A Navy SEAL showed up to a Southern California school board meeting on Tuesday and warned that if administrators didn’t curtail “radical gender ideology,” parents like him would defund the education system.

But Bryce Henson didn’t use his real name, instead introducing himself as Ben Richards, the founder of SoCal Parent Advocates. The pseudonym comes from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in The Running Man—a moniker he often uses on his rabble-rousing circuit across the state at right-wing rallies and government meetings. On this particular evening, Henson made a stop at the Escondido Union High School District.

“Our mission is to expose, challenge and resist radical gender ideology, critical race theory, vaccine and mask tyranny in SoCal schools,” Henson, a father of two elementary-schoolers and former Marine, announced. “I’m not anti-LGB. I’m not anti-trans.”

The trans flag, he continued, “doesn’t mean loving who you just want to love, I wish it did. It means desecrating our venerated religious symbols, turning the cross into a stripper pole!” Some in the audience laughed at him but he was undeterred.

“What we need is legal resolutions to bring down the temperature,” he said.

For someone facing a military investigation over alleged ties to extremist groups like the Proud Boys, Henson himself hasn’t shown signs of cooling down.

These remarks arrived days after KPBS, a PBS station in San Diego, revealed the military was looking into whether he violated its rules against participating in extremist activity.

In a statement released to The Daily Beast and other outlets, a Naval Special Warfare spokesperson said, “We are investigating allegations of a Naval Special Warfare service member possibly participating with, or supporting, extremist causes.”

“While Sailors are always allowed to exercise their rights to freedom of speech and assembly if they follow the law and policy restriction, participation with hate or extremist groups of any kind is contradictory to the core values of the Navy and is not tolerated by NSW,” they added.

“As a matter of policy, we will not release specific details about the ongoing investigation. We ask for the public’s patience and understanding as we proceed with this investigation. Our priority is to ensure a fair and just process for all parties involved.”

Reached by The Daily Beast on Friday, Henson said he couldn’t comment. “I wish I could,” Henson said in a text. (In an Instagram message, he added, “I wish I could speak more I don’t mind speaking to our friends in the press its just not a good idea rn.”)

Instead, Henson shared a statement from SoCal Parent Advocates that referred to him by his fake name.

“Nobody talks like this. This is a military guy, for sure.”

“On the eve of our beloved Marine Corps Birthday and Veterans Day,” the statement begins, “KPBS published” an article with the help of a “violent Antifa member” who was “using doctored photographs” to target “Ben Richards.” (That accused “Antifa member” is a local watchdog of far-right activities in California, Kelly Stuart, who denies being in the anti-fascist political movement or altering any photos. “I deny being Antifa. I am an aunt,” she told us.)

“Concerned parents worried about their family’s safety and desiring transparency regarding their young children are frequently singled out and targeted by individuals associated with the Teachers Union, and connected with Antifa,” the statement claimed.

It concludes: “Currently involved in an ongoing investigation, Ben is unavailable for comments. Nonetheless, he is confident that the investigation will vindicate him of any wrongdoing, demonstrating that he has only been a dedicated and responsible father, and, a hero for knowingly assuming risk to help parents under attack.”

According to biographical information provided by the military, Henson enlisted in the Navy in May 2010 and has several awards and decorations including an Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and Good Conduct Medal.

In 2015, Henson had been assigned to SEAL Team 6, or the Naval Special Warfare Development Group in Virginia, KPBS reported. He returned to the West Coast the following year. As of April of this year, his duty station is listed as the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, California.

Henson spent the summer rallying behind the controversial parental notification policies passed by several California school boards—including the Chino Valley Unified School District—which out trans students to their parents or guardians.

During a tense July board meeting in Chino, Henson accused the teacher’s union of providing “rainbow badges” that communicate: “You’re safe with me because you aren’t safe with your parents. We can talk sex and you don’t have to tell them.” He claimed the pride flag stood for drag shows with “grown men dressed like strippers,” and that parents must take a stand.

“We’re at the precipice of a great conflict. It requires courage, it requires tenacity, and it requires drive,” he barked into the mic. “We’re not going to stop.”

In October, the Los Angeles Times highlighted Henson in an article headlined: “How conservatives are waging a coordinated, anti-LGBTQ+ culture war in California schools.”

The Times described Henson as a 37-year-old military vet who began traveling to other school districts because he couldn’t gain ground in San Diego County, where he lives. When the outlet asked why he used the alias “Ben Richards,” he said what was once for his own protection was now an ideological message.

Transgender people, he said, shouldn’t challenge his choice to “identify” as a fictional protagonist if they prefer that he “respect their crazy identity.” “I identify as a male lion, whose pronouns [are] Lion Daddy,” Henson told the Times, “and if they don’t call me that, they’re bigots.”

