- Photo by Eric Leiser
A lone and leery man, armored in chainmail, is prowling the parapets of Public Square's Soldiers and Sailors Monument. It's a damp morning in June, and the man is an odd, in fact a striking, sight. For it is June 2017.
The man's been a near daily presence downtown these past few months. He's often just walking — "patrolling his route," a subtle list in his gait — though he sometimes can be spotted doing a bit of light parkour. He picks up garbage. He chats with passersby. He goes to church. But people have justifiably wondered what his deal is: Is the medieval get-up a joke or something? Is he on camera? Is he on drugs?
The question lately posed by Cleveland Antifa, the anti-fascist group that emerged in the wake of Donald Trump's election (and whose sibling chapters across the country have made headlines for violent clashes with the alt-right) is: Does this man pose a threat?
To answer that question, a more basic one must be asked: Who is he?
To some, this man is Lord Levi Athon ("Leviathon"). He is a creative anachronist and sword-fighting instructor who runs a Historic European Martial Arts (HEMA) club on Sundays in Lakewood Park. He is also McKenzie Levie (or Mac Levi) — though he claims to have gone by many other names — and has returned to Cleveland on a mission both ancient and brand-new.
"I protect the city from Islam," he told a live-streamer during the May Day March in downtown Cleveland on May 1.
The live-streamer, an independent journalist who goes professionally by Erick M, was baffled. He captured Levie darting into the march and shouting at the Cleveland Antifa group, to whom he appeared especially, if not exclusively, hostile.
"What, are you trying to trigger them?" Erick M asked.
"This is a workers' rights rally, taken over by George Soros' company, Antifa," Levie said, calling back to Erick M as he followed alongside the marchers. "I was asked to keep them distracted so they're not gonna riot."
"Who were you asked to keep them distracted by?"
"My order," Levie said.
"Who ordered you?" Erick M sounded confused. "Your order? What group are you with?"
But Levie didn't answer. He dashed off, swatting away an Antifa sign as he did so.
An administrator with the Cleveland Antifa Facebook group, who communicated with Scene by email and who would not reveal his/her/their identity, said that Levie was first spotted at the Cleveland March for Science, where he was alleged to have shouted "Fuck Antifa" and other obscenities at "old folks who had a table there under the name Resist Fascism [sic], a nationwide organization we have no affiliation with."
Refuse Fascism, for what it's worth, is the group that has received funding from the Alliance for Global Justice, a nonprofit which itself received a $50,000 donation from George Soros' Tides Foundation. That's the weak financial link that has led Breitbart News and other sources (and indeed, McKenzie Levie) to insinuate that the Antifa movement is the handiwork and/or brainchild of the left-wing philanthropist billionaire. Similar insinuations were made in an opinion piece in the New York Times. Due to the array of organizations that Soros donates to, it was suggested that he had "paid protesters" to attend the Women's March in Washington, D.C., and others across the country, in January. That claim has been thoroughly debunked, receiving a "Pants on Fire" designation from the fact-checking organization Politifact.
The claims against Levie are harder to pin down. He was said to have stolen signs and destroyed them at the local March for Science. Later, the Antifa administrator said, they'd received reports of Levie calling people "faggots" and making "suggestive comments" to a group of minors at May Day. At Pride in the CLE, Levie was said to have stolen signs and stomped on them.
These "reports" may have been gleaned from comments on a Facebook thread that appeared beneath a post earlier this month. The post was shared hundreds of times.
"Northeast Ohio people, we need your help in identifying this individual," the Cleveland Antifa page posted on June 3, along with two photos of Levie from the May Day event. "He was seen at Cleveland's [Pride in the CLE] harassing people and ripping signs out of people's hands. His behavior keeps escalating. We don't want to see anyone get hurt or even killed because of this fascist."
The thread devolved into a partisan debate about tactics and style. Many asked what Antifa's goal was. The thread had resulted in at least one mistaken ID. Wasn't that a problem? What did Antifa mean when they called this man a fascist? Was it possible he was mentally ill? Wouldn't it be better to engage him in conversation? On the flipside: Cleveland Antifa maintained that informing the community of a potential threat did not constitute "vigilante justice," as was claimed, and that "dragging mental illness" into the mix was a common method of writing off bigoted ideologies and violent behavior.
At the same time, the allegations against McKenzie Levie escalated. While the initial post said that he'd been "harassing people and ripping signs out of people's hands," the reports on the thread became more salacious and more specific: "Sexually harassing a minor, threatening rape, threatening murder," one commenter wrote. "=all crimes witnessed by [Cleveland Police]."
(Update: The commenter said later, in a separate Facebook exchange, that this remark was posted in response to an erroneous claim that Levie had broken no laws. He wrote that his intent was to explain the extent of Levie's misconduct.)
