I Tried to Interview for a Job With a Right-Wing Fringe Group
In my abundant spare time since leaving my last job, I’ve been drawing circles around a strange set of right-wing activists in and around rural Columbia County, Oregon. What began with a poorly worded job listing on Indeed had become a hunt for the latest upstart right-wing organization in rural Oregon, one whose web stretched touched multiple other far-right groups, like the Oregon Firearms Federation and the Oath Keepers. With less than a week left before the midterms, I thought I’d stumbled across a brand-new group working to ensure that Oregon was delivered into the hands of the fascist wing of the G.O.P.
The reality was much sadder.
The person who originally messaged me on Indeed apparently gave me their real, honest-to-God phone number. When I saw the message, I searched it out, which quickly brought me to a website for a landscape construction company called GlenCo Creations, as well as the name of the company’s founder: Glen McKinney.
Glen’s phone number is just right there, on the company’s poorly designed website, attached to his name — and it’s the same one he sent me.
This was my big breakthrough, I thought. This name, this company, this was the linchpin of an entire right-wing movement in the woods outside of Portland. Everything went through Glen McKinney and this so-called political freedom movement he had formed.
So I tried to connect with him. I created a free Google Voice account and sent Glen McKinney a message.
While I waited to connect with Glen, I tried to dig up whatever I could on the man. This sent back into the bowels of Facebook, digging through all the various Facebook groups that bring the right-wingers of Columbia County together.
And that, my friends, brought me to Organized Patriots.
One does not need to dig too far into the Organized Patriot Facebook group to find that it’s just about the same as any other “patriot” Facebook group — full of 2020 election denialism, anti-mask and anti-vax stuff, and other generalized fearmongering about current right-wing causes du jour. There are over five thousand members in the group, which initially seemed absurd in a county with a population of just 53,000 people. Could it be that over ten percent of Columbia County was participating in an organized right-wing political group?
An aside, here: by now, we should all be abundantly aware of the threat posed by the continued growth of far-right networks in our communities. These people are no joke. Now that they’re claiming toeholds of power just about everywhere, they’re getting bolder and more confident. I hope that is not just now dawning on you in the wake of the midterms. There are a whole lot of smooth operators making sure this nascent fascist regime has a good grip on all the rickety pillars that support this rickety republic, and they’re effectively training people to yank those supports out from under this whole rickety structure on command. They already tried one coup; the second one is happening right under our noses.
That said, I don’t think we talk enough about how profoundly weird these people are. Sometimes, I wonder whether the right-wing’s greatest power is convincing average people that they’re harmless dorks rather than violent extremists–so long as they don’t look too close.
They manage to convince me sometimes, I’ll admit. Digging in and around the digital squares that freely host the Extremely Online residents of rural Columbia County makes it easy to believe that these people are wholly incapable of organizing a political movement beyond sparking waves of street violence and half-assed public protests.
But maybe two things can be true at once. Perhaps it’s possible to be ridiculous and dangerous.
The Organized Patriots group is extremely ridiculous, but also not particularly focused on Columbia County. Active users of the group were posting from as far away as Alabama, Georgia, and New York City, and few of the posts seemed to have anything to do with events in Oregon or even the Pacific Northwest as a whole.
Well, except for Glen McKinney’s posts. He is listed as the sole administrator of the Organized Patriots Facebook group, and he’s used his power to pin a series of videos to the top of the group’s page. They’re all of a bald white man with a long, unkempt goatee speaking into the camera about… well, you probably already know.
It was extremely vivid reminder that the internet, as it currently exists, is a godawful place–just another clearinghouse for extremely online people with extremely online takes.
But one of the videos—beneath a text that says “WATCH THE WHOLE VIDEO”—is different.
Posted on July 21, 2022, the video opens with a graphic of an all-white Statue of Liberty, draped in a technicolor American flag standing next to what I can only assume is the proud standard of McKinney’s Organized Patriots, just above their contact information.
The remainder of the video is a long, continuous shot of a man, apparently the same man from the group’s other pinned videos, standing behind a table outside, speaking into a microphone and standing next to yet another American flag.
The man, who I am reasonably certain is Glen McKinney, begins by leading a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I’m sure some of you guys haven’t done that in years,” he says to a group gathered somewhere behind the camera, who almost surely recite the pledge more often than not. The viewer never sees who is behind the camera, it’s only ever focused on the man behind the podium.
