The Man in the Antifa Mask: Who he is and why he regrets showing up at a Coeur d'Alene protest with a crowbar

click to enlarge Two screenshots from a video recorded by Black Lives Matter supporter Sam Rowland show a man with a skull mask and an antifa logo at a June 1 Coeur d'Alene protest. - FACEBOOK VIDEO SCREENSHOT
Facebook video screenshot
Two screenshots from a video recorded by Black Lives Matter supporter Sam Rowland show a man with a skull mask and an antifa logo at a June 1 Coeur d'Alene protest.
The word was out: Antifa was coming for the Winco in Coeur d’Alene.

At least, that’s what Brett Surplus — hunting TV show host, Idaho state Senate write-in candidate and a former police officer and sheriff's deputy — was ready for on the evening of June 1.

And so Surplus stands in the Winco parking lot, dressed in a tactical vest and armed with his AR-15. It wasn't vigilantism, he believed. It was patriotism.

He pans his camera to show a “crapton of Idaho boys” — he estimates about 150 — armed with an arsenal of high-powered weapons. And he says he's already had success.
click to enlarge Brett Surplus - FACEBOOK VIDEO SCREENSHOT
Facebook video screenshot
Brett Surplus

He holds up a gleaming crowbar in front of the lens as a victory trophy, claiming it came from an "A-hole" who apparently "didn't bring enough weapons" so his team "took it from him."

"Just so you know, if you're planning on coming over here and trying to be a piece of trash over in my city, feel free. Because we will unleash the beast," Surplus boasts. "Freakin' slugs for thugs, all the day long. And I’ll take your damn crowbar. Bring it. This ain’t Spokane."


Today, his Facebook live video has racked up more than 28,000 views.

“There ain't nothin' that's going to happen," he continues. "Try to come over here. I’ll take the ‘A’ out of your ‘tifa” in a heartbeat.”

And then he says he hears that five more vans are coming down the freeway.

"Sounds like we're going to have company," he says. "I'm going to see if we can ruin some people's days real quick... I think it may get hinky."

Sam Rowland, a progressive Army veteran who showed up supporting Black Lives Matter in the Coeur d’Alene Winco, says that antifa had become an obsession in North Idaho. 

“It’s like a mythological creature out here,” Rowland says. “It was a witch-hunt. They were saying that a witch was coming to town.”

And so that made it all the more interesting when someone shows up who looks a lot like witch: A protester with a crowbar on his belt loop, walked up to Surplus and Rowland, wearing flannel, an Ice Cube T-shirt, and a skull mask. And on the mask, he’s drawn three diagonally facing arrows, the "iron front" symbol often used by antifa activists.

"The minute I saw it, I knew in my gut this stupid shit was going to happen," Rowland says.

The resulting confrontation not only showed how fast tensions can escalate, Rowland says, it gave the armed right-wing civilians a propaganda victory. 

“They’re looking for 'the antifa,' whatever that was for them," Rowland says. "He gave them someone to look at and point and blame. He became a symbol of what they were searching for.”

WINCO SHOWDOWN


The dark night of anti-fascism is always said to be descending on North Idaho, and yet seemed to land only in Portland.

Antifa — far-left, mostly anonymous activists who take a militant approach to opposing who they see as racist or fascist groups — have brawled repeatedly with far-right groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer in liberal havens like Portland and Berkeley.

And yet for years after President Trump's election, the right-wing rumor mill churned out claims that antifa activists — or even super soldiers — were also plotting to hold riots in tiny towns, like North Idaho's Bonner's Ferry.

"I'd love to see them try anything in [Bonners Ferry]," Idaho state Rep. Heather Scott wrote on a private Signal thread in 2018 to a group of far-right self-proclaimed patriots. She followed up with an image of an Idaho Second Amendment enthusiast, draped in belts of ammunition, holding the semi-automatic equivalent of a light machine gun, standing in the middle of Idaho's Capitol building.

Year after year, the antifa riots never arrived. But this year, when some protests over the murder of George Floyd turned violent and destructive, it fell neatly into that ready-made narrative. 

It was all over social media. North Idaho News, a Facebook page “not affiliated with any real news company,” writes a post warning that “violent rioters” had plans to come to Coeur d’Alene. It's shared 2,300 times.

Surplus turned his private Facebook group — "Band of Brothers Panhandle" — into an information hub for his firearm-wielders to coordinate and share information on the issue.


