Your Friendly Neighborhood Insurrectionist

Port Richmond, an area many of you are quite familiar with. The Philadelphia neighborhood situated in the Rivers Ward section of the city contains a diverse community, as well as a proud and rich history and culture, with many small stores and restaurants that draw from these deep roots. This neighborhood is also the home of one of the masterminds behind an attempt to overthrow our government.

January 6th, 2021, marked a dark day in the history of the United States, in which thousands of Americans, many of which being from Pennsylvania, spurred on by a sitting president woefully separated from reality marched on and attempted to overturn the results of an election, planning the assassination of several government officials, including the Vice President of the United States, all due to a misguided belief in an alleged “attack on democracy.”

The events that day were not in any sense spontaneous. These actions were carefully planned out by a group of people intent on overturning the most secure election in the history of the country. One of the men involved in the planning was the aforementioned Port Richmond insurrectionist, local Proud Boys leader Zach Rehl.

Born in Port Richmond to two Philadelphia cops, Rehl spent his early years as a non-commissioned officer in the US Marine Corps and earned a Bachelor’s in Marketing at Temple. In many ways, Rehl represents the blue-collar mentality that much of Philadelphia prides itself on, yet beneath the surface brewed a hatred that would soon meet with similarly hateful individuals.

Rehl has led the Philadelphia chapter of the Proud Boys. This right-wing extremist organization, founded in September 2016, has been designated a terrorist organization by Canada and New Zealand. The group swears near-fealty to former President Donald Trump, who mentioned them by name in the October 2020 Presidential debates, stating Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” and has been a central figure behind events such as the 2018 “We the People” rally.

Rehl currently stands trial along with fellow Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, as well as members Ethan Nordean, Dominic Pezzola, and Joseph Biggs for their alleged involvement in the organization of the events on January 6th. Rehl and his fellow Proud Boys reportedly raised over 5500 dollars to help fund travel to Washington DC on the day of the insurrection. Rehl’s involvement in the planning of the insurrection also becomes evident with his social media activity in the days following former President Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election, posting to the right-wing social media site Parler, “Hopefully, the firing squads are for the traitors that are trying to steal the election from the American people.”

Crowd surges on January 6th, spurred on by men such as Rehl (https://shadesandcolor.blogspot.com/2021/01/what-were-experiencing-january-6th.html)

Having been awaiting trial since being taken into custody in March of 2021, Rehl and his fellow co-conspirators face some of the harshest sentences of anyone involved in the events of January 6th and have denied any allegations of purposefully organizing the event. Evidence, however, points strongly against Rehl and the other Proud Boys, with thousands of chat logs and text messages that were exchanged before the men pointing towards their planning of the events that day, with Rehl even texting to the group on December 30th that January 6th would be a “completely different operation,” one that would be more than the Proud Boys “flexing our arms and s***.” Rehl was even recorded shouting at the crowd, “F*** them! Storm the Capitol!”

The involvement of Rehl and thousands of other people in attempting to overthrow an election and disrupt a peaceful transition of power points to a terrifying reality in the country today. No matter what stereotypes may form in your head, anyone can act out of hate. Zach Rehl was born in the neighborhoods of Philadelphia, a city that overwhelmingly backs Democratic candidates. Even with being born in a strongly diverse city and neighborhood, hatred grew in Zach, enough so for him to throw his life away in the name of a disgraced former President.

With this discussion comes a slew of whataboutisms and false equivalencies, attempting to take away from the problem at hand. The most common one mentioned with January 6th is how it’s no different than the protests led by many Black Lives Matter organizations across the country in response to the murder of George Floyd, which have been criticized due to the violent turn many of these protests took, an idea that was largely spread on various media platforms.

When comparing the two, however, it becomes abundantly clear the difference between the two. First, the comparisons are being drawn between a single-day event (January 6th,) compared to an entire summer of protests, all varying in size and duration, making direct comparison between the two heavily skewed. Even more important of a distinction, the protests during the summer of 2020 were never held in an attempt to overturn the results of an election, as the insurrection on January 6th was.

The true issue worthy of discussion, however, is the issue of violence at protests. Regardless of arguments of the justification of more direct and confrontational methods of protest, these methods ultimately prove to only serve to distort the overall message of said protest. Research has proven that the public overall reacts far more positively to nonviolent protests, and far more negatively to violent protests. This, coupled with the media’s strict adherence to “if it bleeds, it leads,” shows the impact that violence can have on an overall movement.

What people like Rehl fail to comprehend is the fact that events like January 6th serve to help no one. It did not lead to a great overturning of the election in Trump’s name, it did not help convince anyone of the justness of your cause, it only helped further the polarization of our nation. Zachary Rehl was sold a false promise years ago, fueled by hatred and bigotry, and this hatred led to his assisting in organizing one of the greatest attacks on our democracy in years. Had Rehl and his fellow Proud Boys organized a peaceful demonstration outside of the Capitol, regardless of the foolishness and horribly misguided nature of his message, it would have been a different discussion. If true change is to be incited in the country, then people must take caution to avoid following the same path as those like Rehl and his Proud Boys.

Kevin Flynn is a Senior History Student at Holy Family University. After graduating, Kevin intends to work in a museum. He lives with his mother, father, and sister, and is a big fan of football and video games.