Kyzik was not well-known in Republican activist circles. The truth is, Kyzik was not even his actual title, in response to a assessment of enterprise and tutorial 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 house in Meridian, a bed room group exterior 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 nearly no political profile earlier than organizing one of the crucial consequential pro-Trump demonstrations of the summer time.
The capturing 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 time 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 overtly displaying weapons — that might add gas to an more and more bitter presidential contest.
As intelligence officers warn of international efforts to inflame divisions forward of the Nov. three election, the work of Alex Kuzmenko and his kinfolk, who organized the actions utilizing on-line accounts that didn’t reveal their full names, reveals how little-known people with no recorded historical past of political engagement can seize an outsize position within the marketing campaign.
With little greater than a Fb log-in, non-public residents have been capable of faucet into an present urge for food for protest and partisan faceoff. As with the teenage gunman in Kenosha, Wis., or the black-clad protesters in Portland, street-level confrontations have turn out to be defining moments within the period of viral politics, at instances eclipsing the official actions of Trump and his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.
Kuzmenko, who declined to remark at size for this story, has stated publicly that it was not his intention for cruise individuals to confront protesters instantly, or for the caravan to finish in violence. The aim, his members of the family stated in interviews, was merely to indicate help 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 barred from promoting on Fb due to nontransparent spending practices, featured Kuzmenko, referring to him by his alternate title, in its dwell 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 looking for to enhance relations with Moscow.
“Oregonians bored with riots organized a mass automotive rally in help 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, stated 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 stated Kuzmenko and his kinfolk had been strangers to them till they started organizing pro-Trump caravans this summer time, first in Boise, the place two occurred in July and August, and in the end in Portland. “I attended one,” stated Victor B. Miller IV, chairman of the Ada County Republican Central Committee in Idaho, declining to remark additional.
Cin Alfonso, co-founder of the Idaho Liberty Canines, a pro-Trump group that has despatched armed civilians to watch Black Lives Matter protests, had not heard of Kuzmenko earlier than his cruise rallies this summer time. “Alex simply popped up sooner or later,” Alfonso stated.
Trump marketing campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh stated 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 stated they organized the Portland rally due to their enthusiastic help for Trump in addition to concern about months of unrest there. “No person’s paying us to do any of this,” stated one brother, Nikolay Kuzmenko. One other brother, Dennis Kuzmenko, stated, “We needed it to be natural.” Oleg Volkov, a Portland-based affiliate of the household who recorded video from the scene of the caravan, stated 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 in regards to the personalities who set the occasions in movement.
When approached at a church in Meridian run by a relative, Alex Kuzmenko stated his political actions had been private, insisting, “I’m not a public determine.”
Alex Kuzmenko and a lot of the different rally organizers are members of an prolonged household that got here to america in 1993 from close to Chernobyl, Ukraine, a number of members of the family stated. Alex Kuzmenko’s mom, Lyubov, stated she is initially from Belarus.
In an interview exterior her blue farmhouse in Nampa, Idaho, Lyubov Kuzmenko and her son, Dennis, traced their embrace of Trump to the household’s difficulties residing beneath the Soviet system. They stated the household suffered spiritual persecution due to their evangelical Christian beliefs and that kinfolk who stayed in Belarus have had little alternative to prosper.
“Communism. That’s what we received away from,” stated Dennis, 24, who owns an area heating and cooling firm. “Trump is all about spiritual 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 stated. They selected to settle in Idaho’s Treasure Valley due to the character and household environment, Lyubov Kuzmenko stated. She and her kinfolk make up about half the congregation on the Fountain of Life Church, an area evangelical congregation that’s led by a relative and holds providers in Russian.
Alex Kuzmenko is listed as 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 wedding photography business. A number of members of the family are listed as officers of freight transport and trucking companies, in response to company data.
Dennis Kuzmenko stated 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 occurring. There’s nothing occurring. Everybody’s simply hiding out,” he stated. “We needed individuals to get on the market.”
“It was simply enjoyable for us,” he added.
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 stated he’s the one member of the family born in america, 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 reveals 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, stated she had by no means met Kuzmenko or attended any of his rallies, together with the one she co-hosted. The Meridian resident stated she had been scrolling by means 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 watch the posts. The following factor she knew, she stated, 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 occurring, we want to be VERY CLEAR that the Labor Day Portland Rally is NOT organized by us. Such occasions take time to arrange and all the pieces that’s organized quickly is just NOT SAFE.”
He added, “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 stated of his brother’s organizing efforts. “He desires another person to take over.”
His continues to advertise his previous occasions, nevertheless. After warning in opposition to new rallies, he returned to his Fb occasion web page, which is adopted by almost 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 instances, drawing appreciable consideration to his YouTube channel, known as “Open N Overview,” which was dedicated to luxurious automobiles for 2 years earlier than a sudden shift to pro-Trump politics this summer time. 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 advertisements showing on his movies.
Many of the video’s engagement on Fb, in response to information from the evaluation device CrowdTangle, got here from a put up in a gaggle 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 Submit. It was not clear who was behind the account, with a Fb spokeswoman, Sarah Pollack, saying solely that it violated the corporate’s policy 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 pinnacle of the corporate, Bryan Bowermaster. Kuzmenko’s first motion on the occasion web page was provocative — sharing a Fb put up from the president that included a video exhibiting him operating for workplace indefinitely, with indicators studying “Trump 2024” and on into the longer term. 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 stated, studying from notes right into a megaphone on the rally.
Within the weeks main as much as the Portland cruise, he and his kinfolk 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 value 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 supposed to keep away from downtown Portland, the positioning of months of nightly and sometimes violent clashes between legislation enforcement and protesters. However some individuals drove there anyway, firing pepper spray and paintball weapons.
“The capturing was not a part of the occasion. It was not a part of the cruise rally,” Kuzmenko stated in a video, accusing antifa of funneling individuals downtown.
In a three-hour video of the early section of the cruise rally, uploaded to Kuzmenko’s YouTube web page, a girl who seems to be holding the digicam says at one level, “We’re going to go over to downtown Portland.”
At one other level, the lady behind the digicam — who switches seamlessly between English and Ukrainian — seeks to stage Web-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?’ ”
Wolf reported from Meridian. David L. Stern in Kyiv and Julie Tate, Alice Crites, Ellen Nakashima and Shane Harris in Washington contributed to this report.