Haven school board candidate lured into sharing racist ideology with teenage anti-fascists

By: - July 20, 2021 10:26 am

The Midwest Youth Liberation Front, which describes itself as “a leaderless collective of young anarchists and anti-fascists,” documented comments made by Josh Wells, a self-identified white nationalist who is running for a school board seat in Haven. In the background is a video Wells shared of a gathering of men shouting “F*** Antifa.” (Illustration by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Reno County resident Josh Wells describes himself as the leader of a Proud Boys group, promotes an all-white nation state, and peddles false conspiracy theories about the financial plot behind COVID-19 and how police instigated the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The owner of Wells Home Repair is also a candidate for the school board in Haven, a small town southeast of Hutchinson. He is challenging an incumbent who, in sharp contrast, wants to “meet the needs of all students.”

Wells pulled his own kids out of public schools, he wrote in a white nationalist chat group, referencing concerns about the “Communist Manifesto” and Church of Satan.

In private messages with teenage anti-fascists who later doxed him, Wells shared the manifesto of the Patriot Front, a white nationalist hate group. He identified himself as a former member of the Three Percenters, an antigovernment militia movement, and claimed membership in his Midwest Nationalist Party ranges from Arkansas City to Emporia and Concordia.

“We are advocates of white nationalism and or a pro-western Christian theocracy with a protected white majority status. Which ever one is more obtainable,” Wells wrote.

His personal Twitter and Facebook pages are laced with profane outbursts; tirades about Black Lives Matter, Antifa and critical race theory; sexist and racist memes; Proud Boy images; vague threats and personal attacks.

Wells responded to requests to comment for this story by texting “no thanks.”

“Nice try. I will address the voters in my district with any questions or concerns,” he added. “I don’t want nor do I need to give you any answers. Have a great day.”

Members of the Midwest Youth Liberation Front engaged Wells in April, using an encrypted smartphone app called Signal, after seeing some of his messages from a White Lives Matter forum. In May, they exposed Wells’ comments on Twitter.

Wells responded by threatening to sue the anonymous teenagers for “theft by deception” and “copyright infringement” for using his business logo.

I will be coming after you with everything possible,” he wrote in a direct message to the Midwest Youth Liberation Front’s Twitter account. “Hopefully you are smart enough to remove these items otherwise I can and will financially, lawfully cripple you and your lies.”

The group shared with Kansas Reflector screenshots of interactions with Wells, including images showing that messages by Wells were sent from his personal cellphone. The members asked not to be identified by name for this story.

They describe themselves as “a leaderless collective of young anarchists and anti-fascists around the so-called Midwest.”

“Following months of investigation, we have discovered Joshua Wells has held leadership positions in the White Lives Matter marches, the Proud Boys, and the Three Percenters,” the group said in a statement to Kansas Reflector. “Wells’ admitted goal of his new Midwest Nationalist Party is to establish a white ethno-state. We are not exaggerating the extremism of his beliefs: Wells openly praises the death of Black people, spreads Nazi Germany symbolism, and thinks non-White people don’t belong in America.

“If Wells, as he said himself, does not allows ‘Blacks’ into his own Proud Boys chapter, how can any children of color feel safe with him as a member of the school board? The people of Hutchinson have a responsibility to actively push back against Wells acquiring any position of local power. To not act is to risk a hateful man endangering the wellbeing of the community’s students.”

Wells filed for the Haven school board seat currently held by Ken Nisly, who is seeking re-election. Nisly, who owns Nisly and Sons Painting, said he wasn’t sure what the Proud Boys stand for, but that it didn’t sound healthy.

“I want to be kind and gentle. I don’t want to slam somebody. But I think that they are probably a little bit on the radical side,” Nisly said.

Nisly said he wants voters to know he stands for “a good quality education for all, not for only a certain sect of people or certain group.”

The district’s diverse students represent various ethnic groups and religious affiliations, Nisly said. He wants to meet the needs of all students, “whether it’s emotional, physical or intellectual.”