Surplus says he saw the rumors that antifa was driving Mercedes Benz vans with foreign plates. He claims that antifa communicates using PlayStation 4 gaming systems, because they know they're being watched. He claims antifa "scouts" showed up to check out the June 1 protest Winco event, though he doesn't show any evidence. He claims he has his sources inside law enforcement, but won't say who.

As the Intercept recently revealed, the FBI was internally sharing the claim that "antifa"
protesters were supposedly traveling from Spokane to Coeur d'Alene to protest, and then supposedly planned to road trip to Minneapolis. So far, nothing has been released to substantiate this report.

In fact, Detective Mario Rios with the Coeur d’Alene Police Department says his department never had any actionable intelligence that antifa or other radicals were traveling to Coeur d’Alene

Instead, they forwarded at least one of the false rumors to the Idaho State Police to debunk.

“The ISP has NOT ‘intercepted a semi’ loaded with people and weapons,” the Idaho State police wrote in a tweet. “This is a lie being spread on social media.”

And yet, the day before the June 1 rally at the Winco Coeur d'Alene, Spokane's rally had been marred by violence, looting and vandalism — and the Spokane County Sheriff blamed antifa with absolute certainty. Coeur d'Alene noticed.

“What had taken place over in Spokane, everybody was thinking the same thing was coming,” Surplus tells the Inlander.
Last week, the Inlander wrote about how little evidence had emerged that organized antifa activists were actually responsible for the chaos

Jessica Reaves, editorial director with the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, says the ADL has seen little to no significant organized antifa presence at the George Floyd protests across the country.

Except this time, as Surplus and dozens of other right-wingers stood outside Winco near a handful of Black Lives Matter protesters, it looked like antifa had shown up.

But it isn't Surplus who calls it out. It's Rowland, one of the Black Lives Matter protesters. 
click to enlarge Right-wing activists in Coeur d'Alene shared pictures of a protester in an antifa skull mask to identify him on Facebook. The video footage contradicts the claims that the protester "attempted to smash people and cars." - FACEBOOK SCREENSHOT
Facebook screenshot
Right-wing activists in Coeur d'Alene shared pictures of a protester in an antifa skull mask to identify him on Facebook. The video footage contradicts the claims that the protester "attempted to smash people and cars."

“Get out with the anti-facist shit,” Rowland says on the video he recorded. “I’m standing on the side of peace and Black Lives Matter. Why are you here?”

“I’m here to protect you,” says the man in the antifa mask.

“Does anyone want antifa’s protection? Hell no!” Rowland says as other protesters roar in agreement. “Fuck no! Please leave so we can keep the peace.”

Surplus, armed with his AR-15, notices the argument and points out the masked protester's crowbar.

"Can we keep this from being anything more than what it is?" Rowland says. "Can we?" 

Even as Rowland starts to walk the masked protester away, the other armed men keep following them, yelling things like "You're in the wrong f—-ing state! Get the F—- OUT OF NORTH IDAHO!" and yelling about his crowbar.

It's Rowland — not Surplus — who asks for the man's crowbar, in an attempt to de-escalate.

"You'll get smoked so f—-ing fast," Surplus says as Rowland disarms the man in the skull masks.

"He's no threat," Rowland assures the others. "He's no threat. He is no threat. I'm walking him out."

But Surplus isn't satisfied. 

"Give me that crowbar and I'll be more than happy," Surplus says, and Rowland hands it over. But the armed men keep following them.

"The only thing you're going to see is a f—-ing 6-foot grave," a man can be heard saying on Rowland's video, "now get the f—- out." (Surplus tells the Inlander this wasn't him.)

Rowland says he was worried about the "antifa guy."

"I did not think he was safe at all," Rowland says. But by that, he says he means that he felt the skull-mask guy was in danger, not that he was the danger.

Rowland says he saw nothing to remotely suggest that the masked guy was a threat or he was going to start bashing car windows or attacking Winco. But he was concerned about how the armed Idahoans would act in response.

"I felt that he put others in jeopardy as well by showing up," Rowland says. "It gave grounds for them to argue that anyone else in the crowd was an antifa protester.”

Which raises the question: Why would somebody show up at a North Idaho protest wearing an antifa mask? So the Inlander reached out to the man in the antifa mask to ask that question. 

WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN?

"I wasn't thinking about the fact that I was giving them a bad guy to point at," says Kalen Klei, the man in the antifa mask. "I wouldn't say I responded correctly. I would have responded differently if I could."

