State Republicans had planned on featuring the New Mexico Civil Guard as special guests at a rally in Clovis on Aug. 22, before the militia group pulled out, citing racist remarks by one of the invited speakers. The Civil Guard, whose members have showed up heavily armed at several protests in Albuquerque this summer, also had their Facebook page removed this week as the platform culled hundreds of pages it says are tied to violence.
The Civil Guard’s founder is Bryce Provance, who sports a swastika tattoo and has told reporters he’s not a White supremacist. But the militia leader acknowledged in an interview with journalist Stan Alcorn last week that he spent nearly a decade as a member of a violent neo-Nazi prison gang. Alcorn investigated Provance’s history for NM In Depth, and he told KUNM that Provance joined the gang when he was first locked up at age 18.
STAN ALCORN: The way that he tells it, pretty immediately he joined this gang. And he framed it as a necessity. That's something that an expert I talked to at the Center on Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League said is not generally the case — there are plenty of people who go to any given prison who do not join a prison gang. But yeah, what [Provance] said is that within a couple of weeks, he had “put in work,” which he described as stabbing someone or assaulting someone. And after that initiation, there's a kind of ideological transformation. I mean, he had a long reading list, and writing essays, and apparently that's pretty common with these gangs. They really want to bring you into the mindset of being, in this case, a neo-Nazi skinhead.
KUNM: Provance was in and out of prison, and he was arrested for other violent incidents, too. Can you tell us about those?
ALCORN: The first crime that he committed was a robbery, which included stealing a gun. He is very disruptive and violent while he's in prison. You know, he pulls a knife on a Sears security officer after shoplifting. A girl he's dating takes out a domestic violence restraining order against him… But his longest term in prison was for a whole long list of crimes, many which were actually committed while in jail, including threatening to kill a prison guard.
KUNM: And you found, in these court records, multiple incidents of Provence sort of referencing his Nazi ideology, right?
ALCORN: Yeah, it does come up. There is an incident where he painted a swastika on his cell wall. Some of the documents that stood out to me the most were filings that he made when he was acting as his own lawyer, in one criminal case, because he referred to himself repeatedly with these different titles. He called himself ‘Aryan barbarian.’ And then he referred to himself as SS Standardtenfuhrer. He's giving himself kind of a title in a Nazi paramilitary. This is a product of somebody who really believes this stuff. And he admitted that when I brought these up. What he said now is, “I was brainwashed.”
KUNM: Provance is still involved in a pro-Confederacy group as a Civil War re-enactor. Do you believe him when he says that he's reformed since leaving prison in 2016?
ALCORN: He has reached out to the Free Radicals, which is an organization that helps people leave the White supremacist movement. That's something I checked. So he's taken certain steps. But yeah, the neo-Confederate ideology has a lot in common with some of the White supremacy [he] expressed in the past. And you know, he's particularly involved with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. That's a group that has a history of people who are White supremacists and extremists appearing among its ranks. Talking to Bryce about this, he echoes a lot of the talking points of the lost cause ideology. This is a kind of false view of the civil war that had him saying positive things even of the founder of the Ku Klux Klan.
So I do think that in general, leaving the White supremacist movement is a process, and it's important to be open to people changing, and I hope that he's changed. But yeah, I wouldn't want to venture to guess, frankly, exactly where he is in that process, if he is indeed making that change.
KUNM: Other media outlets — the Albuquerque Journal and NPR News, in particular — ran pieces about the Civil Guard, including about Provance, without doing this kind of background investigation or citing experts on White supremacist organizations. Why did you think it was important to tell this story this way?
ALCORN: Yeah, there was that line in one of those stories about that swastika tattoo, and I just immediately thought, as a journalist, "You don't just end up with a swastika tattoo." So part of me I just really wanted to get to the bottom of the story that I knew had to be there. But I think that particularly when you're dealing with an ideology as dangerous and as toxic as the Nazi worldview represents, that's something that bears some, like, special consideration, thinking about "How do we do this really responsibly?"
Note: Alcorn reports that Provance said he has cut ties with the militia group and left the state.
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Aug. 22 rally was being planned by some New Mexico Republicans, not by the party itself. Business Insider reported that the Republican Party of Curry County had promoted the event, along with state congressional candidate Audrey Trujillo, and that party vice-chair Rick Lopez was also listed as a speaker. The Facebook event for the rally appears to have been deleted as of Aug. 21.