But the Antifa administrator consistently positioned the thread as a fact-finding mission, with the ultimate goal of safety: "If we have his name it will help us figure out how dangerous he is," they posted. "It could be determined that he needs to be outed to his community or his workplace as a fascist who is escalating his aggressive behavior, in order to keep people safe."
The fatal knife attack on Portland's MAX train occurred eight days before the Facebook post. It was suggested that in light of the Portland attack and others like it, people should be on "high alert" for potential violence.
"There aren't any laws yet that say you aren't allowed to talk about people being shitty assholes," the Cleveland Antifa administrator wrote, in an illustrative comment. "[McKenzie Levie's] rights are not being infringed. And would you rather people be wary, or would you prefer that we wait until he actually hurts people?"
In an email to Scene, the administrator said, "We're trying to find out if he has deeper ties in hate groups. Nationalism has been on the rise and most of these alt-right groups encourage violence as a tactic. We don't want to see this happen in a great diverse city like ours."
The group that McKenzie Levie belongs to these days is an organization called, "The Order of the City." It may or may not consist of Levie himself and no one else. He is, at any rate, the organization's only "visible" member in Cleveland. According to an email from someone going by "Stella Sader" (a known alias of Levie), the Order of the City is a "Public Safety and Cultural Heritage Organization." Levie's "assignment" was described as a "soft patrol of downtown Cleveland, including parks, streets, alleys, and Christian churches from E. 12th to Public Square." For the record, he never carries weapons on these patrols. (He does use blunted steel blades for his HEMA practices and events, he said.)
The Order of the City has no online presence. Again, it might just be something that Levie calls himself. Stella Sader said that "some of [their] members" were also members of the Order of the Artifact Recovery Knights (ARK). But this also appears to be a solo outfit, the name that Levie gave himself when he took a trip to the Middle East with the hopes of recovering the Ark of the Covenant.
The Stella Sader moniker is a reference to Levie's current heraldry. On both of the tunics that Levie regularly wears over his chainmail are images of a star, variations on the star of Solomon. Traditional crusaders wore an image of the cross. "Stella" is Latin for star. Stellasader = "Star Crusader."
The Stella Sader email account wrote that The Order of the City was formed in the aftermath of the Westminster Bridge attack in London this March, and that: "We dress and armor as Knightly Orders of the 12th Kingdom of Jerusalem, as our mission of protecting the people is the same."
When asked which "cultural heritage" the Order wanted to preserve and promote, Stella Sader responded: "We are for the cultural preservation of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. We stand for objective good and altruism."
Communicating with the Stella Sader account, we set up an interview with Levie on Public Square.
It was a chilly, overcast day when we met him at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Levie remarked off the bat, by way of small talk, that he preferred the chill, given his layers.
Levie wears his hair long, though it was corralled beneath a hood for the first part of our conversation. His nails were painted black. His eyeliner had been carefully and generously applied.
Among other curiosities, it's unclear how Levie supports himself financially. He described himself as "in my 30s" and claimed to patrol downtown every day. Working for the Order is a full-time job, in other words, but it's one for which he is not paid. (He said he makes a little money on the proceeds from two self-published books, one of which is called The Gospel of McKenzie and presents an alternate telling of the life of Jesus Christ). Recreationally, Levie participated in the Barony of the Cleftlands, Cleveland's chapter of the Society of Creative Anachronists (SCA), the Renaissance Faire crowd, but he voluntarily resigned from that group after the Facebook controversy. He said he didn't want his personal actions to cast that group in a negative light. Sunny Buchler, known in SCA circles as Constanza Mendoza, Baroness of the Cleftlands, confirmed Levie's departure.
Creative anachronism might be what's going on with Levie's crusader routine downtown, though it's difficult to discern how much of it is performance. Levie said that he is a former actor, has an IMDb page, and tried to make the entertainment industry work for him as a career. He says he spent time as a bartender and manager in New Orleans and worked with cannabis farmers in northern California before coming back to Northeast Ohio, where he said he spent part of his childhood. (He remains a strenuous marijuana advocate.) Levie does not, to be clear, believe that he actually is a 12th-century knight. He doesn't speak in an approximation of Olde English or anything like that. He's engaged in current politics and uses email.
Nevertheless, the Crusades, which Levie reveres, were anti-Islamic wars. And Levie's stated primary target is indeed Islam. In our conversation, he would not utter "the I-word" or "the M-word," and said that he took issue with followers of "a certain book," (the Quran).
"I've read the book a few times," he said. "It's a mean book."
But he also readily acknowledged that Cleveland is under no imminent threat from Islamic terrorism. His primary daily duty, he said, is promoting order and cleanliness by picking up trash downtown. In this respect, he differs from the Downtown Cleveland Alliance ambassadors only in his garb. (In the May Day video, Levie can be seen yelling at the protesters for littering, and running to and fro to put garbage in city trash cans.)
But his anti-Islamic views are disconcerting and and may lead to trouble. He described questionable interactions he'd had with "groups of young men" who he said "looked like they were up to no good."