“That’s what I’m trying to promote — that we give equal education regardless of your religion, race, sex or ethnic background,” Nisly said. “It doesn’t matter. We treat all as equal.”

Private and public comments by Wells emphasize a different approach. Wells wants to clear the country of non-white people and force them into their own ethnic-specific regions.

“Multiculturalism is clearly not working,” Wells wrote in a message to the Midwest Youth Liberation Front. “Better the separation be done peacefully than through war.”

In a June 20 post on his personal Facebook page, Wells wrote: “Happy Father’s Day to all the western men out there raising our future generation with the proper morals and values that built this great nation.”

His Facebook photos include an image of the American flag upside down above the Proud Boys flag, which reads, “the west is the best.”

In a “hutch gossip” group on Facebook, Wells wrote on July 9: “Be a rebel. Get married to your opposite sex and start a family.” On July 2, he posted a meme that reads: “Masculinity isn’t toxic. The absence of it is. Weak men are abusive and spiteful. Strong, masculine men are protective and loving.”

He also posted an anti-Semitic meme of Mark Zuckerberg, and a photo of Nancy Kerrigan and Tanya Harding with the words: “Back in my day, when athletes took a knee, they took a knee.”

He promoted within the Facebook group false conspiracy theories about voter fraud and police starting the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol.

In the White Lives Matter forum, Wells shared a debunked conspiracy theory about the World Economic Forum’s “technocratic game plan,” also known as the “great reset.” The theory is based on the premise that an unspecified entity controls political parties and news media worldwide. The release of a deadly lab-produced virus is the first step in reducing the global population to 500 million people by the year 2030. After ordering social distancing and mandating the use of face masks, the unspecified people in charge used 5G to monitor the population for dissent. The first vaccine was a placebo. After they know who is worthy of reproducing, they will roll out a sterilization vaccine.

Wells inserted himself into a Twitter discussion on July 4 where others were making fun of Patriot Front members who were captured on video running away from counter protesters in Philadelphia.

A person of color wrote: “Somebody call these MFer’s parents.”

Wells responded: “Unlike yourself I bet that they know their parents.”

To establish credibility with a white nationalist chat group, Wells shared a video of a large indoor gathering of angry white men repeatedly shouting “f*** antifa.” He claimed it was a gathering of chapter presidents of “western chauvinist” organizations.

“I may or may not be in the mix lmfao,” Wells wrote.

Wells sent the Midwest Youth Liberation Front a photo of an FBI agent’s business card. He said the FBI visited him a day before the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“Wanted to feel me out,” Wells said. “I have alot of friendships across the country.”

When someone on Twitter questioned his Proud Boys credentials, Wells told him to “move along and STFU.”

“You don’t know me or what I am,” Wells said. “Keep my name out of your f****** bitchass mouth.”

Other far-right extremists in Kansas have attracted the attention of federal authorities for their views in recent years, including several Proud Boys who are among the six Kansans arrested for their participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Barry Grissom, an attorney who served as the state’s top federal prosecutor under President Barack Obama, said a task force of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies monitor members of fringe groups and assess whether they are a threat.

“You have to respect someone’s first amendment right to express their political views,” Grissom said. “Where you run into potential trouble is when those views are used knowingly to incite others to take violent acts against other persons or government.”

Grissom initiated prosecution of three men from Garden City who were members of the Three Percenters and were convicted in a plot to detonate four car bombs in 2016 around an apartment complex where Somali refugees lived.

Wells hasn’t called for violence in any public or private comments. But Grissom said he would be shocked if the voters of Haven support Wells’ views.

“I’d like to think that a well-informed electorate knows who’s on the ballot and what they stand for — and particularly as a school board issue, how that might impact students, teachers, administration,” Grissom said. “I’d be astonished if someone like that were to win. But as we’ve seen, stranger things have happened.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is a lifelong Kansan.