MERIDIAN, Idaho – The primary time Alek Kyzik tweeted, two months in the past, he invited Donald Trump Jr. to a pro-Trump rally he was internet hosting in Boise.
“I’d love to talk,” he wrote in a public publish on July 9 addressed to the president’s eldest son, who didn’t reply. “Thanks!”
The invitation was to a “cruise,” the kind of provocative present of power that will develop into Kyzik’s signature: a motor-rumbling, flag-waving caravan of automobiles and vans endorsing Trump on the streets of liberal cities. The newest cruise he hosted concerned 1000’s of automobiles advancing on Portland. It ended with one participant shot useless.
Kyzik was not well-known in Republican activist circles. The truth is, Kyzik was not even his actual title, in response to a evaluation of enterprise and educational data, in addition to interviews with members of the family.
He’s Alex Kuzmenko, a 33-year-old architect and who lives in a second-story residence in Meridian, a bed room group outdoors the majority-Democratic metropolis of Boise. His YouTube channel featured luxurious automotive critiques earlier than shifting to pro-Trump memes and movies a number of months in the past. He and members of his household – immigrants from Belarus and Ukraine – had virtually no political profile earlier than organizing one of the consequential pro-Trump demonstrations of the summer season.
The taking pictures of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, 39, a supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer and a participant within the cruise rally, grew to become a bloody bookend to an anguished summer season in Portland and different communities. The alleged assailant, a self-described adherent of antifascism, or antifa, was later killed in an encounter with police.
The killings turned the cruise rally right into a spectacle of American dysfunction. The episode elevated a tactic – proclaiming a political ideology with a parade of individuals revving their engines and brazenly displaying weapons – that might add gasoline to an more and more bitter presidential contest.
As intelligence officers warn of overseas efforts to inflame divisions forward of the Nov. three election, the work of Alex Kuzmenko and his family, who organized the actions utilizing on-line accounts that didn’t reveal their full names, exhibits how little-known people with no recorded historical past of political engagement can seize an outsize function within the marketing campaign.
With little greater than a Fb login, personal residents have been capable of faucet into an present urge for food for protest and partisan faceoff. As with the teenage gunman in Kenosha, Wisconsin, or the black-clad protesters in Portland, street-level confrontations have develop into defining moments within the period of viral politics, at occasions eclipsing the official actions of Trump and his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.
Kuzmenko, who declined to remark at size for this story, has mentioned publicly that it was not his intention for cruise members to confront protesters immediately, or for the caravan to finish in violence. The aim, his members of the family mentioned in interviews, was merely to point out assist for the president.
However protection of the caravan took on a lifetime of its personal, changing into fodder for conspiracy and propaganda shops. The Epoch Occasions, a pro-Trump publication tied to the Falun Gong non secular motion crucial of the Chinese language authorities, featured Kuzmenko, referring to him by his alternate title, in its reside protection of the occasion on social media.
“MAGA is heading into Portland,” right-wing provocateur Jack Posobiec, a correspondent for the pro-Trump One America Information, wrote on Twitter. The tweet was shared the following morning by Trump, who added, “GREAT PATRIOTS!”
Video of the cruise rally and its chaotic entry into downtown Portland was additionally promoted by the Kremlin-financed RT, together with lesser-known, U.S.-based shops searching for to enhance relations with Moscow.
“Oregonians bored with riots organized a mass automotive rally in assist of Donald Trump,” learn the Russian caption on the video shared throughout Fb by “The Russian American,” the media arm of a Seattle-based NGO advocating improved ties with Moscow. Nobody from the group, the Russian-American Cooperation Initiative, took half within the caravan, mentioned its director, Sergey Gladysh, declining to elaborate on why that they had nonetheless amplified video of the occasion on social media.
Native Republican officers and activists mentioned Kuzmenko and his family have been strangers to them till they started organizing pro-Trump caravans this summer season, first in Boise, the place two occurred in July and August, and in the end in Portland.
“I attended one,” mentioned Victor Miller IV, chairman of the Ada County Republican Central Committee in Idaho, declining to remark additional.