Apparently, this is the very beginning of some sort of shooting event — the man at the podium explains the point system they’re using to determine who among them is the best shot, then encourages people to sign up to test their mettle against one another. It’s not clear if anyone signs up, or how the shooting event unfolds.
The remainder of the video is a long rant that touches on every conspiratorial right-wing talking point that’s come into vogue since 2016. There’s talk of a globalist cabal among the American elite, of a Communist conspiracy to indoctrinate American children, the Democratic party’s united effort to disarm conservatives, mythical election fraud claims, and nonsense about microchips in vaccines. He sounds like a mashup of a dozen different right-wing Twitter bots. If you’ve been on the internet for any amount of time in the last decade, you have almost surely heard a variation of this speech.
It ended with a disclaimer. The man stressed that he wanted all the change he was demanding in his rant to be achieved peacefully, through coordinated political activism and organizing, and called on whatever number of gathered “patriots” lingered behind the video to put their contact information down and join Organized Patriots. It is unclear how many contacts the man gathered that day.
This prompted me to watch the other pinned videos, most of which come from two accounts: one named Glen McKinney Curt McKinney and another named Andrea Gladden, though there are occasionally videos shared by other accounts. Almost all the pinned videos feature the same man, who looks to be the same dude from the long Organized Patriots video, ranting about whatever’s on his mind at that given moment. He’s clearly hip on the latest conspiracy trends, including one from a few months ago that claimed, falsely, that food processing plants across America were being targeted by insidious arsonists that wanted conservatives to starve, or something — it gets hard to follow along after a while. The most recent video, posted from the Glen McKinney Curt McKinney account, is from Nov. 4, in which the man urges “patriots” to “get involved” in their local voting precincts.
Again, it’s all very typical behavior for an extremely online right-wing activist. People like this exist in virtually every town across the nation, with only slight variations in personality and temperament. Some are more violent, some are more ridiculous, but all have had their brains turned to mush by prolonged internet exposure. Glen has taken it just a little bit further by actually organizing a little bit — Organized Patriots is an officially registered public benefit corporation. The articles of incorporation say he registered Organized Patriots as an official entity on October 18 of this year, so this whole group is very new, but he’s been working at this since at least the start of the pandemic. He, through his group paid for a big anti-vax billboard on Highway 30 outside of St. Helens. In that article, the Chronicle referfed to Organized Patriots as “a national coalition fighting against mask and vaccination mandates” and said that their seventy members represented a “stronghold in Columbia County.” Somehow, I very much doubted the reporting.
So, Glen is trying. But I couldn’t help but feel sad for him, watching him flounder around like this, trying to tap into the money and outrage fountain that had successfully red-pilled him. It was bleak, listening to this man rant. In every video, he sounds so tired. Maybe he actually believes in what he says, I don’t know, but there’s a sort of exhausted defeat in his voice when he calls on patriots to fight back against the “deep state globalists.” He sounds like a man who has accepted that darkness is the norm in today’s society, but refuses to go down without a fight.
I’ve felt hopeless before–we all have–but this is what true hopelessness sounds and looks like. Glen and/or Curt McKinney is the end product of a system whose ultimate goal is the complete breakdown of the human spirit. This is what they want us all to become.
The next day, I called the number; it rang twice, then went to a voicemail for GlenCo Creations, saying the number was no longer being used. I left a message, but no one called back. I figured that was that. Somehow, Glen must’ve figured out what I was up to. It wouldn’t be hard to do. All he needed to do was perform a quick search for my name, and he would surely realize that I am not looking for a job as a social media expert for a political freedom movement — at least, not his political freedom movement.
But the next day, I did hear back from Glen.
Not about to be gaslit by an aspiring right-wing activist, I gaslit him right back.
I felt gross after I sent that text. Like some younger, uglier, meaner version of me had just crawled out of my subconscious and made an appearance. I’ve tried very hard to leave this kind of shit in the past.
Am I still interested? I asked myself as I got ready for a Halloween party. I guess, I told myself, unconvincingly. I would give it one more shot before I dropped the whole thing, moved on with my life, and dealt with my generalized anxiety about everything. But first, I needed something from Glen. I needed some honesty from him, though honesty was something that I wasn’t quite willing to give him myself.
I again tried to call Glen on the afternoon of Halloween proper. Again, he didn’t answer, leaving me to listen to the same automated GlenCo message. I didn’t leave a message this time. By then, I had dropped the first part of this strange story, so I only assumed that Glen had finally put two and two together.
