The Pastor and the Nazi

Gwen Frisbie-Fulton
16 min readJan 7, 2024


How Far-Right extremists opportunistically try to run adjacent to movements, on both the Right and the Left.

Pastor Booher protesting a drag story time alongside Jarrett Smith, a neo-Nazi in October 2023 in Sanford, NC. Photo by author.

It is unclear if it was the preacher or the Nazi who brought the megaphone, but it doesn’t matter as they are sharing it now.

They are passing it back and forth, shouting anti-gay soundbites into it, lecturing an absent audience. There are maybe five locals who have come to make sure these protestors don’t come any closer to the yoga studio, but they are disciplined and refuse to engage with the preacher or the Nazi. Inside, two drag queens, one dressed like Cookie Monster, are reading Halloween stories to a group of children. We find out later that, thankfully, the kids inside could not hear nor were they aware of what was happening outside.

The preacher is Thomas Booher- a small-town guy who heads up Heritage Reform Presbyterian nearby. He’s brought some of his congregants with him– it’s a Sunday afternoon so it may be that they headed to the protest together after church

There are only a little over a dozen people in total protesting today in Sanford, North Carolina– half of them appear to be from Booher’s church, and the other half are fully masked, faces obscured, gloves on, anything to obscure their identity. Many of them are wearing skull masks– which could be an innocuous thing I supposed, but I am noticing this particular style being adopted with more frequency by neo-Nazi accelerationists. Most notable, of course, is the bold “Support your local Einsatz-Kommando” shirt being worn by one masked protester, referring to a Third Reich roving death squad that assassinated Hitler’s political enemies, including Jews and communists.

Pastor Booher defending neo-Nazis and trying to get the local police to arrest drag queens. Also, the not particularly confusing shirt worn by Jarrett Smith. Photo by author.

A few of Booher’s congregants stand quietly around their preacher; a couple more stand a ways back. One congregant notably stands apart, Bible in hand, shifting uneasily back and forth on his feet, sometimes with his back turned to the small protest. He has positioned himself so that he could ostensibly be keeping guard, but I sense he is uncomfortable, not wanting to be a part of this.

He is the only one I say anything to: “Does standing on the same side as Nazis make you uneasy?” I say it gently, not confrontationally. I am truly curious.

He mutters something I can’t make out. I don’t think he’s going to go against his preacher in the witness of a stranger, but I can tell by his face that he thinks something is terribly off.

That’s probably because it is.

I can’t interpret someone’s faith for them, nor can I claim to be an expert on any religion– certainly not this man’s. But I can say with confidence that when you find yourself on the same side as Nazis, something is going wrong.

The guy in Einsatz-Kommando shirt is Jarrett William Smith of South Carolina, an ex-soldier who recently served a federal prison sentence for distributing bomb-making instructions for killing former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. Of course, Pastor Booher might not have known this when he strode up and instructed his congregation to stand with these men, but the Einsatz-Kommando shirt may have given him a clue. It wasn’t meant to be vague.

Another neo-Nazi protestor with Pastor Booher in Sanford, this one wearing an accelerationist skull mask and an Iron Cross on this hat.

After the protest, Booher spent another 40 minutes in the parking of the nearby Family Dollar talking to Jarrett and the friend he came here with– both still hiding behind masks. Later, Booher said he found them to be very reasonable, even God-fearing. Later still, Booher deleted that post.

But, my goodness. What a sight to see in a sleepy Southern town on a sunny Sunday– a preacher and Nazi having a chat in the grocery parking lot. Like that’s a normal thing to occur.

January 6th: Normies and Extremists

Three years ago, thousands of Americans stormed the US Capitol. Over a thousand people have since been arrested for their involvement in the January 6th attack, including over 30 from my home state of North Carolina.

Some of those arrested from North Carolina were, in a word, predictable. Jeremy Bertino, Jay Thaxton, and Charles Donohoe were already known bad actors and prone to hate speech and violence. Those three were Proud Boys who would regularly show up at protests in North Carolina during 2020 harassing and threatening Black Lives Matter activists. Bertino, known for wearing an RWDS (“Right Wing Death Squad”) patch on his vest, had been involved in a violent altercation a month before January 6th where he was part of a mob attacking a man and got stabbed.

