Johnny Benitez, Rising Star In Alt-Right Circles, Isn't Who He Says He Is—Or Is He?
Three bald white guys seated on the patio of the Gypsy Den in Santa Ana last November had one thing on their minds: reviving the long-dormant Orange County chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a leftist labor union better known as the Wobblies.
Sterling Abrades was dressed in all black, a Louis Vuitton scarf draped over his shoulders—because nothing says class struggle like accessorizing! The licensed massage therapist talked about his background with Greenpeace and mentioned he spoke with folks thinking about starting a local anti-fascist (or "antifa") group. Abrades mused about starting a worker-owned spa, a task doable with just $400,000 in initial funds. But others had more pragmatic goals in mind: finding at least one person to recruit by year's end to grow the group. "I don't have any social networks," Abrades told them.
Except those in his own mind. See, Sterling Abrades isn't Sterling Abrades. His real name is Juan Cadavid. And for the past couple of months, Cadavid tried to join different leftist OC groups under the names "Sterling Abrades" and "Dorian Navidson."
But his newest persona is suddenly everywhere in pro-Trump circles across Orange County and beyond. As Johnny Benitez, Cadavid attended the Make America Great Again (MAGA) rally in Huntington Beach last month waving a "Blue Lives Matter" flag while sporting a red MAGA hat backward and a "Reagan 40" jersey in honor of the Gipper-in-chief.
If Cadavid had a change of heart politically, it came about quickly. He created social-media personas under the Benitez name in March. In the leadup to the MAGA march, Cadavid tried to advise counterprotesters as Dorian Navidson, but he became frustrated when his militant tactical suggestions fell on deaf ears. "He messaged me that he was going to infiltrate MAGA and that was going to be his big thing," said Sharon Tipton, a counterprotest organizer involved with OC's Socialist Party chapter. In messages Tipton shared with the Weekly, Cadavid boasted his past connections with white supremacist groups would help him cozy up to the local alt-right.
Indeed, when Cadavid appeared at the Huntington Beach pro-Trump rally on March 25, he turned full Trumpbro. "I'm here to support our president and because I'm concerned about the erosion of our Second Amendment rights," Cadavid told FOX News Channel in a quick soundbite. He also started a "Make Orange County Great Again" Facebook page, which has 220 "likes."
But Cadavid's biggest MAGA moment came during the Battle of Berkeley on April 15. Dressed in a black Jolly Roger shirt, Cadavid readied to hold the line against antifa protesters. He chased down a retreating protester and ninja-kicked him. Cadavid posed next to Kyle Chapman (of #BasedStickMan infamy) for his own pictures while staring down photographers with his hardest American History X look.
This dude has been fighting in Berkeley all day. pic.twitter.com/qbBG6hG6ld— Shane Bauer (@shane_bauer) April 15, 2017
It worked. Cadavid's mug appeared in major news stories, including in the Los Angeles Times. He took advantage of his newfound fame to publish a story on conservative website The Red Elephants that claimed Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin welcomed political violence against conservatives in his city. Cadavid accompanied Huntington Beach MAGA march organizer Jennifer Sterling to an on-camera interview for FOX Business Channel and told The New York Times (as Benitez, who was identified as being from Orange County), "I don't really have a connection to Berkeley. The reason we go there is to support people who feel that their First Amendment rights are being infringed, our fellow conservatives in the city of Berkeley."
Keeping the momentum going, Cadavid is appearing at Mt. Baldy this Saturday as a speaker celebrating Trump's first 100 days in office. Among the D-list alt-right stars joining him are Chapman, the vlogger Baked Alaska, and white nationalist writer Brittany Pettibone. All the while, none of the left-wing OC groups that came in contact with him say they've received any of his promised alt-right info.
Is Cadavid a leftist trying to punk the Right, a right-winger trying to trump the left, a double agent, or just a naïve adventurist? Whatever the case may be, Cadavid's online transformations are sloppy. He originally left his Twitter name as "Sterling Abrade" while changing his handle to "Johnny__MAGA"; a Google search of that name yields an October 2016 video in which he spoke at the Orange County Department of Education as a former Laguna Hills High School football player in favor of ending invocations and removing "In God We Trust" from meeting quarters.
Last fall, "Sterling Abrade" wrote a response to a Quora question on Karl Marx and the USSR. "The Soviet Union was at best a state-Capitalist monopoly," Cadavid wrote, sounding every bit the learned leftist. "Marx would have denounced the Soviet Union as a perversion of his ideals, of this there is no doubt."
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This isn't the first time Cadavid tried to make a name—or two or three—for himself in OC political circles. In 2011, he joined Occupy OC and the Justice for Kelly Thomas movement as Joey Cadavid. That October, an Orange County Register photo showed Cadavid leading a vigil with Cathy Thomas, Kelly's mother, as they held a "We Love You Kelly" banner he told the Register he made. He wrote pieces for The Fullertonian and Friends for Fullerton's Future blogs. And he appeared in the Weekly, telling reporter Marisa Gerber, "If there's one positive thing about [supporters of Thomas], it's that people realize that sometimes their political, sexual orientation and class differences are not nearly as important to them as they thought when faced with a real issue."
Juan Cadavid, Sterling Abrade(s), Dorian Navidson and Johnny Benitez all failed to return the Weekly's request for comment.
Instead, he posted a video with multiple explanations of why he uses various names, none political. Cadavid promptly hung up on the Weekly's follow-up call.
Cadavid continues that persona on a public Facebook page, on which he goes by Johnny C. "I don't apologize for my ancestors conquering the brutal Aztecs," he recently wrote. "I am unapologetically American. I am unapologetically white."
He also uploaded a video of himself laughably defending the need for a transparent right-wing movement, even in polarizing times. "I am everything that antifa isn't," he boasted. "Where they wear masks to hide their face, I am comfortable and proud of my political positions."
All of them?
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