And, you know, I had accepted that leaving this story behind was okay. It was probably best that we didn’t talk. It would’ve become far too messy if we had actually had some sort of conversation. Even if he had answered and agreed to answer any of my questions, he would’ve become cagey and defensive upon hearing the timbre of my voice and my line of questioning.
Most of all, I didn’t like the way I was acting and feeling. This shit makes me feel cold and callous.
I realize this makes me seem like a bitter and petty unemployed writer who is up to no good, poking my nose into things I don’t fully understand and don’t take as seriously as I probably should, working through election-related anxieties by hyper-fixating on a minor character in a fringe setting in order to convince myself that I’m doing something to stymie the impending right-wing takeover of the government and institutions. I want to feel a sense of urgency again, because behind the machinery of party politics are a network of nonprofits and political action committees shotgunning money between as many districts as possible as quickly as possible, all led by a murderer’s row of weirdos, creeps, and kooks, ranging from small fry wannabes like Glen McKinney all the way up to the master propagandists that are so, so good at seizing everyone’s attention at all times.
By now, you’re probably thinking this about me. Just know that I’m thinking of it too, because I’ve been worried about journalism’s place in all this restlessness around us — and its role in my own life and ambitions.
There’s a complicity in being a “journalist” during times like these. As a writer, I’m attracted to the chaos of our times. I’m fascinated by the tangle of quirks, idiosyncrasies, and hypocrisies that make up the average American–especially when the average American tries to impose those weird hang-ups on everyone else. Trying to sort through the bullshit and arrange what I find into neat lines and pithy quotes allows me to make sense of the world. I write for myself as much as I write for an audience. That’s the way it should be.
But I’ve learned in the past few years that there’s not always a sense to be made out of everything out in the world. For every well-organized right-wing group seeking to influence local elections, there are twenty-five Glen McKinneys, so wrapped up in their own bullshit and so brain-fried on dank memes that they’ve lost all touch with reality.
I suppose the real work is sorting out who is dangerous and who just needs to log off.
Last week, I spilled nearly 4,000 words skimming the surface of far-right networks in Columbia County. It felt good to do it, to get back into the habit of digging in and around the nascent fascist movement, to learn more about them and their tactics, and get in their heads a little bit. Like it or not, they’re going to be around for the foreseeable future—and probably forever, until we make some major changes in the way we organize society—so, it’s necessary to at least somewhat understand them. But though it felt good to do all this, I wasn’t sure what I had actually done. It felt like I had spent a few days detailing my obsessive internet habits, the sort of stuff I was easily sucked into back when I spent eight hours a day on Twitter, then trying to impose a grander narrative upon the results.
Perhaps the world needs proper journalists. I never wanted to be that kind of journalist. I’m not sure I ever really wanted to be a journalist in the first place. I just wanted to play with words for a living. This was just one way to do that while feeling like I was contributing to something bigger than myself.
But it’s hard not to feel complicit in all this unrest when I write like this. I’m not sure I would trust me, either. I could be using all this time doing something good for someone, instead.
I like to think that most “journalists” end up having a reckoning with responsibility. For all its self-importance as a craft, journalism can so quickly become a loathsome endeavor. It’s glorified and demonized by all the worst kinds of people, ones who need truth handed to them exactly the way they want — and who will spit it out if it’s not to their liking.
I guess it’s a job that accidentally became too important for its own good. We’ve trusted a bunch of writers with crafting and maintaining a narrative for our collected reality. No wonder things eventually got out of hand.
There I go–I’m projecting again.
I did end up speaking with someone over the phone, presumably Glen. Though they were careful not to share their name, And just as I figured, they were cagey and defensive, offering nothing beyond basic information. Maybe it’s because they figured out I was snooping around their organization, or maybe it’s because they couldn’t reconcile why someone going by “Nadya” had a masculine voice. Either way, it was a brief and terse call.
I suspect that I will not get the job.
So I let go of pursuing Organized Patriots any further than I’ve already gone. Perhaps it’s good enough to just let people know it exists, that there is a strange man trying to recruit other strange people for his strange and almost certainly doomed political endeavor.
Maybe there’s something to it, but if there is, I will leave it to others to sort out. There are much bigger things to worry about in my life.
But there was one final question I felt compelled to ask Glen. So, before I nuked the Google Voice account I created, I sent one final message.
It took a few hours, but Glen did eventually respond.