Before their role on January 6th, Proud Boys Jay Thaxton (left) and Jeremy Bertino harassed Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020 in North Carolina. Photo by Anthony Crider.

Other North Carolinians, however, were less obvious candidates for being a part of a violent mob trying to thwart democracy. These were seemingly regular, everyday people like Jenny and Chris Spencer, a husband and wife duo who appear to have no connections to white nationalism or extremism besides having been exposed to internet-based conspiracy theories from their quiet home in Pilot Mountain.

A huge, cleaving, and noxious divide still exists in how we interpret or describe the events of that day, mostly drawn along political lines. Some of us describe it as an insurrection- a full-fledged seditious assault and a clear attempt to overrun democracy led by militant extremsits. Others describe it as normal, if not impassioned, people who got swept up in mob mentality.

Either is bad, but what’s worse is if both are, in fact, true.

There is zero doubt that organized extremists played an outsized role in the Turner Diaries-inspired assault on the Capitol. Some, like Robert Keith Packer of Newport News held neonazi extremist beliefs (he wore a Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt to the capital riot; to leave nothing unclear, underneath it he additionally wore an SS teeshirt), but Packer may or may not have been connected to an organized group. 20% of those arrested, however, had clear and unmistakable ties to organized and even membership-based groups such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and Patriot Prayer. Leaders of both the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers have since been found guilty of sedition.

But also, there were the regular folks. The hundreds of real estate agents, office workers, and dental hygienists who, for whatever personal reason, believed the election was stolen and spent their hard-earned dollars to travel across the country to Washington, DC that day. It’s impossible to know what was in their minds, really. We might think they were foolish, but we have no evidence that they were or are white nationalists, neo-Nazis, or anything but people who were simply adjacent to the many extremists in the crowd that day.

But it is precisely that adjacency that is the problem.

After seeing the atrocities — the sheer violence, the destruction, the death– committed on January 6th, Americans on both the Left and Right went into instinctual denial. Progressives immediately defined the assailants with incorrect and unhelpful blanket insults– “Klansmen,” “rednecks,” ”illiterates”– while the conservatives who were shocked at what they saw blamed Antifa (over 900 convictions to date, including 730 guilty pleas of right-wingers say differently). Both these responses came from the same need– to define the participants in the January 6 attack as not just different but, in fact, the polar opposite of who we are.

All of this finger-pointing is not only wrong (and dishonest), but it also misses the point. No matter if we are on the Right or the Left, we are all in danger and at risk if we allow far-right extremists in our midst.

Purposefully Adjacent

Back in Sanford this past fall, a man named Jere Brower also stood with Pastor Booher’s congregation. It is unclear if Brower is a member of the church, but he at least appeared to know many of the congregants. Sanford is a small town, after all.

Jere Brower didn’t look as intimidating as the masked neo-Nazis. He wore a red Georgia Bulldogs cap and jeans. His tee-shirt didn’t say anything about the SS, concentration camps, or Hitler, but instead displayed a quote from Sara Huckabee Sander’s response to Biden’s 2023 State of the Union: “The dividing line in America is no longer between right and left — it’s between normal or crazy.”

Brower no doubt thinks that the parents who brought their children to the storytime are crazy, not himself of Booher. But what does he think of the masked neo-Nazis? Certainly, that’s not normal, right?

Jere Brower at the protest in Sanford, North Carolina last October. Photo by author.

Unfortunately, for Jere Brower, it may be. Right below Jere’s teeshirt sleeve, a large black Sonnegrad is tattooed on his elbow. The Sonnegrad, or “black sun,” is a symbol invented by former SS officer Wilhelm Landig as a substitute for the Nazi swastika. Above the Sonnegrad, though mostly obscured by his teeshirt, Jere’s latest tattoo is just barely visible: a commemorative inking declaring himself a “Political Prisoner” for the 45 days he spent in jail after being convicted for the January 6th attack.

