A leader of the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim group Patriot Movement AZ (PMAZ) was arrested by police earlier this month for allegedly assaulting a woman who was filming him at a “free speech” rally his group organized.
Russell “RJ” Jaffe, 49, was cited Nov. 10 by Tucson, Arizona, police for misdemeanor assault after officers saw him trying to grab a cellphone out of the woman’s hand.
“The assault was witnessed by at least two TPD members and by one or more community members,” Ray Smith, a spokesman for the Tucson Police Department, said in an email to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
The woman was uninjured but wanted to press charges, Smith said. Jaffe was cited and released without further incident. Police Chief Chris Magnus said on Twitter there was only one arrest at the event — for assault.
The Southern Arizona Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild said the woman filming Jaffe was a legal observer with the organization, but she had no comment on the matter.
“They do not wish to be interviewed & do not want their identity revealed to the public for reasons of personal safety,” the guild said in an email.
Photos that PMAZ posted to Facebook afterwards showed about 50 people had attended the Nov. 10 rally.
It was the third time in recent months that the group had traveled to Tucson, a liberal enclave that the group described as “one of the most oppressed cities in Arizona,” in hopes of spreading extremist messages and portraying the left as dangerous and violent. The event, which took place inside a gated garden in a public park, was called “Tucson Rally Against Left-Wing Hate 3.0.”
This time, PMAZ invited a crew of out-of-state activists, some of whom were veterans of far-right rallies that turned violent in places like Portland, Oregon, and Berkeley, California. Other speakers were there with messages and backgrounds in hate, including a leader with the anti-LGBT hate group MassResistance and a Nevada man who has described himself as an “ethno-nationalist” who believes the U.S. should have “an 80% white Majority.”
Police kept a small number of counterprotesters outside the rally. One man outside beat on a drum. Others held signs with anti-racist slogans. Some got in shouting matches through the fence with those inside the rally.
Jaffe is the husband of PMAZ’s founder Lesa Antone and one of the core leaders of the group. PMAZ claims to have no formal leadership and that its membership is made up loosely of “friends who regularly attend events.” However, on PMAZ’s former website, which is no longer online, Jaffe was listed earlier this year as one of five people on its “Meet our Team” page. State records also show that Jaffe and Antone registered the business name “Patriot Movement AZ” in October 2017, using their home address in the Phoenix suburb of Litchfield Park as the business address.
At the rally, Jaffe was dressed in a red T-shirt with a white cross on the front and the word “MEDIC” on the back. In a recent lawsuit filed by him and three other members of PMAZ, Jaffe said he works in the “healthcare profession.”
Antone was livestreaming video to the Patriot Movement AZ page on Facebook when the incident went down. It appeared to take place in a parking lot as the group was getting ready to leave the rally. Some of the counterprotesters could be seen shouting back and forth with Antone and her crew while police worked to keep the opposing sides separated.
In the video, the legal observer from the National Lawyers Guild could be seen walking past Jaffe with the phone in her hand, recording the scene.
“Back off,” Jaffe told her. “Back the f--- off.”
When the legal observer turned and pointed the phone at him, Jaffe reached up and grabbed it. A Tucson police officer standing nearby saw what happened, stepped in and escorted Jaffe away.
Moments later, Jaffe got in the driver’s seat of a vehicle. Off camera, someone could be heard saying, “You’re not free to go.”
Antone chimed in: “What? Give me a break!”
She was briefly silent as her husband got out of the vehicle and was escorted away from the parking lot by the police.
It’s not the first time someone affiliated with Patriot Movement AZ has been in trouble with the law. Earlier this year, two women who attended multiple PMAZ events were arrested on suspicion of causing damage at a mosque in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe. One of those women has since pleaded guilty to a felony . The other is awaiting trial on two felony and three misdemeanor charges, to which she has pleaded not guilty. The group has since distanced themselves from both of them.
In the livestreamed video after the recent rally, Antone could be seen getting into the driver’s seat after her husband was led away. Police asked her to park elsewhere and wait for him to call. She continued to livestream as she pulled the vehicle up to a man who was off-camera, presumably a police officer, and began to berate him about her husband’s arrest.
“You shouldn’t drive using your cellphone either, OK?” the man could be heard saying.
Antone began yelling at him that counterprotesters had thrown things at her group but had not been arrested. It’s unclear whether her claims were accurate.
“It’s bullshit! It’s bullshit!” Antone said. “We’re gonna keep coming back until you guys do your jobs and stop allowing them to attack innocent people.”
Eventually multiple officers came over to Antone’s vehicle and asked her to leave the parking lot. A number of counterprotesters were still there, and she and the passengers in her car got into shouting matches with some of them.
As Antone started to drive away, she continued to yell at the police officers.
“Move the commies before I run ‘em over,” Antone said. “Move the commies out of in front of my car. Tell the commies to move!”
She pulled out of the parking lot, still livestreaming, and narrated the situation to her followers on Facebook.
“So, I gotta try to find my husband, you guys,” she said. “Because God forbid some c--- puts her phone right in his face and he moves it. And the cops here, just like Portland cops — there was the Chief Mangus (sic), who just allows lawlessness in his f-----’ city, which is why we come to Tucson.”
A short time later, one of the passengers, Lindsay Grathwohl, a far-right activist from the California Bay Area who has been present at violent rallies in multiple states in recent months, was livestreaming video to her own Facebook page as Jaffe was released and got into the back seat of the vehicle.
As the group drove away, a man in the front passenger seat, Chris Ross, turned to Jaffe and asked: “You all good?”
“No, I’m not good,” Jaffe said. “I got charged with a f-----’ class 3 misdemeanor.”
“What’d they charge you with?” Ross asked.
“Please tell me somebody had cameras running,” Ross said.
“Well, I put my hands on her phone, so I did do it, so —” Jaffe said, his voice trailing off as he looked out the window.
By the next day, video of Jaffe’s run-in with the legal observer and Antone’s rants about the police had been removed from PMAZ’s Facebook page.
Watch clips of the PMAZ video, captured by the Southern Poverty Law Center before it was removed, below.
Watch a clip from Grathwohl’s video in which Jaffe says, “I put my hands on her phone, so I did do it.”