A Meridian man, Alex Kuzmenko, is the organizer behind some of the pro-Trump caravans that have filled downtown Boise with supporters of the president on recent summer nights.
The 33-year-old Meridian resident, an unknown in local politics, is the organizer behind the “cruises” that have turned the streets of downtown into a venue for a pro-Trump rally at least twice since July.
He also organized the pro-Trump caravan of Aug. 29 that snaked through the streets of downtown Portland, attracting counterprotesters and ending with one supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer shot and killed.
Now, in the wake of that deadly shooting, Kuzmenko is planning another rally in support of President Donald Trump for downtown Boise to take place Oct. 17.
Kuzmenko’s rallies have attracted hundreds of demonstrators. His story highlights the ability for someone relatively unknown — who had no public presence up until this summer — to harness the power of Trump’s name in mobilizing the online masses into street-level action.
A report by the Washington Post found that Kuzmenko and some of his other rally organizers are members of an extended family who moved to the United States in 1993 from Ukraine and Belarus. Frustrated by living under the Soviet government, they were attracted by Trump’s messages of religious freedom and his rally against socialism.
Videos of the rallies he has organized have been shared by the Kremlin-backed media outlet RT, as well as other organizations advocating improved relations with Russia, according to the Washington Post.
PRO TRUMP RALLIES HAVE BEEN PLANNED IN BOISE
The Portland rally may have thrust Kuzmenko into the spotlight, but his rallies started out in Boise.
Online, Kuzmenko goes by Alex Kyzik. He first posted on Twitter this July, inviting Donald Trump Jr. to the first Boise rally that he had planned. (Trump Jr. did not respond.)
He started posting publicly on Facebook around that time as well, sending invites to the pro-Trump cruises and then sharing live videos from the events.
His first July rally drew hundreds of demonstrators to downtown, where cars advanced up Capitol Boulevard toward the Statehouse, honking and blasting patriotic songs. Kuzmenko’s speakers played, “I’m Proud to Be An American.”
“America is the best country in the world,” he shouted from his car.
On Aug. 18, Kuzmenko posted a live video to Facebook from Ann Morrison Park, where some of his pro-Trump supporters had sought out a Black Lives Matter protest that was scheduled to take place there.
“We have some BLM people in Boise trying to destroy our city, but you know what? This is Idaho, and we have a lot of patriots out here,” he said, flashing the camera toward a small group of demonstrators carrying guns and Trump flags. ““We’re protecting our city. Protecting our town. Protecting our police officers.”
The Black Lives Matter activists, upon seeing the counterprotesters, advised their supporters to quickly disperse to avoid a confrontation.
“Where are all those guys that were supposed to be protesting out here?” he asked. “Where are those cowards?”
A few days later, on Aug. 22, Kuzmenko was back in Ann Morrison, leading his own rally. Beyond the Trump flags, some of the attendees also toted signs advocating for the recall of Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and Councilwoman Lisa Sanchez.
The rally featured local politicians, including Ada County Commissioner candidate Rod Beck, who told the Statesman that was the first time he had met Kuzmenko.
“He didn’t talk much,” Beck said by phone. “Seemed to be kind of a shy guy.”
But Kuzmenko did at one point stand in front of the fountain and led the crowd in chants of “Four more years!” before directing them in a similar route around downtown.
PORTLAND PROTESTS TURN VIOLENT
The Portland rally took place a few week later, on Aug. 29. It drew even bigger crowds than Boise — nearly 2,500 attendees, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
President Trump in campaign speeches has pointed to Portland as a warning of the violence cities could fall into if Democratic candidate Joe Biden is elected. His message empowered many of the supporters at the rally.
“Today is about freedom and showing that antifa doesn’t have the full chokehold on Portland,” Joe Reminar, a supporter, told OPB.
On social media, Kuzmenko posted a map of the caravan’s intended route, which circumvented downtown.
But — as was the case of the Aug. 18 Black Lives Matter rally in Boise — some pro-Trump supporters still went looking for a confrontation.
Some of the Portland rally attendees split off and headed to downtown, where they clashed with antifa, a group of left-wing activists. Those activists tried to block the caravan. In one instance, counterprotesters stepped in front of a pickup truck to stop it, but the truck continued to plow forward.
Later that night, Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a 39-year-old who had participated in the cruise rally, was shot and killed. The alleged shooter, Michael Forest Reinoehl, was himself shot and killed in a confrontation with police a few days later.
The day following the Portland rally, Kuzmenko posted a video to Facebook saying that he had not intend for the clashes between antifa protesters and caravan participants.
Now, with Kuzmenko planning yet another Boise rally, a question looms: Even with proper planning, could the kind of violence seen in Portland unfold here in Boise?
“I would hope not,” Beck said. “That’s why we have to be real vigilant, to not allow that type of violence to take place here.”