During this heated state legislative campaign season, one North Carolina House candidate’s social media posts look very different from those belonging to other Republican candidates across the state.
And it’s not just because he has tens of thousands of followers across nearly a dozen Twitter and Facebook accounts.
A long shot candidate in Greensboro’s strongly Democratic District 58, Peter Boykin, 41, fiercely champions President Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda. He also promotes his controversial-to-some group Gays for Trump; lambasts liberals; and embraces far-out conspiracy theories.
He’s unapologetic about his work, first reported by the Daily Beast, as a cam-model in his early twenties for a now closed pornography website.
The North Carolina Republican Party supports his candidacy for the North Carolina General Assembly and provided the bulk—over $1,700 since July 2018—of his modest campaign funding. That amount is similar to the state GOP’s support of other long-shot Republican NC House candidates in Guilford County.
Boykin said he decided to run in Greensboro because the area “felt like home” and that he “owed it to the community” to “represent every single person” in Guilford County’s District 58. But he has not campaigned with the intensity of many other Republican candidates.
He also said he hopes that his candidacy will help him gain even broader recognition that could help him run for national office one day.
“I wanted to have some kind of legitimacy in what I was doing,” Boykin said. “People are like, ‘Oh, you’re just trying to get famous,’ or ‘Oh, you’re just trying to make money.’ ”
Who is Peter Boykin?
Boykin regularly flips on a video camera to record himself for segments he posts across his Facebook accounts, often while donning a modified red MAGA cap, a plaid shirt in need of an iron, and a headset reminiscent of that worn by a NASA flight controller.
But instead of “Make America Great Again,” Boykin’s Trump-red cap reads “MAGA for Everyone” and “Boykin for House.”
In 2016, Boykin founded Gays for Trump. The group gained national attention as it solicited support from gay Americans for then-dark horse candidate Trump through widespread social media messaging and outreach.
Gays for Trump has also organized events, like the “WAKE UP!” party at the 2016 Republican National Convention to celebrate President Trump’s nomination as the Republican candidate. In attendance were prominent far-right figures, such as white supremacist Richard Spencer and former Breitbart News editor and right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.
The group remains active by hosting and participating in Pride and Pro-Trump marches in North Carolina and Washington, D.C. It maintains a public Facebook page and a private Facebook group, where nearly 2,400 members bond over their, to some, paradoxical identity of advocating gay rights and backing President Trump’s agenda.
In the early days of the Trump administration, Boykin began hosting the MAGAFirst Radio Show on the partisan news and commentary website, MAGA One Radio. The Pro-Trump radio network self-describes as the “new home for InfoWars,” referring to the far-right media platform known for pushing contentious conspiracy theories. In September, Twitter permanently suspended InfoWars and its founder Alex Jones for violating policies forbidding abuse.
After having amassed his tens of thousands of online followers with his distinctive online personality, Boykin filed as a Republican to run to represent his home District 58 in Guilford County in February 2018.
Even after Facebook disabled his primary personal account days before the Nov. 6 election, Boykin managed multiple Facebook accounts and pages promoting his points of view. That included at least four public pages for himself, a “Gays for Trump” page and group, one campaign page and three pages related to his online radio show.
Across accounts, he shares everything from karaoke covers of himself singing top hits like Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” to self-recorded videos expounding on hot-button political issues of the day filmed while driving and wearing his red cap.
In an August Facebook video that tallied nearly a thousand views, Boykin voiced support for InfoWars and Jones, who Sandy Hook Elementary School parents are suing after he pushed spurious claims that a 2012 mass shooting at the school was staged by the U.S. government, as the New York Times reported. Jones has insisted it was part of a plan to repossess Americans’ guns.
In that same Facebook video, Boykin asserted that commentators like himself and Jones must stand unified against “the Left, those large corporations [that] are attacking us” by “trying to take our first amendment away.”
He then went on to embrace a conspiracy theory regarding the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting promoted by far-right internet personality, Laura Loomer, and endorsed by InfoWars.
During a recent interview, Boykin noted that he finds it unreasonable and impossible that the Las Vegas shooter, an “old man,” as he calls him, was “able to basically just wipe out all these people with this gun” without help.
Instead, Boykin said he suspects the shooter was a “runner of weapons…probably left over from the Obama days,” who was once recruited to run guns to Mexico during Barack Obama’s presidency.
Days before the Nov. 6 election, Facebook disabled Boykin’s primary personal account. But for most of his campaign, he managed multiple Facebook accounts and pages promoting his points of view, including at least four public pages for himself, a “Gays for Trump” page and group, one campaign page and three pages related to his online radio show.
After contending that “the left” is “systematically shutting down ANY social media means for people who lean right to communicate” to sway voters before election day, Boykin speculated that Facebook may have disabled his account because of previous contact with the far-right, men-only organization, Proud Boys, whose accounts were also disabled by Facebook and Instagram on October 31, according to the Associated Press.
