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Democrats, GOP point fingers after weekend violence

The Metropolitan Club
Groups of far-right and far-left protesters clashed at the Metropolitan Club in New York City over the weekend

State Democrats and Republicans are accusing each other of condoning violence after a weekend incident that left the GOP’s Metropolitan Club in New York City vandalized and protesters from far-right and far-left groups under arrest.

The trouble began when the leader of Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes, was scheduled to speak last Friday night at the Metropolitan Republican Club on topics including “Deep State Socialists and Western Values,” according to the club’s website.

Proud Boys is a far-right men's organization and is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Hours before the speech, the club was vandalized, allegedly by far-left Antifa — short for anti-fascist — groups, who broke a window and scrawled graffiti on the front door. The vandals also left a threatening note, saying, “This is only the beginning.”

Both Proud Boys and the Antifa groups condone violence as a means of getting their message across.

After McInnes spoke and Proud Boy members left the club, widely circulated videos showed some of the group beating up some of the Antifa protesters.

Three Antifa protesters were arrested and charged with fighting with a Proud Boy supporter.

On Monday, some of the Proud Boy members allegedly involved in the violence also were arrested.

Both Democrats and Republicans in New York have seized on the incidents, each blaming the other for the events.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo held two press conferences in two days on the topic, and appeared on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s radio show. The governor wants the FBI to investigate, and he has asked the State Police hate crimes unit to look into the matter. He called the invitation from the GOP club a “despicable, vulgar, insidious act.”

“This is not about the First Amendment,” Cuomo said. “Hate speech is not protected as free speech.”

Cuomo said he holds President Donald Trump responsible and said the appearance of the Proud Boys at the club was a “political tactic.” He spoke with reporters on Sunday.

“It's all about the midterm elections, it's all about turnout and they're trying to fire up their base. And this is Trump at his worst. It is wholly consistent with everything he has done since he started running for president,” Cuomo said. “He is about polarizing people. He is about spreading fear and motivating people by fear and motivating people by hate.”

Cuomo called on state Republicans to “repudiate” the decision to invite McInnes to speak.

State Republicans, in a statement, said they are the victims and were subject to vandalism and threats simply because they invited a controversial figure to give a talk at their club. Marc Molinaro, the Republican candidate for governor, called on Cuomo to condemn the vandalism and “call for calm on the political left.”

Cuomo says he does not condone the vandalism and anyone who committed those crimes should “be held accountable.”

State GOP Chair Ed Cox said in a tweet that Cuomo was silent on the vandalism for a full day and now has decided to blame Trump for it all. Cox says Cuomo is “all politics all the time,” and that the governor has “cravenly politicized” the events.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.