Cin Alfonso, co-founder of the Idaho Liberty Canine, a pro-Trump group that has despatched armed civilians to observe Black Lives Matter protests, had not heard of Kuzmenko earlier than his cruise rallies this summer season.
Trump marketing campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh mentioned that the marketing campaign has had “no contact” with Kuzmenko and that it didn’t present any Trump merchandise for the cruise rallies.
Kuzmenko and his household mentioned they organized the Portland rally due to their assist for Trump in addition to concern about months of unrest there.
“No one’s paying us to do any of this,” mentioned one brother, Nikolay Kuzmenko. One other brother, Dennis Kuzmenko, mentioned, “We needed it to be natural.” Oleg Volkov, a Portland-based affiliate of the household who recorded video from the scene of the caravan, mentioned he was “not affiliated with any teams or something like that,” declining to remark additional.
Regardless of the give attention to the bloodshed in Portland, together with in a volley of tweets from the president the morning after the Aug. 29 episode, little is thought concerning the personalities who set the occasions in movement.
When approached at a church in Meridian run by a relative, Alex Kuzmenko mentioned his political actions have been private, insisting, “I’m not a public determine.”
Nikolay Kuzmenko mentioned the hosts didn’t reveal their full names as a result of they feared backlash from antifa, a free assortment of left-wing activists Trump has made a focus of his reelection marketing campaign.
Alex Kuzmenko and a lot of the different rally organizers are members of an prolonged household that got here to the US in 1993 from close to Chernobyl, Ukraine, a number of members of the family mentioned. Alex Kuzmenko’s mom, Lyubov, mentioned she is initially from Belarus.
In an interview outdoors her blue farmhouse in Nampa, Idaho, Lyubov Kuzmenko and her son, Dennis, traced their embrace of Trump to the household’s difficulties dwelling beneath the Soviet system. They mentioned the household suffered non secular persecution due to their evangelical Christian beliefs and that family who stayed in Belarus have had little alternative to prosper.
“Communism. That’s what we acquired away from,” mentioned Dennis, 24, who owns a neighborhood heating and cooling firm. “Trump is all about non secular freedom and letting individuals serve their very own God. And we’re behind that.”
The household first settled in Portland after which relocated to Meridian in 2006, the 24-year-old and his mom mentioned. They selected to settle in Idaho’s Treasure Valley due to the character and household ambiance, Lyubov Kuzmenko mentioned. She and her family make up about half the congregation on the Fountain of Life Church, a neighborhood evangelical congregation that’s led by a relative and holds providers in Russian.
Alex Kuzmenko is listed because the director of an actual property firm that advertises the chance to “Promote Your Home For Quick Money.” He and his spouse, Lily, have run a marriage pictures enterprise. A number of members of the family are listed as officers of freight transport and trucking companies, in response to company data.
Dennis Kuzmenko mentioned that he and Alex conceived of internet hosting Trump rallies in Boise and Portland to fill a marketing campaign void.
“There’s no Trump rallies happening. There’s nothing happening. Everybody’s simply hiding out,” he mentioned. “We needed individuals to get on the market.
“It was simply enjoyable for us.”
Nearly the entire rally’s hosts used pseudonyms or variations of their names to host the Portland occasion on Fb. Nikolay, who seems to function a number of Fb accounts, goes by Nik Kuz. Nikolay’s spouse, Yuliya Kuzmenko, goes by Julie Kuz. One other host, Tina Berezhnoy, shortened her title to Tina Bere. Neither girl responded to requests for remark.
The Kuzmenko household has little documented historical past of political activism. Alex Kuzmenko voted in 2016 however in no different American election, data point out. His brother Dennis, who mentioned he’s the one member of the family born in the US, can also be the one member of the Idaho household to make a contribution to a political committee, in response to the Federal Election Fee database. It exhibits he gave $60 to a pro-Trump group and different Republican causes final 12 months.
