Protest problems

Matthew Paul Slatzer displayed a sign calling Jews "the real plague" at a COVID-19 protest. Then his legal problems started catching up to him.

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Protest problems

A neo-Nazi who showed up to an April coronavirus protest in Ohio with a sign calling Jews “the real plague” was quietly arrested three weeks later and has been in jail ever since. 

Matthew Paul Slatzer, 36, of Canton, Ohio, was arrested on May 8 by an FBI task force for allegedly skipping three court-appointed drug tests while awaiting trial on a state felony charge involving a gun, according to records reviewed by The Daily Beast in partnership with The Informant, a publication covering hate and extremism. Slatzer also had ties to another neo-Nazi who died in a gun battle with the FBI just as COVID-19 lockdowns set in, though his arrest does not appear to be connected to that case.

The arrest came after Slatzer and another man, who has not yet been identified, showed up at the state capitol in Columbus on April 18 as part of a larger protest against lockdown orders issued to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Slatzer and the second man became prime examples of how such protests — which took place across the nation prior to more recent unrest over the death of George Floyd in police custody — drew extremists into the fold.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, condemned the anti-semitic display a day later, calling it “disgusting” and “vile.” "It should have no place in this discussion or any other public discussion,” the governor told reporters at a news conference.

Slatzer, who was first identified as having attended the rally by independent journalist Nate Thayer, is a member of the National Socialist Movement. He started with the group on a probationary basis but became a full member at a ceremony in November in Ulysses, Pennsylvania, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.

The NSM is a decades-old neo-Nazi group with a violent past. In 2012, one of its longtime members, JT Ready, killed four people, including a toddler, before killing himself in a Phoenix suburb. The group is also being sued in federal court in Virginia for its role in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, which led to the killing of anti-racist activist Heather Heyer.

In March, the FBI alleged that another NSM member, Timothy Wilson, was in the final stages of a plot to set off a vehicle bomb at a Kansas City-area hospital treating coronavirus patients. Authorities said he had decided to accelerate his plans because of lockdown orders that had been put into place in Missouri. Wilson never made it to the hospital, however, killing himself in a gun battle with FBI agents who were attempting to arrest him at a storage facility in Belton, Missouri.

Slatzer and Wilson became members of the NSM at the same ceremony, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

A photo from a November swearing-in was posted to the National Socialst Movement’s channel on Telegram shortly after the ceremony. It showed Wilson and Slatzer alongside NSM members Daniel Burnside and Randall Ramsey. Three other people were also pictured who have not been identified. The photo was taken at Burnside’s house, which is well known in the area because it is adorned with swastikas and tributes to dead neo-Nazi terrorists.

Records reviewed by The Daily Beast and The Informant show Slatzer has a long rap sheet in Ohio. He’s been arrested previously on suspicion of domestic violence, cruelty to animals, carrying concealed weapons, assault, and drug possession, just to name a few.

His latest case began late at night on Feb. 1, when police were called to the Fast Times Pub in Canton, Ohio. Police and court records on his arrest are sparse on details and don’t explain what led to the call. But the records do say Slatzer was allegedly found to be in possession of a gun at the bar. It is a felony under Ohio law to have a firearm at a business with a liquor permit.

Court records say Slatzer threatened the police officers: “Defendant did threaten to execute officers, stating we violated his second amendment rights. Defendant continued to say he would starting (sic) shooting pigs in the head, one by one.”

He was arrested on suspicion of aggravated menacing, using a weapon while intoxicated and possession of a firearm at a beer or liquor business. A grand jury in Stark County, Ohio, ultimately only charged him with the latter one of those counts, to which he pleaded not guilty. 

His public defender, Kenneth Frame, could not be reached for comment for this story.

Court records show Slatzer was initially held on a $75,000 bond, but that was reduced to $0 on March 17 and he was set free on a promise that he would behave while awaiting trial.

Almost immediately, he appears to have broken that promise. Records show he skipped a mandated drug test the next day and then missed two more on April 27 and May 4. The records also show he failed to provide proof that he had a job.

The Cleveland Jewish News recently reported that Slatzer was allegedly involved in a bizarre incident at an Ohio convenience store just days before his latest arrest. Citing local Jewish leaders and a Canton police spokesman, the newspaper found that Slatzer was under investigation for allegedly showing up at the store with a machete and a hatchet on May 3, saying he was planning to go to Kent State University to look for Jews.

Police in Stow, Ohio, told the newspaper they were working with state and federal law enforcement to investigate the incident.

Meanwhile, Slatzer was bragging online about his anti-semitic stunt at the pandemic protest.

Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University who has amassed a huge trove of neo-Nazi and other white supremacist content from various social media platforms, helped The Daily Beast and The Informant identify what appeared to be Slatzer’s account on Telegram.

The account formerly used the name “Matt” but at some point began using the handle “Cyrus the Virus.” Squire noted that on April 8, in a public channel on Telegram, the account posted a photo of someone who appeared to be Slazter holding a large serrated blade while standing in front of a swastika flag.

On April 17, the day before the protest, “Cyrus the Virus” posted messages in the same channel that teased the anti-semitic protest action. The account uploaded a photo of the “real plague” sign. “Sign i had made for protest tommorow (sic),” the caption said.

When a fellow neo-Nazi asked which protest he was referring to, “Cyrus the Virus” replied with a screenshot of the Facebook page for the “Open Ohio” rally scheduled for the next day.

Following the rally, “Cyrus the Virus” appeared to revel in media coverage of the anti-semitic display at the event. The account shared several links to news articles, as well as a link to a YouTube video of the governor’s condemnation.

The account also encouraged fellow neo-Nazis to follow in those footsteps at pandemic rallies across America. Sure enough, far-right extremists have popped up at subsequent anti-lockdown protests, and have taken special interest in protests over police violence in Minneapolis.

“There's rallys everyday. In every state,” the account said in a Telegram post. “You can go to staples/office depot your local print shop of choice get a sign printed of a meme calling Jews out.”

According to Squire, the “Cyrus the Virus” account went silent on the morning of May 8, the day Slatzer was arrested. The account has not been active since.

Slatzer also appears to have bragged about the stunt on the National Socialist Movement’s internet radio show, which is hosted on the BlogTalkRadio network. On an April 21 episode, a caller who only used the first name Matt talked about carrying the anti-semitic sign at the Ohio rally and about how little pushback it got.

“Within about the first five minutes, we were approached by a guy wearing a MAGA hat. He said he was offended by the sign and that he's half Mexican, half Jew. And other than that, man —” Matt said before being cut off by the host.

Slatzer’s next court appearance was scheduled for June 5.

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