Even though he’s just a week shy of his 57th birthday, Jeff Crouere—the pugnacious New Orleans area conservative talk radio host, TV pundit, and columnist—still looks like someone who occasionally gets the question “Can I see some ID?” by no-nonsense bartenders and by-the-book convenience store cashiers.
His style is probably best described as “Young Republican.” He seems most comfortable in a polo and khakis or a suit, which he wears whenever he’s on the air, even when it’s just a taping of He Said, She Said, the weekly radio show he co-hosts with his new girlfriend, Miriam “Mimi” Owens, the race-baiting provocateur who is perhaps best known locally for creating Robert E. Lee-themed Mardi Gras throws, which earned her a lifetime ban from the Krewe of Freret.
Recently, Crouere and Owens announced that they will be hosting their second “Save America” rally in Jefferson Parish on August 14. Around 200 people attended their first rally, which took place outside of the Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge on the Fourth of July, right as Louisiana began to confront a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases.
The event included Tony Spell, the breakaway Pentecostal preacher whose defiance of the stay-at-home order earlier in the year encouraged over 1,000 members of his church to undermine the public health, providing Spell with his 15 minutes of fame and a warrant for his arrest.
“Are you a masker or a free breather?” he roared at the rally, though he already knew the answer.
After I asked Crouere and Owens if they’d be willing to respond to a few questions, they were happy to help. Three weeks ago, we spoke for nearly an hour through FaceTime. At some point, I asked whether to expect the opposition to face masks to be a theme in upcoming rallies.
“Our event was not about masks,” Crouere told me. “That was not really the focus of our rallies, and that really won’t be the focus of our upcoming rallies.”
“But we’ll follow the law,” Owens interjected. “I don’t like it. I can’t breathe. I’m hot as heck in it. But we’re lawful people, so if we have to wear it, we’ll wear it.”
While their first event may not have been intended to focus on opposition to mask mandates, that message clearly wasn’t received by those in attendance.
“Out of the less than 200 rally-goers, I saw only two people with face masks,” reported environmental investigative journalist and photographer Julie Dermansky on Desmog. “One was worn by a man that had the words ‘Dixie Beer’ painted on it, which was expressing his disdain over the decision by the owner of the New Orleans beer company to change the beer’s name in response to anti-racism demonstrations. “The other mask I noticed at the rally was worn on a woman’s arm.”
According to Crouere, he and Owens decided to organize “Save America” rallies for four different reasons. “It’s about a response to attacks on police,” he explained. “It’s a response to the fact that our historic monuments are being taken down. It’s a response to a shutdown of the economy, and it’s a response to what a lot of people see as a leftward movement in the political world.”
Two weeks after their Fourth of July rally, Owens encouraged her friends and followers on Facebook to attend the “Take Our Country Back Rally (Say No to the Mask)” near the Lakeside Mall in Metairie, noting the event “is not organized by Jeff or I (sic). It is organized by Clay Taylor. He has filed suit about the mask mandate. All are welcome.”
Crouere told me that he was in attendance but reemphasized that neither he nor Owens had been involved in its planning.
When I decided to write about the purpose and the ultimate aims of their rallies, I had assumed the story would be about the political opposition to restrictions aimed at curtailing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but while that certainly is a part of the story, as I quickly came to understand, it should not be confused with what appears to be driving their activism: Anger over the effort to remove monuments that celebrate Confederate leaders and the Lost Cause of white supremacy.
Nearly a year after Donald Trump took office, Jeff Crouere continued to question whether former President Obama was born in the United States, peddling an article by the bigoted conspiracist Jerome Corsi on Alex Jones’ fringe propaganda website InfoWars. Corsi claimed the CIA hacked into Hawaii’s database to manufacture Barack Obama’s long-form birth certificate.
“I’ve said from the beginning that the birth certificate (Obama) released was a fraud,” said Crouere, who also told listeners that he thought “the whole thing about (Obama) being Christian was a masquerade” as well.
Yet, despite promoting a debunked conspiracy theory even after President Trump himself gave up on the cause, Jeff Crouere has usually been able to present himself as someone who straddles between the far-right fringe and the more respectable Republican establishment. In addition to the weekly program with Owens, Crouere also hosts a daily morning show, “Ringside Politics,” as well as a bimonthly show in front of a live audience called “Politics with a Punch,” which describes itself as a local version of comedian Bill Maher’s former show “Politically Incorrect.”
He is helped, in part, by the fact that he broadcasts on one of the smallest stations in the New Orleans area, WGSO, which means you’re unlikely to hear his most incendiary commentary unless you’re a loyal listener who lives nearby or if you decide to download an app to listen online (albeit small, Crouere actually does command a national audience online).
