American Legion removes post commander from national leadership role over Proud Boys affiliation
Social media accounts linked to local American Legion leader bragged about violence at a Yorba Linda protest and recent Proud Boy rally in D.C.
An American Legion post commander in Escondido has been removed by the veterans service organization from two national leadership roles after he bragged on social media about participating in a street brawl and joining the Proud Boys, the California state commander said.
Photos shared on two social media accounts show J.B. Clark Post 149 Cmdr. Michael Sobczak, 56, wearing a Proud Boys jacket and marching along with other Proud Boys during a Dec. 12 pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C., that turned violent.
In a video shared on a personal Facebook account under the name “Mick Florio,” Sobczak describes a beating he says he gave an anti-Trump activist in self-defense during an earlier protest in Yorba Linda.
The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the Proud Boys as a hate group, and the Anti-Defamation League describes the organization as a gang.
Sobczak was removed last week from his position as dean of the American Legion College as well as a seat on the national board of the American Legion Riders, the organization’s motorcycle club, said Ed Grimsley, the commander of the California American Legion.
“The American Legion has no room for hate in its membership, nor will we silently tolerate hate in any form,” Grimsley said in a statement. “It is no longer about free speech or simple political discourse, rather it morphs into an affront to both Legionnaires and our communities, states and nations.”
While the organization removed Sobczak from national leadership roles, Grimsley said that because of the American Legion’s organizational structure, it does not have the authority to remove him as post commander. Instead, he said, it will be up to the members of the Escondido post to decide what to do.
“They will have to be the ones to start the process — it’s up to them now,” Grimsley said when reached by phone. “It’s a bad situation — I wish I could do more.”
Sobczak appears to be linked to two social media accounts — a Facebook account under the name “Mick Florio” and a Parler account under the name “Mickey Knuckles.”
Parler is an alternative social networking app, similar to Twitter, that hosts many political conservatives and some who have been banned from other social media platforms.
Both accounts use profile pictures of Sobczak and shared several links to a motorcycle contest that Sobczak entered, including applications filled out in his name.
The “Mickey Knuckles” Parler account also recently shared a photo of bloodied motorcycle knuckle gloves and a small wooden club with the caption: “My trophy tire thumper from Washington, D.C. The blood on the gloves isn’t mine.”
When reached by phone last month, Sobczak declined to discuss the activities and posts documented on Facebook and other platforms.
He did not deny writing the posts.
“What I do in my private life is private,” Sobczak said.
Much of what had been publicly shared on the social media accounts has been removed or hidden. Sobczak did not respond to further calls, texts and Facebook messages for comment.
The Facebook and Parler accounts shared photos of Sobczak in Washington, D.C., including a screenshot of a photo from the New York Post, where he can be seen wearing a yellow beanie and a black and yellow Proud Boys jacket.
Another photo shows Sobczak sitting on a D.C. sidewalk wearing the same black jacket with the yellow Proud Boys logo.
Thousands of members of the Proud Boys and other conservative groups traveled to the nation’s capital the weekend of Dec. 11 for rallies in support of Trump, who claims he lost to Joe Biden due to unproven allegations of election fraud.
Members of the Proud Boys violently clashed with activists and counter-protesters. There were four stabbings and 33 arrests, according to reports.
Some Black Lives Matter banners were removed from historical Black churches and burned in the streets, videos from the rally show. The national leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, recently admitted on his Parler account to burning one of the signs.
Tarrio has since been arrested on suspicion of destruction of property.
The Mickey Knuckles Parler account “echoed” Tarrio’s “parlay” on his own account.
On Parler, an echo is like retweeting a Twitter post.
On Facebook, the “Mick Florio” account shared a screenshot from a New York Post story featuring a photo of Proud Boys in Washington, D.C. In the photo, Sobczak can be seen in the same yellow beanie and black Proud Boys jacket.
“Heading home today,” the post said. “It was an eventful weekend and somehow my ugly mug managed to make the cover of the New York Post.”
The trip to Washington, D.C. was not Sobczak’s first foray into such events, according to videos shared on the Mick Florio Facebook account.
Sobczak was in Yorba Linda on Sept. 26 when pro-Trump demonstrators clashed with liberal activists at a “March 4 Equality” event organized by a group called Caravan 4 Justice.
At the rally, one of the pro-Trump organizers drove a car through the crowd. Rita Turner, 40, was charged by the Orange County district attorney’s office with several felonies, including attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, mayhem and use of pepper spray by a felon.
Sobczak said in a video he uploaded to the Florio Facebook account that he witnessed Turner’s actions and was interviewed by law enforcement.
In the same video, which has since been removed from the account, Sobczak boasted about being involved in a violent encounter with at least one protester.
“Yorba Linda, Yorba Linda, Yorba Linda — it was amazing,” he says. “Finally good to see some patriots who were just as pissed off as I was.”
In the video, Sobczak describes in detail punching a young man and twisting his foot until he felt it pop and heard something tear.
“This kid with a black bandana on his head and a green bandana on his face went to throw a punch,” he says in the video.
“I hooked him, took him and brought him down to the ground, and while he was there popped him in the face three times. I do believe I broke two knuckles in the process of doing it.”
Sobczak lifts his hand to the camera to show bruising and blood on his knuckles.
“Then he went to kick me,” Sobczak added. “And when he kicked me I grabbed his foot and while still watching his kneecap, looking up at the stars, I was able to turn his foot completely around. I felt things pop. I heard things tear. He screamed like a little girl.”
Sobczak then holds up a black skull cap, which he says belonged to the protester.
“That’s my trophy,” he says. “I kept it.”
He also compliments Orange County sheriff’s deputies for letting the two sides “go at it.”
The Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on Sobczak’s account of the events.
The day after the protest, a post on the Facebook account said Sobczak’s knuckles were not, in fact, broken.
“I can move my fingers today, so I figure it’s just a bruise,” the post said. “That means the knuckle gloves I was wearing did their job.”
According to a Facebook post, the Proud Boys have provided Sobczak something he has lacked since leaving the Marines in 2017.
“The [Proud Boys] filled a void in my life that was created when I retired from the military,” said one Facebook post that was later deleted.
Many other posts on the two social media accounts include right-wing conspiracies about the 2020 presidential election, the COVID-19 vaccine, mask wearing and some notable events.
In one video, a group of people sing “The Star Spangled Banner” before eating Thanksgiving dinner at Sobczak’s home. At the end of the song, Sobczak, standing in his kitchen, reaches into his waistband and pulls out a handgun.
He smiles, holds the gun up, looks into the camera and says, “Game on.”
Dyer writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
3:05 p.m. Jan. 7, 2021: The story has been updated to reflect that the American Legion Riders is a veteran-affiliated group, not a motorcycle club.
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