The Southern Poverty Law Center defines Proud Boys as a general hate group that promotes white nationalist, misogynistic, and Islamophobic rhetoric and whose members regularly appear at extremist gatherings like the violent 2017 “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville, Virginia that resulted in three deaths.
Boykin said he is not affiliated with Proud Boys but has described the group as “the only organization that protects people who peacefully protest” and that “the left [has] turn[ed] into the enemy.”
A Nontraditional Candidate
Boykin said he is not concerned that some of his far-out comments would affect his General Assembly candidacy. Instead, he expressed frustration over what he called “fake news” propagated on “liberal websites…that made it seem like I hate transsexual people and how I can’t stand them.”
The North Carolina House candidate was referring to a March 2018 Daily Beast article where he was quoted as saying transgender individuals are “mentally challenged” and should thus be disqualified from serving in the military.
“I have a lot of right-leaning transsexual friends who admit it is a mental issue,” Boykin said in an October phone interview. “Although transsexual rights are valid, they are different from gay rights, and we can’t let the transsexual rights drag down our gay rights.”
In March 2018, the Richmond, Virginia LGBT online news source, GayRVA, labeled Boykin a “drop the T” advocate who founded the sketchiest right-wing organization ever to come out of the gay community,” adding that his election to the NCGA would “be an extraordinarily bad thing” for the LGBT community.
More recently, Boykin has criticized the Trump administration’s reported move to exclude transgender qualifications in federal classifications of sex, clarifying that he does not take an anti-transgender stance and that “Gays for Trump includes the whole RAINBOW of Letters.”
His unusual past and brazen online presence stand out in an era in which many politicians carefully craft every word out of fear what they say will spread out of context or with unintended connotations.
Boykin said he considers his work in online pornography years ago is “irrelevant” to his campaign. “I didn’t do any movies. I didn’t do any hardcore anything. I took basically pictures of myself behind a protected wall to make sure that people who were underaged would not see it and it was supposed to be private,” he added.
And he often blurs the lines between his campaign and non-campaign social media accounts.
On his primary campaign Facebook page, Boykin mostly shares his daily radio show segments and reposts far-right Breitbart articles—upwards of 15 in a day. Meanwhile, on his personal account, he broadcasts his candidacy and implores his many followers to donate to his campaign.
When asked why the North Carolina Republican Party supports Boykin, Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said via email that the party supports “a long diverse list of Republican candidates across the state.” Woodhouse, who declined a phone interview, did not respond to inquiries about Boykin’s porn-acting history and endorsement of controversial conspiracy theories like those about the Las Vegas shooting.
Guilford County GOP chairman Troy Lawson, who is running for NC House District 57, did not reply to multiple requests for comment about how Boykin’s candidacy reflects on his county’s Republican brand.
Since he filed and automatically became the Republican candidate for District 58 with no primary challenger, Boykin held an October “Boykin for House” fundraiser event at the GOP’s county headquarters. He said that turnout was lower than hoped and his campaign actually suffered a loss in funds after paying to bring speaker Juanita Broaddrick, who is known for alleging that former President Bill Clinton raped her during his bid for governor in 1978, which Clinton has denied.
Guilford County Democratic Party Chair Nicole Quick said she views Boykin’s candidacy as another platform for him to promote his personal brand.
“Given the way he’s chosen to run his campaign it really is more of a publicity stunt for his Gays for Trump network,” she said. “He’s not been out in the community campaigning or making connections.”
Quick added that she has not seen Boykin engage in typical campaign activities in Greensboro, like canvassing door-to-door, while his Democratic opponent, incumbent Amos Quick has. Representative Quick, a Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in High Point, was a Guilford County School Board member for over a decade before his 2016 election to the General Assembly.
Boykin said he has placed 100 “Boykin for House” yard signs across District 58, although without the help of campaign volunteers.
Despite Boykin’s hopes for campaign legitimacy, Quick, who is not related to the District 58 incumbent, said the Guilford County Democrats don’t take Boykin’s candidacy very seriously.
While his chances of winning in heavily Democratic District 58 are slim, Boykin noted that he sees himself as reaching heights beyond his forty-thousand-plus Twitter followers and beyond a state house seat.
“My goal for the future would be U.S. House or Senate,” he said.
For now, though, his following comes from being an unusual online character, sporting his “Boykin for House” red cap and singing to Toby Keith’s “I Just Wanna Talk About Me” with lyrics of his own.
They go like this: “I just wanna talk about Trump, I just wanna talk about MAGA, I just wanna talk about America’s Number One.”
Lizzie Bond is a Duke sophomore and student journalist at the Reporters’ Lab. Since August, students working at the lab have reviewed thousands of political claims on social media for the NC Fact-Checking Project.