Mainstream media outlets have given oversized coverage to the small minority of people who have refused to obey workplace vaccination mandates, rather than focusing on the overwhelming majority who have gotten vaccinated in the wake of these public health measures. CNBC has now published another embarrassing example, an article titled “Facing Covid vaccine mandates, some students withdraw from college,” which profiled only two such college students — and both of them were members of a right-wing student group.
But the outlet’s omission of one student’s background gets more disturbing. If CNBC’s reporters had bothered to run a Google search on their sources, they would have found that one of them is a known member of the far-right “boogaloo” movement, which advocates for a violent uprising against the government. And this person has has got a long paper trail in media reports, having traveled throughout the country to public events as an armed militia member.
One of the article’s sources was Justin Mishler, described as a “29-year-old junior at Northern Illinois University” who enrolled in college in 2016 via the GI Bill after he served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Mishler took time off from school to work during the pandemic, rather than attend classes remotely, but has now canceled his plans to return to college.
The reason, he said, is that Northern Illinois University instituted a policy requiring students to either provide proof of vaccination or apply for an exemption and test negative each week. “I was excited but when I saw you had to be vaccinated, I decided to keep working instead,” Mishler said. “I’m not going to abide by stuff I don’t believe in.”
The other quoted source, 22-year-old Dylan Dean, was described as having “preemptively unenrolled” — that is, dropped out — from Montana State University, saying, “I was worried there would be mandates.” In fact, the university has not instituted a vaccine mandate, but has instead held lottery drawings with various prizes for students who are vaccinated, and instituted a stringent indoor masking policy.
Both quoted sources were members of Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian organization that describes itself as “the continuation of Students for Ron Paul” from the former Texas congressman’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012. An earlier version of the story listed only Dean as a member of YAL, but the article now includes information that both are members.
CNBC missed a whole lot more, though, about Mishler’s activities during the pandemic.
For starters, an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from June 2020, “Boogaloo movement receives a cool reception at Black Lives Matter marches in Milwaukee,” contained a photo of Mishler smiling as he carried a semi-automatic rifle.
The article also contained enough identifying details to demonstrate that this was the same person now being featured in the CNBC article — and that vaccine mandates are not the only campus rule he has found to be an unfair restriction on his personal freedom:
Justin Mishler, a Boogaloo follower from Belvidere, Illinois, who attended a Milwaukee protest last week, said he and other group members were not bothered by the mistrust they encountered from protest leaders.
"It's their protest," said Mishler, who carried a semi-automatic rifle at the march.
Mishler, 27, said he was a student at Northern Illinois University and complained he cannot carry a gun on campus. He said carrying weapons at protests serves as "a deterrent against the police abusing their power."
He said he knows that some people view Boogaloo followers as racists or domestic terrorists, characterizations he disputed.
Some members of the boogaloo movement also exploited the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, using them as a venue to commit violence against police. This included one man who recently pled guilty to having traveled from Texas in order to shoot at a Minneapolis police station during the protests over the murder of George Floyd. In another case, a boogaloo follower allegedly killed a Black federal police officer in Oakland, California, which right-wing media blamed on the protests.
Mishler was also quoted by the Journal Sentinel in another article, about the reported militia links of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old Illinois resident who traveled to the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and killed two local residents. Mishler said that Rittenhouse was “not one of us” in the boogaloo movement, and that the self-proclaimed “Kenosha Guard” linked to Rittenhouse “sounds like a group that's probably a day old or less.”
This does not mean that Mishler was necessarily opposed to Rittenhouse’s actions, however, as he also told The Telegraph: “I personally believe that he defended himself pretty well, and did a much better job than most cops would have done in that situation.” (Rittenhouse also became a cause célèbre in right-wing media.)
Mishler also told the Telegraph about the extent of his travels: “ “I’ve been everywhere from Minnesota to Texas to Virginia this year and numerous places in between.”
Mishler was further quoted in yet another article in August 2020, when The New Yorker contributing writer Luke Mogelson encountered Mishler as part of the militia presence at an anti-mask rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“It seems like it gets closer every day,” a twenty-eight-year-old named Justin Mishler told me, at the rally in Grand Rapids. Although he lives in Illinois, where he is a full-time student, Mishler rarely missed a protest in Michigan, driving in alone in his S.U.V. He was different from other Boogaloo Bois, many of whom resembled heavily armed cosplayers more than dangerous revolutionaries. (One Hawaiian-shirted kid wore green Army ammo pouches that were usually stocked with Slim Jims.) Mishler had joined the Marine Corps after high school and had deployed to Afghanistan, as an infantryman. The M16 that he brought to the protests had the same pistol grip, magazine, charging handle, and bolt carrier with which he had customized his rifle overseas. He didn’t wear Hawaiian shirts. “The way I look at it, joining the service was patriotic, and this is just an extension of that,” Mishler told me. “A lot of people like to call it Civil War 2, but it’s more American Revolution 2.”
When I asked Mishler what political system he hoped to see emerge post-Boogaloo, he answered, “Extreme libertarianism.”
The article also claimed that Mishler had been the person shown in a Newsweek article last year, standing armed outside the state Capitol in Lansing, Michigan. The photo was dated April 30, 2020. Mishler did not deny that this was a photo of himself, in response to condemnation of the image by former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton:
Hillary Clinton tweeted the image. “Armed men storming a legislature to disrupt its democratic proceedings is domestic terrorism,” she wrote. “It cannot be tolerated.”
I later asked Mishler how it felt, as a combat veteran, to be called a terrorist by a former U.S. Secretary of State.
He smiled. “It takes a lot to make me upset,” he said.
By contrast, that particular armed showing at the Michigan state capitol was infamously praised by then-President Donald Trump. The event has since been described in the media has having effectively been a “dress rehearsal” for the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
But as far as CNBC cared to look into it, Mishler was just a regular college student who’s fed up with the vaccination mandates.