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MAGA Republican Joe Kent Got Donations From Alleged Jan. 6 Rioter

Joe Kent, a right-wing Republican who is vying for a rematch against Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Wash.), received $8,600 in campaign donations from an accused Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol rioter facing felony and misdemeanor charges.

The Department of Justice announced earlier this month that it was charging Salisbury, Maryland, resident Carlos Ayala with civil disorder, a felony, as well as several misdemeanors, including knowingly entering a restricted building, and knowingly engaging in disruptive conduct designed to interfere with government business. Ayala’s arrest prompted him to resign from his post as a Republican member of the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Ayala, who was wearing a painter’s mask and America-flag hoodie, stands accused of climbing over police barricades and poking his “We the People” flag at a U.S. Capitol Police officer guarding an entrance to the U.S. Capitol building. Later, when the door to the building was forced open, Ayala allegedly threw the PVC pipe that had served as his flagpole into the building where it struck an officer.

Later in 2021, Ayala, stepson to the former CEO of Perdue Farms, began contributing significant sums to Kent’s congressional campaign. In total, Ayala contributed $8,600 to Kent’s 2022 campaign. That total includes $5,600 in direct contributions, and another $3,000 to Kent’s joint victory fund – an account with fewer limits that Kent is using to finance his current run as well.

The Kent campaign does not plan to return the money to Ayala. “Joe Kent believes in due process,” campaign spokesperson Erin Van Natta said in a statement to HuffPost. “Mr. Ayala is innocent until proven guilty.”

Kent, a veteran of the U.S. special forces, is a loyal supporter of former President Donald Trump, who believes that the 2020 election was “rigged and stolen” and has suggested that the FBI was involved in orchestrating the Capitol riot. In the 2022 Republican primary in Washington state’s 3rd Congressional District, Kent unseated then-Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, one of just 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 attack. Trump had carried the 3rd District, which encompasses southwestern Washington state, by 4 percentage points in 2020.

Still, without the support of moderate voters in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, Kent lost to current Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a self-described moderate Democrat who owns an auto repair shop in Portland with her husband.

Gluesenkamp Perez’s campaign plans to tell moderate and independent voters that Kent, who is hoping to unseat Gluesenkamp Perez this time, hasn’t changed his stripes.

“Joe Kent enjoys enthusiastic support from white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, and members of the January 6th mob,” Gluesenkamp Perez said in a statement to HuffPost. “Weird, dangerous far-right extremists know Joe Kent is one of their own, and I’m the only thing standing between Joe Kent and a seat in Congress.”

Gluesenkamp Perez’s campaign has also hit Kent for interviewing a local resident accused of election-related fraud charges in a campaign video about infrastructure. The interviewee, former airline pilot John Ley, stands accused of registering to vote and filing to run as a candidate for a state legislative in which he did not live.

The general election in Washington state’s 3rd is likely to be one of the closer House races this November. For Democrats, holding swing seats is likely a prerequisite for re-taking the House. And flipping Democrat-held seats wherever possible makes Republicans’ job of defending their slim majority that much easier.

It’s no surprise that Kent has competition for the Republican nomination this time. Leslie Lewallen, a Camas city councilor, is running a relatively well-funded bid for the seat. Businessman Leslie “Nick” French of Camas is also running.

Washington state’s congressional primary elections are set to occur on Aug. 6.

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