Klei, 31, works overnight freight at a Coeur d'Alene hardware store. He's spent plenty of time living in Portland. But ever since his dad died in December, he says, he's been living in Coeur d'Alene.

Speaking to the Inlander over the phone, he doesn’t come across as a wild-eyed radical. For starters, your typical hardcore antifa activists don't share their names or where they work. If anything, he comes across as embarrassed about the whole thing. He says he screwed up and made things worse with his approach.

"If I could do it over, I would just go over empty-handed and with no mask," Klei says.

He says it started with a friend calling him, alarmed about the protest at Winco.

"She told me that men with guns were there intimidating people," Klei says. "But she blew it out of proportion. She made it sound like they were threatening people."

Klei says he didn't give himself much time to think.

"All I knew was I didn't want to go without a way to defend myself or the protesters," Klei says. "And I didn't want to be identified. So I wore this mask and I took this crowbar with me."

And yes, he admits, a crowbar didn't seem much like a self-defense weapon. But it wasn't like he had access to an AR-15, he says. 

He made a similar argument on Facebook last month.

"If the Proud Boy wannabes weren't lined up with bulletproof vests, masks and assault rifles, I would have been standing there without a mask or any form of self-defense, holding a sign," Klei wrote on Facebook last month.

Surplus doesn't buy it.

"He came dressed to the party. He was gambling that there was going to be more people like him," Surplus says. "What if we hadn't been there? That's the reason why people were armed... It was a deterrent. The deterrent worked."

But here's the irony: Surplus says he and other Idahoans showed up armed to deter groups like antifa. Klei says he showed up with a crowbar and an antifa-style mask because of armed men like Surplus.

After all, says Reaves with the ADL, antifa activists' primary mission isn't typically focused on fighting cops or starting riots. Some antifa activists "dox" people who they see as right-wing extremists, exposing their identities, addresses and workplaces. Others are willing to actually physically fight people who they see as alt-right.

But in these cases, they see their goal as countering what they view as extremism.

“Generally they are there to voice strong opposition to extreme right-wing groups,” Reaves says. “If you don’t have extreme right-wing groups there at the protests, chances are there’s not going to be antifa.”

It's why, in some communities like Portland, you've seen a feedback loop: Right-wing Proud Boys show up to oppose violent antifa activists; antifa activists show up to oppose violent Proud Boys. Both claim their acts of violence are justified by a larger threat.

Klei says he hasn't been a part of these rallies in Portland or anywhere else. He says he hasn't been communicating or coordinating with any antifa groups, and that's he's not even familiar with Portland's Rose City Antifa, the oldest self-identified antifa organization in the United States.

As for Klei's skull mask? He says he got the mask
for his birthday a few years ago. He says he and a friend were looking up antifa symbols on the internet. He didn't like the symbol of the antifa flags — he felt that was too closely associated with the group.

But the three-arrows, the symbol of the Iron Front during World War II? He liked that, and drew them on his mask.

"It was a statement, honestly," Klei says. "I just thought the more outright and outspoken you can be about racism the better."

So is he antifa? 

"That's like basically asking someone if they don't like fascists," Klei says. "I particularly agree with them on not liking Nazis and not supporting racism. It's pretty basic shit, I think."

But if "antifa" means violence or looting, he says he doesn't identify as "antifa."

"I don't support hurting anyone that isn't hurting anyone themselves," he says. 

Still, Klei's Facebook timeline features plenty of violent anti-fascist memes ("Our grandparents didn't vote for fascists. They shot them") and anti-fascist rhetoric ("It's muh birthday, punch a Nazi.").

click to enlarge One of the images Kalen Klei has shared on his Facebook page. - FACEBOOK SCREENSHOT
Facebook screenshot
One of the images Kalen Klei has shared on his Facebook page.
"My people," Klei writes above a post from Anti Fascist Action Sydney describing the Red Warriors, members of the French punk scene who violently confronted skinheads in the '80s.

Other posts get particularly threatening.


"S'funny... when I get shit for being violent," he writes above an image of Facebook screenshot of what appears to be Trump supporters defending putting immigrant children in cages. "Violence is the only 'answer for this kind of scum. These people do not deserve tongues, hands or eyes.'"

Another post, written in 2016, raised concerns from his Facebook friends.

"Trump won and I literally live an hour from the Aryan headquarters," he wrote in 2016. "If I know anyone that has explosives experience speak up! These bigots need to be humbled with haste!!"