Crouere also benefitted from his brief marriage to Simone Bruni, a well-respected entrepreneur who became a local celebrity and a self-made multimillionaire after launching the demolition company “Demo Diva” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A year before they married, Bruni threw him a lavish party for his 50th birthday, which managed to earn coverage in The Times-Picayune.
According to a friend of Bruni, their divorce was nasty, and among those in the country club crowd of suburban Jefferson Parish, rumors of a high-priced alimony agreement for Crouere were widespread.
A day after this report was initially published, Jeff Crouere responded to these claims directly. “These nasty and anonymous accusations are absurd and completely inaccurate. It is deeply regrettable that slanderous gossip about my personal life were peddled to the press,” he wrote to the Bayou Brief. “After five years of marriage, I decided to file for divorce in November, and I ask that my family’s privacy please be respected. This has nothing to do with politics. It’s simply about basic human decency.”
Regardless, it seems more than a little ironic that a man who once raged with indignation against former Mayor Mitch Landrieu for ordering the removal of Lost Cause monuments in New Orleans had been married to a woman who made a fortune tearing things down. Perhaps the two were never a good match.
However, the same cannot be said about his co-host and girlfriend Mimi Owens, the Cleopatra to his Marc Antony, the Bonnie to his Clyde.
The “Save America Rallies” began as a Facebook group, which the couple created to recruit and organize for a grand event. The group purported to be about “saving our heritage, culture, security, and prosperity.”
In little over a week, it mustered well over 3,000 members, a menagerie of militant conservatives, fringe conspiracists, and more than a few white supremacists, which proved to generate the wrong kind of attention and complicated their plans.
“Because of impending threats, which happens, that’s part of the silencing,” Owens told WWLTV. “We’re not going to announce a location or time until next week.”
But the aura of mystery and the vague idea of fighting back only encouraged their racist flock to air their grievances. “Next they’ll want to get rid of white people because it upsets them from slavery days, when not one these assholes was ever a slave,” wrote a member named Deborah. “They’re too damn lazy. That’s why they’re on welfare.”
Comments like Deborah’s not only avoided scrutiny from Owens, the group’s moderator, they were usually left unchallenged by everyone else as well.
Indeed, nearly every post in the group was one of outrage: videos of riots, looting, and violence, memes mocking George Floyd’s murder, and Deep State conspiracy theories. On the rare occasion in which the group was infiltrated by someone expressing any opinion that resembled disagreement, then, like a swarm of racist bees, the drones honed in, and the double-agents were quickly outed.
Often, contrarians were shouted down with accusations of antifa, the anti-racist, anti-fascist, far-left political movement that has emerged as the principal boogeyman of President Trump and his supporters on the fringe right.
A dutiful and vigilant overseer, Owens was attentive to questions from her legion and responded with swift action whenever so-callled “antifa” dissidents made an appearance. On a post celebrating Trump’s executive order protecting monuments, a member named Devin simply replied, “Unconstitutional.”
“Antifa alert,” a woman named Susan warned the group. “Devin is antifa,” she asserted, attaching a screenshot of Devin’s comment as evidence.
Owens responded to Susan’s alarm in less than twenty minutes and gave Devin the boot. “He’s been removed.”
Owens is no stranger to the racist sewers of social media. In addition to her role with the “Save America Rallies” group, she is also an admin of “Forever Lee Circle,” a Facebook page with more than 14,000 followers, ostensibly created to focus on fighting the removal of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s statue in the city.
“Many slave owners, Jefferson and Lee for example, opted to keep their slaves to prevent them from being mistreated by others who might try an [sic] re-enslave them,” she once wrote in a post that is as appalling as it is factually incorrect. The group itself has proposed that the real perpetrators of American slavery were “the Jews, the Muslims, and Africans themselves.”
Before she launched a career in talk radio, Mimi Owens wrote a pair of self-published children’s books, including one titled Who’s That, Daddy? meant to “educate” children about various monuments in New Orleans, including those of Confederate soldiers and perpetrators of genocide. (Her other book includes a similar cast of characters but is set in Richmond, Virginia).
In a stilted, simple rhyme scheme, the book, which is illustrated by Sean Gautreaux, tells the story of a white father driving his son around the city to explain the significance of the monuments they see.
Although it is not included in the book, there is one illustration that Owens appears to be particularly fond of and arguably best represents her approach in curating history. She uses it as the banner image for her Forever Lee Circle Facebook page. It’s of a father and a son stumbling into a Mardi Gras parade, where they find three heroes of the Confederacy—Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard, and Robert E. Lee—tossing Owens’ “Forever Lee Circle” throws while standing atop a float that’s being hauled by a Black man in a tractor.
To be sure, both she and Crouere vehemently reject the notion that either of them are racist, claiming that they are animated instead by a patriotic love for their country and the Constitution and concerns about erasing history, which is ironic considering the ways in which both of them routinely distort, exaggerate, and flat-out lie about the history behind these monuments and the reasons people want them taken down.