Today, Jere Brower is trying a different tact than Jarrett Smith– and one that is much more common for neo-Nazis. He’s not masked up and doesn’t look intimidating, just pudgy and middle-aged. But Brower’s white nationalist credentials and neo-Nazi organizing go back further than Smith has even been alive. Brower has long been a member of the Aryan Nations, a neo-fascist anti-Black, and anti-Semitic hate group active through the 80’s, 90’s, and into the early 2000’s. An old newspaper clipping lists Jere as having been involved in a white nationalist shootout in Idaho in 2000.

A Twin Falls, Idaho newspaper article identifying Jere Brower as a member of the Aryan Nations from August 2000.

Today, Brower posts on neo-Nazi message boards and shares Hitler memes, but he isn’t all Nazi all the time, of course. He’s not always in white nationalist shootouts or attacking police officers. Like most extremists, Jere knows that he has a better chance of talking up the moms at Heritage Reform Presbyterian when not wearing an Einsatz-Kommando shirt and skull mask.

Over the last few years, Brower has been practicing “adjacency.” He’s been jumping from cause to cause looking for entry points into what he would call “normie” culture, from helping to organize a small truck convoy to protest COVID shutdowns to showing up at “Heritage not Hate” events defending Confederate statues from being removed.

A screenshot of Brower (here “Road Warrior”) helping organize anti-lockdown protests in North Carolina.

Jere Brower’s newfound “extremism lite” (protesting at drag storytime or protesting public health measures) is in keeping with the attempts of far-right extremists to rebrand themselves to creep closer to mainstream culture. It’s likely Jere doesn’t really have strong opinions about drag queens, the Confederate flag, or mask laws, but instead sees increasing polarization as an opening to access, exploit, and ultimately recruit new people into his fascism.

Jere Brower and Jarrett Smith are perfect examples of far-right extremists practicing adjacency — and Pastor Thomas Booher is allowing it.

In a since-deleted Facebook post, Booher claimed he didn’t know that Jarrett Smith was a Nazi, despite all of Smith’s very clear attempts to let us all know that he is (such as spelling it out in black and white on his teeshirt). Booher never said anything about six other fully masked extremists he stood for nearly two hours with, nor did he mention anything about Jere Brower. He just doubled down on his message about sexuality and sin, going with his father (also named Thomas Booher) to the Lee County Commission meeting and accusing the yoga studio that hosted the storytime of “an agenda to normalize this wicked behavior in the minds of children so that their resistance to it will be minimized, [and] that there will be more and more of it so that they will practice it themselves.”

Booher’s caution about the risk of minimizing resistance to wickedness resonates: I watched him with my own eyes shake several Nazi’s hands.

Exploiting Through Proximity

Over the last decade, several articles have been printed and documentaries filmed about the phenomena of “Nazis next door.” They often are a variation on a theme: expressing shock that there are Nazis amongst us and even more shock at how normal they can be.

This cannon has been critiqued for normalizing Nazism or, by describing their minivans and the children’s toys scattered in the yard, making it all seem less noxious than it is. Indeed, I have read books where I’ve wondered about the author’s closeness to their neo-fascist subjects and wondered how objective this sort of reporting can or cannot be; and what harm it might do.

But the truth is, Jarrett Smith didn’t drive a Kampfpanzer to the protest in Sanford, he drove a Honda Civic. Acknowledging how “normal” some of these fascists are is important, not as an exercise to reflect on what we have in common, but instead to understand their strategy.

If far-right extremists have now learned that they can be less than 20% of a crowd in Washington, DC, and execute the biggest domestic assault on democracy staged since the Civil War, then it behooves them to be able to sidle up to a crowd. Some people at Stop the Steal in 2021 likely were genuinely infuriated that their pick for President hadn’t won the election, but a shocking number of the extremists who broke into the capital and attacked the police didn’t vote at all.

Donohoe used this photo on Telegram as his profile picture — another example of how he doesn’t have a lot of hard and fast values considering he went on to orchestrate an attack on police over an election he doesn’t appear to have voted in. Photo from Telegram sourced here.

