Aug 14, 2023 - Election

Rolli parts ways with consultant, citing Proud Boys ties

Illustration of the Davidson County Courthouse and Nashville City Hall in the colors of the city flag with a checkmark drawing on in front of it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Nashville mayoral candidate Alice Rolli and a top campaign adviser have parted ways in a bewildering disagreement that came to light Monday.

The latest: Rolli told Axios late on Monday she "separated ties" with the consulting firm McShane after she learned its executive Woodrow Johnston discussed recruiting Proud Boys members to attend a Nevada election protest in 2020.

  • Johnston refuted reports from earlier in the day on Monday that he was fired. He tells Axios he quit on Saturday over differences on the direction of her campaign. Johnston provided Axios with an email to Rolli dated Saturday announcing his resignation.
  • Rolli then acknowledged Monday evening that Johnston had resigned, but clarified the firm continued working for her campaign until she learned of the Proud Boys controversy.

Context: Rolli thanked Johnston and the McShane team for helping her overcome a fundraising disadvantage and reach the runoff in her victory speech the night of the general election.

What she's saying: "This morning I learned about this connection between Woodrow Johnston and these despicable activities," Rolli said in her initial statement on Monday. "I confirmed it and made the immediate decision to separate ties. Hate has no place in Nashville or on this campaign."

  • Her campaign began transferring media assets and other accounts Monday morning.

What he's saying: Johnston told Axios his firm discussed the Proud Boys controversy with Rolli in their first conversation. "When she is now throwing me under the bus to protect herself, then now I am compelled to defend my own reputation," he says.

  • "I have never worked with the Proud Boys, I have never sought out work with the Proud Boys, they have never sought out services with us in our company's history, and I have never spoken with their organization."

Flashback: In 2020, the McShane team was advising the Republican Party in Nevada.

  • After the polls closed, when it appeared the swing state may lean away from President Trump, Johnston discussed a protest being organized in Arizona by Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar. A chat messenger thread between the consultants was reported by the Nevada Current media outlet in 2021.
  • "But Gosar is leading the charge on a 'Brooks Brothers Riot' down in AZ," Johnston wrote on Nov. 4, 2020. "We might need to do the same here in Nevada."
  • Later in the chat thread, Johnston wrote, "Which means we need to get the Proud Boys out." The Proud Boys are a right-wing extremist group.
  • A protest that took place subsequent of the chat messenger exchange was peaceful and did not block Nevada authorities from counting votes.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional responses from Woodrow Johnston and Alice Rolli.


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