“I am actually on the Southern Poverty Law’s hate-watch,” Owens boasted at the first “Save America” rally, as if the designation is a badge of honor. (As it turns out, this too was an exaggeration. Owens was referring to this article about her Lee Circle Mardi Gras throws, which referred to her by one of her pseudonyms, “Mikas Earl.”)
But that’s not to say that the couple haven’t faced backlash for their views and their cause célèbre. Since they announced their plans for their first “Save America” rally, they claim they were both been inundated with phone calls, social media posts, emails, and letters from people accusing them of racism.
Some of those people, according to Owens, called themselves “members” of antifa, referring to the anti-fascist, anti-racist, far-left political movement, and following their first rally, she would allege that among the crowd there were five antifa counter-protestors, dressed in black “uniforms.”
When Owens posted a photograph on the rally’s private Facebook group page of the five suspects, all of whom appeared to be either in their late teens or early twenties, languishing a few hundred feet from the event, one of them wrote Owens back. They were not, as it turns out, antifa. The comment was quickly scrubbed from the page, presumably by an administrator.
“And then the doxxing began,” bemoaned Owens.
After receiving an innocuous Black Lives Matter flyer and phone calls to both Owens’ and her ex-husband’s phones from people allegedly claiming to be antifa, the couple say they felt concerned enough to contact local law enforcement as well as the FBI.
“They were boasting about doing it so we had to take action,” Crouere said. “I mean all of this is disturbing beyond belief.”
“That phone call was the scariest one of all,” Owens said. “‘This is antifa looking for Mimi Owens.’ To me, that’s a threat.” So frightened, in fact, that she went on to taunt the caller online.
To people like Jeff Crouere and Mimi Owens, taking down monuments to racist or genocidal men is merely a political stunt, a way for white politicians like Mitch Landrieu to erase history while ingratiating themselves among the Black community.
“It’s a feel-good action that does nothing,” said Crouere. “Now we see since the George Floyd incident, I think literally 100 monuments have been taken down across the country. I just think that’s very sad.”
Owens, who calls herself a “historic preservationist,” expressed her disdain as well. “They have no problem putting Black Lives Matter on the street,” she said. “But you can’t put something for your culture. Aren’t we a country of immigrants? But the only immigrants that matter are the ones that were forced here.”
The couple believe that prominent public monuments to figures such as John McDonogh, Andrew Jackson, and Robert E. Lee should remain standing, regardless of the messages those monuments communicate to Black and indigenous Americans, as they each, in their view, contain some sort of ambiguous lesson in “history.”
“You know, we all have our stories. I’m part Irish, what about all the Irish that were considered slaves?” Crouere mused when we spoke. “We’ve got to remember that a lot of people have ancestors who went through a lot of pain and were enslaved. I think the Irish slavery lasted 200 years.”
But this is how both of them frame the discussion. In their version of the story, they are the real victims here, and their online army of supporters have been unfairly maligned simply because they believe in defending American history.
Societal pressures have, for the most part, succeeded in driving the bulk of the loud-and-proud, heritage-not-hate, traitorous flag-waving racist neo-revolutionaries into the underbellies of neighborhood bars, Thanksgiving dinners, and online communities. The more careful and prudent among them stick to places of true anonymity, such as the forums of 9gag or 4chan. But the loss of strongholds like r/The_Donald show that they continue to lose a war of attrition.
Those who have remained online—these tech-savvy, young, involuntarily celibate partisans—will likely continue to disrupt supply lines of discussion with their memes and single-sentence debates. You’ll find them mocking trans rights or liberal absurdities, or claiming to “OWN libtard snowflakes with FACTS and LOGIC.” Having been banished to the backseat, they laugh at the speed bumps on the road to progress. But these underground resistance fighters know the internet. They know how to navigate the back channels and remain hidden, striking and retreating like cyber guerrillas.
Such is not the case for the vanguard— that is, the boomer and the internet illiterate divisions of the resistance. They’re out waging war on open and mostly public groups on Facebook. They use their real names. They have profile pictures, some of themselves, some of the president using the flag as a tissue, some as just the flag itself. Though the image can vary from the flag of the United States, a bastardized thin-blue-line version, or the flag of the Confederacy, depending on the season.
They also often list their personal information, including where they work. They don’t know any better. Having never encountered hacker culture outside of red pill metaphors from The Matrix, they’re quickly becoming acquainted with a common term and tactic on the online battlefield: Doxxing.
But they’re only getting a taste of the true nature of the practice. Doxxing has been used to stalk and target abortion providers, expose journalists’ confidential sources, and to identify and punish government dissidents. On the extreme end of the scale, there’s “swatting,” which involves making a false police report of a hostage situation that leads to a raid on an unsuspecting, innocent person’s home. In this country, if the police burst through your door and you try to defend yourself from these unannounced intruders, there’s a good chance you’ll be killed. The tragic murder of Breonna Taylor shows that these intruders may not even be held accountable for it. As of this writing, Breonna Taylor’s murderers have still not been arrested.
