Utah mayor hires firm linked to the far-right Proud Boys to consult for his congressional campaign

Leeds Mayor Bill Hoster has also been endorsed by Jason Preston, who hired members of the Proud Boys to staff his congressional campaign in 2022

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bill Hoster visits with supporters before the GOP 2nd district debate, at Woods Cross High School, onTuesday, June 20, 2023.

Leeds Mayor Bill Hoster, one of 13 Republicans vying to replace Rep. Chris Stewart in Congress, has hired a Nevada political firm that attempted to recruit the far-right Proud Boys militia for a post-presidential election protest in 2020.

Hoster hired consultancy firm McShane LLC to advise his campaign in the special congressional election in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District. After the 2020 presidential election, the firm was hired by the Nevada Republican Party to investigate unfounded claims of election fraud in Nevada. Woodrow Johnston, the firm’s vice president, attempted to recruit members of the Proud Boys militia for a post-election rally in Las Vegas.

According to a report in the Washington Post, Johnston reached out to Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, a liberal activist who had assumed a fake persona to infiltrate far-right groups, in an attempt to reach members of the militia. In the private message, Johnston said Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, another of McShane’s clients, was preparing for a protest of the 2020 election in Arizona.

“We might need to do the same here in Nevada,” Johnston wrote. “Which means we need to get the Proud Boys out.”

Hoster said he was unaware of the connection between McShane and the Proud Boys when he hired them.

“I’m not familiar with any of that,” Hoster said during a brief interview following Tuesday’s GOP debate in Woods Cross.

“This happened in a matter of 10 days,” Hoster said, referring to the abbreviated timeline for candidates who jumped into the 2nd District race. “My ability to go back and vet somebody out like this has really kind of put me in the corner.”

Hoster is not gathering signatures to try and secure his spot in the Sept. 5 primary election. Unless he can win majority support from GOP delegates at Saturday’s party convention in Delta, his congressional campaign will end.

Rory McShane, the firm’s founder, brushed off the incident involving Johnston in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune, describing it as a “glib comment that was taken out of context.”

“That employee (Johnston) never had contact with that organization, and he stated clearly at that time that the conversation was not on behalf of the firm or any client of the firm,” McShane said.

Four leaders of the Proud Boys, including national chairman Enrique Tarrio, were found guilty of seditious conspiracy for their involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection and attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Former state Rep. Kim Coleman paid McShane nearly $6,000 to consult for her unsuccessful congressional campaign. Coleman finished behind Burgess Owens in the GOP primary. She did not respond to questions from The Tribune.

There’s another intersection between Hoster and the Proud Boys militia. Hoster’s candidacy has been endorsed by Jason Preston, who hired several members of the Proud Boys to staff his unsuccessful 2022 congressional campaign. During the race, Republican political consultant Roger Stone traveled to Utah to campaign for Preston. Stone has multiple links to the Proud Boys, frequently using group members for personal security.

In April, Preston ambushed Gov. Spencer Cox at the Utah Republican State Convention while spouting a far-right conspiracy theory that alleges an urban planning initiative by the United Nations is, in reality, a plot to imprison and potentially enslave humanity. Preston’s organization, We Are the People, has purchased a booth at Saturday’s GOP convention at Delta High School.