A few hours later, however, he clarified: "I'm not going to bomb anyone, it was a joke. Everyone calm down."

A decade ago, Klei was arrested for allegedly threatening an ex-girlfriend with a machete. Klei denies the allegation and says that, after spending six months in jail before trial, he says he was sentenced to time-served.

But despite the mistakes in his past and some of his online rhetoric, Klei insists he's nonviolent.

"I only meant to stand in between the protesters and the men with guns," he says. "If they started pulling their guns on the protesters, that's when I would have done something stupid. But no other time. If somebody isn't harming another person, there's no reason to harm them."

It's almost identical to rules of engagement that Surplus lays down in discussing the Idahoans who showed up armed with firearms to deter looters.

“Some guy has a big ball-peen hammer and it looks like he’s going to take a swing at you, you can use deadly force,” Surplus tells the Inlander. “A guy raises his hand up and he’s within striking distance, you’re justified.”

And to this dynamic, add in people who seem almost eager for a war between radicals on the right and the left.

"There are too many guns at these events held by too many groups with conflicting goals," 
JJ MacNab, fellow with the George Washington University's Program on Extremism, told Congress on Thursday. "There's a potential street war brewing. And there are militant groups and individuals willing to shoot at or bomb random police and protesters, just to get that street war started so that they can use the resulting chaos to accelerate their own plans for revolution."

WHO WON?

It wasn't long before right-wing activists shared Klei's identity.

"This information is not for harassment of him, but only to reveal who was behind the mask," a member of the Bands of Brothers Panhandle Facebook page shared with other members of Surplus's group. "These goobers dox people on our side, so consider this a return of the favor."

Rowland says an FBI agent stationed in Coeur d'Alene reached out to some of Klei's contacts, asking questions. He sends the Inlander a picture of the agent's business card to prove it.

The agent declined to answer questions from the
Inlander. The FBI would not confirm the existence of an investigation, instead sending over a statement that they focus "solely on criminal activity of individuals" and not on the membership in any specific groups.

Rowland says he faced a backlash. Some of the armed right-wingers praised his effort to de-escalate, he says, while others accused him of being a "thug." After the protest, Rowland says he got a flood of security messages suggesting someone was trying to break into his email and Facebook accounts.

But mostly, Rowland is frustrated that the armed response to antifa rumors had the impact of suppressing genuine protesters. He says he has friends who have told him, "I have friends at home. I don’t feel safe coming out to protest because of these armed militias and armed civilians." He says some businesses closed because of the presence of armed civilians with AR-15 rifles.

Klei says he hopes the gun-toting right-wingers understand the impact they had on other protesters.

"I just hope they learned how much they intimidated and scare people instead of making them feel protected, to the point where we feel like we have to defend themselves from them," Klei says.

But that's not the lesson Surplus takes away. For him, it's victory. Just look at Spokane. 

"The difference between Spokane and Coeur d'Alene is Coeur d'Alene didn’t have to pick up a broom or a dustpan to clean up,” Surplus says. “Nothing got broke here. Nothing. Not one thing.”

The businesses who complained, he says, were liberals. He says he got enough support from local business owners to rent out the Kootenai County Fairgrounds for a thank-you dinner for the armed men who showed up to guard Coeur d'Alene during the protests. He says they were there for everyone's safety and poo-poos concerns that the armed presence could have intimidated protesters.

“Realistically, these protests really had no business being in as far as Coeur d'Alene," he says. "We're not Minneapolis! George Floyd didn't happen here in Coeur d'Alene, it happened over there! ... Up until the Democrats started this whole thing, everything was fine and peaceful, bliss."

Surplus also disparages Floyd himself, dismissing him as a “porn star on PornHub” with a “criminal record” and repeats claims from a number of debunked George Floyd conspiracy theories.

Ultimately, it's Klei who offers the most regret and introspection. Last month, Klei officially apologized on Facebook, recognizing that his presence had backfired.

The worst part of ALL this: I have been distracting people from the entire point — George Floyd, all the black lives taken by racist cops,” he wrote. "I've just been trying to let this all blow over so everyone can pay attention to what matters: The protests."

This story has been updated to include Brett Surplus's denial that the voice on the "antifa" confrontation video — in which someone said, "The only thing you're going to see is a f—-ing 6-foot grave" — was his.

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, staff writer Daniel Walters is the Inlander's City Hall reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...