More than one in five of the North Carolinians charged in the attack on the Capitol are not even registered to vote in our state, including Stephen Maury Baker, who runs a podcast and blog pushing conspiracy theories and advocating for violence. Jeremy Bertino, the North Carolina Proud Boy who both got stabbed and pled guilty to sedition charges, hadn’t voted since 2016. And there is no record of Kernersville’s Charles Donohoe, having ever registered or ever voted in his thirty-some years- but he was just sentenced last month to three years for his central role in helping orchestrate channels for the the Proud Boys during the assault.

If these men weren’t fervent Trump supporters- not even Trump voters- why were they at Stop the Steal? They were there for the same reason that neo-Nazis want to stand next to Booher’s congregants: To be adjacent to exploitable people that they can use as pawns.

Finding Faultlines On the Left and the Right

I don’t have any sympathy for Pastor Booher- his intolerance and bigotry predate his organizing alongside Nazis, making him an easy mark and putting his congregants at risk. His Twitter feed is enlightening; He tries to use it to share scripture and Biblical teachings but seems to consistently revert to misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. I have enough Christians in my life to know he is conveniently interpreting scripture to reinforce his existing bigotries, not enlighten him or help him grow.

Booher is so compulsively focused on being anti-drag, that he myopically can’t seem to sort out the real threats and dangers that exist around him. His singular intent is so absolute that somehow Nazism takes a back seat and is less of a threat than a children’s storytime (one of the masked neo-Nazis had a young child with him, who he had also dressed in a skull mask to match his dad– but Booher never expressed any concern for this child’s well being). Interestingly, because Booher is so obsessed with finding allies in hate, he has not only overlooked Jarrett Smith’s fascism but also his documented Satanism, as reported in the Army Times.

Thomas Booher might be the only preacher in America currently willing to share a megaphone with a fascist and a Satanist, but he is not the only American who is making the mistake of normalizing extremists or giving them access and adjacency. We like to keep clean lines in America; keep things black and white, not mess around with the gray. But the problem is we have become so unyielding, so partisan, that we’ve created a perfect opportunity for extremists to seep in while our blinders are up. And this is true for both the Right and the Left.

Extremists look for places, people, and causes to latch onto; Anything that looks like a social fissure is fair game. Over the last two years, we have seen this most poignantly in the anti-trans and anti-drag hysteria, with Proud Boys and neo-Nazis repeatedly showing up at drag events. The incident in Sanford was barely an outlier. In North Carolina, Proud Boys have harassed a local mom and business owner hosting a drag show at her bar, have banged on the doors and windows of a public library storytime where the books being read were about inclusivity, and just up the road from Sanford, extremists sabotaged Moore County’s power grid in an attempt to stop a drag show– a terrorist act that resulted in at least one death.

Why all this attention on drag shows and anything to do with gender? Just a few years ago, most of these guys weren’t particularly concerned about any of it. But they sensed an unease, something exploitable, in the general public and smelling blood, have come in for a feast. None of this is about their personal convictions– it’s about opportunity.

This is why, post-pandemic, extremists have also focused on public education and schools. Parents all over were thrown into true crisis when in-person schooling was suspended. Sensing opportunity, extremist groups like Moms of Liberty formed to bring neo-fascist ideas into that exploitable place of anxiety. The Proud Boys, too, rushed into North Carolina school board meetings, and extremist grifter Sloan Rachmuth started Education First NC, boasting a team that originally included Emily Grace Rainey, who was investigated by the FBI in relation to that power grid attack. All of this to become adjacent to stressed-out parents.

Proud Boys in Wilmington, NC disrupted a children’s storytime because they were reading books about inclusivity.

Acting like the only people susceptible to this infectious creep are brainwashed Q-anon Right-wingers is not only wrong, it’s dangerous. Far-right extremists will grab the opportunity to become adjacent to and leech off a movement where they can. The Left is not immune to their dystopian advances and can be just as susceptible as the Right.

Last February, Matthew Hoh traveled to Washington, DC to speak at an anti-war rally. Hoh had run for NC Senate on the Green Party ticket only a few months before and knew he would be joining other Green Party icons such as Jill Stein and left-wing notables such as Dennis Kucinich. It’s not strange that Hoh would attend “March Against the War Machine” — he has a long track record of being anti-war and, over a decade ago, resigned from Foreign Service over his opposition to the war in Afghanistan.