Stuart, a photojournalist and playwright documenting the far-right movement in Southern California, has chronicled Henson’s appearances at events such as the Babies Lives Matter protest in Santa Monica in July 2022 and an anti-trans rally in Santee in January of this year. In some photos, Henson was captured standing near a Proud Boys member and activist present at the Jan. 6 insurrection.

She also photographed Henson—wearing a “Dad Army” shirt and portable microphone and amplifier—this summer at a protest outside of a Glendale school board meeting that ended in violence as Jan. 6 rioters and Proud Boys clashed with LGBTQ activists.

“The first encounter I had with him was pretty hostile,” Stuart told The Daily Beast. “But later, we kind of had a joking relationship. Like we would just give each other shit, but we would laugh. … However, I thought he was a person who could do a lot of harm, because he’s extremely transphobic, even though he says ‘I’m not against the LGB,’ which is one of the quotes that he always says. He leaves out the T.”

As Military.com reported, Stuart snapped photos of the men around Henson—some wearing the Proud Boys’ signature black and yellow colors. One of the men donned a “stand back and stand by” hoodie, referencing former President Donald Trump’s refusal to condemn far-right extremists during a debate with Joe Biden, while another had several Nazi tattoos.

Stuart belongs to a band of researchers that examines school board issues and extremism, and after hearing complaints about Henson’s aggressive tactics at public meetings, they began to dig into who “Ben Richards” actually was.

One of those researchers, who asked not to be identified for her own safety, told The Daily Beast that Henson seems to have discovered a tribe of people that respect him and even defend his behavior. “He’s a good radicalizer,” she said. “He’s good at getting people to hate him, too.”

The woman, who is a lesbian and advocates for the LGBTQ community, said Henson’s actions have unified educators and California residents who’ve been in his crosshairs.

When she began researching the SoCal Parent Advocates Facebook page, it led her to an account using the name of another Schwarzenegger character: Douglas Quaid from Total Recall. Her group then found a Reddit user who also appears to be Henson—AlanDSchaefer, seemingly a reference to Schwarzenegger’s character in Predator. “He’s not using one alias but multiple aliases,” she said.

In the Reddit comments, the user who appears to be Henson comments on a video of Henson’s remarks at a San Diego school board meeting. “Of course I don’t agree with the pedo club,” the account wrote, “the strategy here was to come off as so fkn reasonable that another refusal (been dealing with it for months) would seem so absolutely unreasonable so that I can use this to galvanize voters down here in SD.”

“Help me out! I have plenty more videos of me brow besting [sic] officials so by all means share what you are doing in your district. I have been trying to receive help here nobody is helping me,” he added. “But we are organizing here boots on the ground so if you are interested in helping let me know cause Im not going to fucking stop.”

In a Reddit post linking to a news story about a neo-Nazi group in Colorado, the account responded to a comment stating, “Black Lives Matter is seen as a racial hate group BY racial hate groups.”

“Within the past year: how many black people have died, and how many small businesses were destroyed in blm protests and riots?” AlanDSchaefer wrote. “How many by black people died and how many small businesses destroyed during neo nazi riots?”

The researcher said that she believes Henson has a right to freedom of speech but is disturbed by his “reducing the queer community to children’s drag shows.”

“I think that he’s blending people’s conception of reality on what extremism is and making radical hate speech seem more like a mainstream opinion, and a valid one, and one that’s OK for active service military, for Navy SEALS to have,” she added.

In Santee, Henson was among protesters outside the local YMCA to rage against rules allowing transgender people to use the locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity. The demonstrations stemmed from a 17-year-old girl’s complaint at a city council meeting that she briefly saw a transgender woman in the facility and was afraid.

The situation quickly caught the attention of conservative news media and local activists. At a Jan. 21 protest outside the YMCA, Henson spoke at a podium draped in a Christian flag and indicated he was involved with conservative youth group Turning Point USA (TPUSA).

He informed the crowd that he had a contact with TPUSA who could help anyone wishing to push their school boards to the right. “We’re making headway on the schools that we flipped,” he said to applause, claiming he turned four area school boards conservative.

“They can help you and provide top cover,” Henson continued. “We need to get these counter-narrative groups in.”

Stuart filmed his speech and thought, “This language is unusual … Nobody talks like this. This is a military guy, for sure.”

Eventually, Stuart said, someone happened upon what could be Henson’s first school board meeting commentary, where he used his real name.

In May of last year, Henson stood at the podium at the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education and identified himself as a veteran, tee-ball coach, and father of two young kids.

“This is my first time,” he said. “I’ve never done anything like this before.” He then said he’d like to be notified if his kids attend any club or extracurricular activity—but especially a “student lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, ally, asexual, pansexual club.”

“I know what you’re thinking,” he raised his arms. “This guy’s probably a right-winger. A big buff, good-looking white guy with an American flag tattooed on his arm. That’s not the case. Nobody is against the club. I just need to be notified if they attend.”

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