to wear masks, they were asked to leave the property. When they refused this as well, security got involved, escalated action, and then involved police as well. The crowd was dispersed and despite whining, they made no attempt to return to the area. The Review Journal reported that there were only one arrest and two citations in connection with the march, but LVMPD officers assisted Casino security in physically removing several protesters from the property as well.
Despite this interaction with security and law enforcement ending the march early, most of those involved saw this night as a win. Many of those within FoC seem ready and even excited to engage in similar actions, with one saying on Telegram that “This will become violent one way or another. Big pharma isn’t going to give up without a fight because we yell.” And another stating that “The police will regret turning on the people… we assure you [WINK EMOJI]”
Though he definitely caused a rift in his organizing network by suggesting it, Burns doesn’t appear to have actually reached out to anyone in “Black Panthers and BLM.” LCRW reached out to several active leftist Vegas organizers to ask if Burns or anyone else in FoC had reached out to them. They all said Burns hadn’t.
“LMAO no,” one organizer who preferred to remain anonymous said when asked if FoC had reached out. “I don’t care about that conspiracy theory shit, and we wouldn’t work with fash like that ever to be honest.”