When Hoh arrived in DC, however, he found that he was sharing the stage with more than the old guard Left. Also slated to speak at the rally was Jimmy Dore, whose previous pro-Bernie and anti-corporate messaging is quickly being replaced by his newfound transphobia and Islamophobia, as well as the loudly Libertarian and slightly more quietly racist Ron Paul. Hoh and the other Green Party representatives never challenged the problematic lineup they shared the stage with, nor did they call our or commented on the neo-Nazis who stood cheering them on in the audience.

Well-known white nationalists attend the Rage Against the War Machine rally in Washington, DC alongside Code Pink, the Green Party, and other left-leaning organizations.

Anti-war movements appear to be where the traditional Left is most susceptible to far-right extremists trying to run adjacent to their cause. Currently, anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi groups are attempting to align themselves with pro-Palestinian movements. Just a few days after neo-Nazis showed up in Sanford, dozens of white nationalists with the National Justice Party attended a pro-Palestine rally in DC. The NJP leader, Mike Peinovich, helped organize Unite the Right in Charlottesville, and while in Washington he called Isreal “a pure genocidal state, make no mistake” as if he was suddenly concerned about the fate of Muslims. Similarly, NSC-131, a hardcore neo-Nazi group, hung “Free Palestine” and “End Jewish Terror” banners on an overpass in Massachusetts.

Here in North Carolina, far-right The Federalist Press is busy retweeting the white supremacist Nick Fuentes who recently said in December that ‘perfidious Jews’ should be executed. The Federalist Press was founded by North Carolina Christian Nationalist Matt Dula who claims that “Judeo Christian is a psy-op: and their editor in chief is Hussein Hill, a Black ex-Proud Boy and self-declared America First Groyper who can’t go an hour without posting about “the Jews” or how much he hates women. Neither Dula nor Hill can be described as pro-Palestine, but they are actively trying to move neo-fascist content adjacent to American anxiety over the violence in the Middle East.

Above, Groyper Hussein Hill stands with White Nationalist Jere Brower and Proud Boys at a Stop the Steal rally in Raleigh.

The Left has done a better job of shutting down extremist infiltration than the Right– for example, Pienovich’s group was pretty rapidly sidelined in Washington — but still susceptible to the same tunnel vision that Booher typified in Sanford (as evidenced by at the War Machine rally). The difference between the Right and Left that makes the Right more vulnerable is that the Right peddles in fear– fear of difference, fear of newcomers, fear of drag queens, fear of immigrants, fear of trans children, fear of the unknown.

And fear always makes people and movements easy prey.

Preventing Adjacency, Defeating Fascists

It is the shared goal of white nationalist and far-right extremist groups to seize any and all opportunities to ratchet up. They are accelerationists at heart; they want more tension so there can be more violence and more division. Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians, Independents, Christians, Muslims, Jews– Whoever we are, it’s our job to make sure they can’t do that.

Pastor Booher is failing at that, assuming he wants to thwart fascism at all (It remains unclear if he cares). A few days after his protest with neo-Nazis, Booher started his speech at the County Commission with a verse from Matthew 18:6: If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. The same verse was referenced last fall when a millstone was dropped outside a Beaufort, NC bar that supports the LGBTQIA+ community as a form of intimation. Booher can half-heartedly reject the neo-Nazis he stood with, but using scripture to level threats at community members is exactly the type of opening neo-Nazis want him to make so that they can walk in.

The millstone left as a threat in Beaufort, North Carolina.

As the owner of the Sanford yoga studio hosting the drag story hour observed: “Thomas Booher might distance himself from these groups, but he’s reading from the same playbook.

Pastor Booher probably didn’t invite the Nazis, but he left the door wide open. And that’s the last thing the people of Sanford need.

We have a responsibility to know the people around us; that’s what being in and forming a community is about. Certainly, it’s what protecting community is about. And as a father, Booher should know its what protecting children is about.

But instead of making any child of Sanford, North Carolina safer, he shared a microphone with the danger.



Gwen Frisbie-Fulton

Mother. Southerner. Storytelling Bread and Roses. Bottom up stories about race, class, gender, and the American South. *views my own*