There’s a lot going on with Joe Kent.
On the campaign trail, Kent has painted a terrifying picture of a nation under siege from violent terrorists and authoritarians. Kent, a two-time Republican House candidate in Washington state, has described “antifa” as “foot soldiers” for Democrats who stage murders and riots with “impunity.” He’s warned of a radical “trans agenda” designed to “erode the family unit” and replace it with “government.” He’s suggested that the FBI should “target” antifa but also be defunded, brought “to heel,” and replaced with “constitutional sheriffs,” adherents of a controversial movement that has been linked to white supremacists and militia groups.
Kent has promoted conspiracies about COVID and the Jan. 6 attack. He’s called the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol “political prisoners” and advanced the notion that “government controlled agents” were really behind the violence as part of an effort to tamp down opposition. Kent has similarly referred to vaccines and quarantines as “tyranny” designed to “keep us afraid, obedient, locked down & dependent.”
This terrifying fever dream vision of the country has helped Kent win support from extremists. However, it hasn’t stopped him from getting official Republican Party support or having a real chance of victory in November.
A Special Forces veteran and former CIA operative whose wife was killed fighting ISIS, Kent first ran for the House seat in 2022 after the Republican incumbent, Jaime Herrera-Beutler, voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for his actions on Jan. 6. Kent, who presented himself as being motivated by loyalty to Trump, defeated Herrera-Beutler in a non-partisan primary before narrowly losing the general election to the current incumbent, Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA), by less than a percentage point. Kent announced his decision to run again almost immediately after that loss and the 2024 race is currently rated as a toss up.
During his first campaign, Kent was linked to two prominent Nazi sympathizers. In 2021, he had a phone call to discuss social media strategy with Nick Fuentes. Kent also defended Fuentes when the firebrand was banned from Twitter. The next year, Kent conducted an interview with Greyson Arnold, a blogger responsible for a long list of racist, anti-Semitic, and pro-Nazi commentary. Kent ultimately disavowed both Fuentes and Arnold while he also tried to placate some elements of the far right. This led to a rift with Fuentes and attacks from a shadowy group that painted Kent as an “agent of the deep state.”
Kent’s ties to extremists don’t end there. At a March 2022 protest against pandemic mandates, Kent shared the stage and posed for photos with supporters of “three percenter” militia groups, a reference to the inaccurate claim only three percent of the population fought the British during the American Revolution. Over four months last year, Kent’s campaign paid a five-figure sum for “consulting” to a man who was identified by law enforcement as a member of the Proud Boys, the militant far-right group whose leaders were convicted of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6 attack.
As some of his links to the far right made news in 2022, Kent tried to moderate his rhetoric including by deleting references to conspiracies about Trump’s election loss from his campaign site. However, one of his top advisers in that race, Matt Braynard, had his own history of extremism. Braynard is one of the most prominent defenders of the people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. He was involved in attempts to audit the 2020 election that fueled conspiracy theories about Trump’s loss and later staged a “Justice For J6” rally in September 2021 where Kent was among the speakers and the Capitol rioters were treated as martyrs. Braynard also has his ownlinks to Fuentes and a history of incendiary statements including repeatedlydenouncing what he described as “globohomo” politics and a 2018 tweet where he responded to a news article about a French politician facing criticism for minimizing the crimes of Adolf Hitler and Nazism by declaring: “The world will be a better place when Germany is again proud of its history. “
Kent made headlines last year as the national media took note of the fact there was a potential member of Congress with clear links to neo-Nazis and militant groups. This time around, the Democratic incumbent, Gluesenkamp Perez, has attempted to highlight Kent’s association with the far right and his wild, conspiratorial platform.
“Based on his long track record of surrounding himself with extremist weirdos, it’s not a surprise to see this trend continue,” Timothy Gowen, Gluesenkamp Perez’s campaign manager said in a statement to TPM, adding, “The contrast in this race could not be clearer: Marie is focused on solving real problems for working families in her district, while Kent is on Twitter spouting off about conspiracy theories and pushing dangerous, zany ideas like defunding the FBI, arresting Anthony Fauci for murder, and legalizing machine guns for anyone.”
As a second-time candidate, Kent is not a new story. His extreme brand of politics is also increasingly not out of step with the wider Republican Party in the MAGA era. As TPM has reported, there are sitting members of Congress with links to Fuentes, affinity for conspiracy theories, ties to militants, and histories of promoting the efforts to paint the Jan. 6 rioters as political prisoners. The Washington state Republican Party, which has endorsed Kent, once paid the same pro-Nazi blogger who interviewed him during last year’s race.
The fact Kent’s extremism is not a new story or an isolated incident has enabled him to fly further under the national radar in his current campaign. Yet Kent’s very real chance of victory shows the dangers of becoming numb to far right extremism as it loses its novelty and increasingly becomes business as usual for some segments of the GOP.
With less of a national spotlight, Kent has tried to paint himself with a more moderate sheen. His campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story, however, Braynard, who has continuously promoted Kent on social media, insisted he’s no longer part of the team in an email to TPM where he dismissed any coverage of the candidate’s positions as a “hit piece.”
“I’m no longer working for the Kent campaign and haven’t since November 2022,” Braynard wrote.
Financial disclosure forms show the Kent campaign has not directly paid any individual staffers a salary this year making it difficult to identify anyone on his team apart from his treasurer. Kent has pointed to his rift with Fuentes as he denied sharing white nationalist views. He has also sought to discourage coverage of his more extreme statements. Last month, he launched a legal challenge against a local paper for a 2022 article that described a town hall event where a handful of Fuentes supporters angry with Kent’s disavowal of the firebrand activist showed up to question the candidate. The article noted that Kent appeared to agree with a member the pro-Fuentes group that there should be a “complete shutdown” of immigration not through marriage. Kent has repeatedly tried to deny taking that position, but the paper has stood by its reporting and surfaced a recording of the event.
“Help me restore common sense,” Kent wrote in one post.
Kent’s positions may indeed be common in some corners of the Republican Party. However, they are worth taking note of. As Kent himself once said, “Washington’s Third Congressional District needs a representative that does not hide from the voters.”