A Fb co-host for Kuzmenko’s first rally, Bonnie Isbill Dodson, mentioned she had by no means met Kuzmenko or attended any of his rallies, together with the one she co-hosted. The Meridian resident mentioned she had been scrolling by way of objects on Fb Market when she got here throughout the invitation for the July rally in Boise and was alarmed by a string of offensive feedback. When she contacted Kuzmenko, he requested her to observe the posts. The subsequent factor she knew, she mentioned, she was listed as a co-organizer on the occasion web page.
Kuzmenko publicly distanced himself from a subsequent Portland caravan, writing on Fb: “Given all of the circumstances and investigations happening, we wish to be VERY CLEAR that the Labor Day Portland Rally is NOT organized by us. Such occasions take time to prepare and every little thing that’s organized quickly is just NOT SAFE.
“Primarily based on our legislation enforcement contacts, they extremely discourage any rally from occurring so quickly after the primary one.”
Kuzmenko has already bored with political activism, his household insists.
“He desires out,” Dennis Kuzmenko mentioned of his brother’s organizing efforts. “He desires another person to take over.”
He continues to advertise his previous occasions, nevertheless. After warning towards new rallies, he returned to his Fb occasion web page, which is adopted by practically 11,000 customers, to attract consideration to a extremely produced video of the rally he had organized in Portland, highlighting the flag-waving spectacle earlier than the street-level brawls started.
“The rally video is finished, please like and share with family and friends,” he wrote on Sept. 5.
The video has been seen about 150,000 occasions, drawing appreciable consideration to his YouTube channel, known as “Open N Evaluation,” which was dedicated to luxurious automobiles for 2 years earlier than a sudden shift to pro-Trump politics this summer season. His movies used to common about 10,000 views. Now he’s topping 100,000, and a YouTube spokeswoman, Charlotte Smith, confirmed that his channel is incomes income from adverts showing on his movies.
A lot of the video’s engagement on Fb, in response to knowledge from the evaluation software CrowdTangle, got here from a publish in a bunch known as “Pray for Our President” by an account known as “Nozul Olyvia,” its profile image a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. Fb eliminated the account following questions from the Washington Publish. It was not clear who was behind the account, with a Fb spokeswoman, Sarah Pollack, saying solely that it violated the corporate’s coverage on authenticity.
In drumming up on-line curiosity within the rallies, Kuzmenko and his household confirmed appreciable sophistication on social media, together with hiring a Boise-based video firm to shine his presentation, in response to the top of the corporate, Bryan Bowermaster. Kuzmenko’s first motion on the occasion web page was provocative – sharing a Fb publish from the president that included a video exhibiting him working for workplace indefinitely, with indicators studying “Trump 2024” and on into the long run. The identical message was later echoed on the August rally in Portland, with chants of “12 extra years, not simply 4!”
“We name all patriots and God-loving People to cease ready for a change, however be the change in your nation by praying and voting, in particular person, this November,” Kuzmenko mentioned, studying from notes right into a megaphone on the rally.
Within the weeks main as much as the Portland cruise, he and his family additionally posted repeatedly about alternatives to buy flags and different gear for the occasion. American flags and Trump flags went for $5 to $15, whereas the worth for “skinny blue line” flags was $10, in response to screenshots of their numerous promoting bulletins on social media. Kuzmenko’s sister-in-law, who goes by Julie on Fb, provided “CUSTOM MADE” hitch mounts, able to holding as much as three flags, at $60 apiece.
The caravan route was apparently meant to keep away from downtown Portland, the location of months of nightly and sometimes violent clashes between legislation enforcement and protesters. However some members drove there anyway, firing pepper spray and paintball weapons.
“The taking pictures was not a part of the occasion. It was not a part of the cruise rally,” Kuzmenko mentioned in a video, accusing antifa of funneling individuals downtown.
In a three-hour video of the early part of the cruise rally, uploaded to Kuzmenko’s YouTube web page, a lady who seems to be holding the digital camera says at one level, “We’re going to move over to downtown Portland.”
At one other level, the lady behind the digital camera – who switches seamlessly between English and Ukrainian – seeks to stage internet-ready enthusiasm, asking a rallygoer standing earlier than a crowd to start a chant: “Are you able to stroll up and down the road, like, ‘USA?’ ”
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