These “virtual” bigots are simply having the things they say and post in a public place or send in direct messages documented. Alerting a business to the vile, unacceptable behavior of one of their employees isn’t harassment or targeting. In fact, it’s beneficial to that business, and to the larger community. Broadcasting the racist beliefs of a business owner or a public figure isn’t defamation; it’s a public service. This is especially true when the people spouting racist opinions are teachers, public officials, pastors, or police officers.
Among their legion of Facebook fans, one in particular stands out: Amanda Jennings (aka Amanda Smith, aka Amanda Hargis, aka Amanda Downhour). Jennings isn’t just one of the most prolific commenters in the Save America Rallies group, she is also a regular presence on Mimi Owens’ personal page.
When I reached out for comment, Jennings, a native of Bastrop, a small town in north Louisiana, told me she was willing to talk “if you are willing to risk your life.” She then added, “I am targeted by these foreign militants that want to destroy our country.” A week ago, she claimed that “the World Health Organization paid Hollywood actors to claim that they had Covin-19 (sic).”
Elaborate, bizarre conspiracies are a part of her brand. So too is virulent white supremacy.
After Heather Heyer was murdered by a white supremacist during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Jennings defended the white supremacist, arguing that he was merely “fleeing a violent mob.” Two weeks later, she posted a photograph of her and Congressman Clay Higgins (R-LA03), whose own associations with fringe anti-government militia groups have been well-documented.
Jennings does not attempt to hide her incendiary beliefs, nor does she shy away from the spotlight.
Last year, she campaigned as a Republican for Louisiana Secretary of State, finishing last and in a distant fourth against incumbent and fellow Republican Kyle Ardoin, but still managing to garner nearly 80,000 votes.
She reported being the only donor to the campaign, spending slightly more than $2,000, which paid for the qualifying fee and campaign swag, which apparently included stickers that misspelled the word “candidate” and her own last name.
Jennings actively protested the removal of Confederate and white supremacist monuments in New Orleans and, later, in Shreveport as well. In a live-streaming video broadcasted from a counter-protest outside of the Confederate monument in front of the Caddo Parish courthouse, which she shared on the Save America Rallies page, she featured a woman holding a spiked bat. When Jennings asked the woman about the weapon, the woman called it a “N***** Beater.”
“Oh, wow,” responded Jennings, before saying to a nearby counter-protester, “I hope she don’t need to use it.”
Jennings is a great example of the casual form of doxxing facing the vanguard. The live-stream she shared on Crouere and Owens’ group was also posted on her own personal page, which was public and open for all to see.
After a few shares, hundreds flocked to her page to express their outrage on her video. Jennings responded by sending direct messages to some of the Black commenters, saying to one, “You fucking n****** getting real bold!!!!! Little black bitch I will hang you.” (She later claimed, dubiously, that the comment was photoshopped).
Jeff Crouere and Mimi Owens did not denounce or remove the video or any other of her violent or racist posts until I asked them about it, nearly a month after Jennings posted her video.
“That’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable to have any video that has racial slurs in it,” said Crouere, who, unlike Owens, also noted that he was unfamiliar with Jennings. “That’s against everything that we stand for. That will be removed once we find it.”
“Some things get past us,” Owens asserted. “At some of these protests on the other side, they’re saying nasty words too, so what do we do? Do we not show any protests?”
The video was removed from the group’s page and Amanda Jennings was banned from the Save America Rallies group within minutes of our interview ending.
In response to the public attention, or casual doxxing, that members in the group were receiving, Owens mustered her troops and made an announcement. “Here’s what is happening all over social media,” she wrote. “Be smart and pause before you post.” In the post, she included screenshots of half a dozen groups called things like “Expose Racists+ 2020,” “Expose Racism 2020,” and “YOU ABOUT TO LOSE YO JOB!!!! (Racists exposed 2020).”
Posts and screenshots from the Save America Rally group had been shared and tagged in groups like these, which caused members of the vanguard to have their employers contacted and their racist memes and opinions, which they thought were shared in a safe space, posted on their profiles for their friends to see.
Ever the gallant leader, Owens chose to warn her soldiers of watchful eyes, rather than admonish them, ban them from the group, or remove their posts for blatantly racist language and imagery. Rather than simply not being racist, they chose to become more cautious of what they posted.
“I’ve had a show for 21 years, and I’ve never had anything like this ever before,” Crouere said, while sitting snug on a loveseat next to Owens. “It’s reaching a level of vitriol that is really unprecedented.”
Contributing writer: Lamar White, Jr.