"Are you talking about black people?" Scene asked, honestly unsure to whom he was referring.
"No, no, no," Levie replied. "I'm talking about followers of that book. They sometimes gather up around Perk Park."
He described his feud with Antifa in the terms of order and disorder. While he referred to them multiple times in connection with George Soros, and once called them a "scumbag organization" with a "heartbeat in Berkeley," his bigger ideological problem with them was that in his view, they wanted to "dismantle everything."
"We've got it pretty good," Levie said. "But they want to tear it all down. And if you try to talk to them, they can't articulate what they want beyond their hatred for Trump."
Levie admitted he had engaged multiple times with the Antifa protesters at various events downtown. But he called the Facebook accusations defamatory lies and contended that he was "not a dangerous person." He never uttered homophobic slurs, he said — he is a member of the LGBTQ community — and he never made sexual advances of any kind. Nor did he physically assault anyone, he said.
He did admit to stealing signs and to verbally provoking protesters. He claimed he threatened to fight them because he knew in his heart that no one would actually fight him.
But these are "Punch a Nazi" times, a meme that has inspired Antifa chapters across the country, most memorably in the punching of the white nationalist Richard Spencer. Levie, too, was punched by a protester at Pride in the CLE. After stealing signs and throwing them in the garbage, Levie said he was attacked by protesters with "NO!" signs (from the national Refuse Fascism group) and was punched in the head by a person named Lydia Kelly.
Kelly made the image of her fist her profile picture on June 3.
Despite Antifa's "militant leftist" posture, the local chapter has done much of its activism online, sharing information, posting articles, and alerting the community to figures that, in their view, pose threats of various kinds.
On Monday, June 12, the Cleveland Antifa page posted information on a woman named Kristi Wall. Wall owns the Land of Plenty home goods stores in Akron and Detroit-Shoreway. On Facebook, she had questioned Cleveland Antifa about what she perceived as their "support for Sharia Law" — a frankly ludicrous interpretation of Antifa's support for Muslim immigrants. After the exchange, Antifa did some cursory digging and found a cache of repellant online commentary that Wall had made on Alt-Right websites recently.
"I wish black people who hate white people and America so much would just move to Africa where there's an entire continent of their own people," Wall wrote, for example. "Oh wait...Africa is a shithole and you'd actually rather live with white people."
Unlike the post about "Chainmail guy," (what many of the Antifa crowd began calling Levie in the absence of an ID), Wall was a known element in Cleveland. The post was intended not to procure information about a person who might be physically dangerous; it was intended to inform people about a business owner whose views were ideologically dangerous. The Antifa administrator clarified that this should not be considered "doxxing," the online practice of publishing someone's personal information without their consent.
"All the information posted here is publicly available and directly related to [Wall's] business ventures," the administrator wrote. "People have a right to know what they are supporting with their money...I make it a rule in my life to not financially support people who are openly bigoted. It doesn't have to be your rule, but there are a lot of people who feel the same as I and who would want to know if they had mistakenly supported a bigot."
Like the post about Levie, the post about Wall generated massive local interest. It too had been shared hundreds of times and led to intense online debate. Levie, for one, was furious. Scene received an email from Stella Sader on June 14.
"The protest group known as Cleveland Antifa was allowed to dox a member of our organization unchecked by local law enforcement, governing authorities, or the MEDIA, and as such they have progressed," Stella Sader wrote. "They have doxxed, again using their Facebook page as a weapon, a local business owner for sharing her opinions online. It appears that this woman has not physically interacted with the group.
"This cannot be tolerated. We will be doing everything in our power to SHUT CLEVELAND ANTIFA DOWN."
Scene asked Stella Sader (operating under the assumption that we were communicating with Levie) what the root of his Antifa beef was. Levie, after all, had been antagonizing local protesters before any of the so-called doxxing began.
It turned out to be a highly personal feud.
"Mac has been actively working against the global socialist network (Antifa) since a family wedding at the Indianapolis State House was disrupted by a quickly planned protest in November 2016," Stella Sader wrote. "Apparently he engaged with members of their group there and was quite offended."
More broadly, Stella Sader reiterated what Mac had said on Public Square: that Cleveland Antifa represented "the local soldiers for the globalist state."
With respect to Wall's comments, which Scene hastened to clarify were not just run-of-the-mill "opinions," about a favorite movie or a preferred vegetable, say, Stella Sader rejoined that while they could indeed be considered repellant, "they were responses to current, questionable events."
"Kristi, a liberal, questioned an Antifa group's motives for seeming to promote sharia law," Stella Sader wrote. "In response, Cleveland Antifa attempted to destroy her life. A poignant comment, conversation, or private email might have shifted this woman's views and caused her to delete every comment. Instead Cleveland Antifa worked to ruin a community so as to impose their own views. This is part of the globalist plan."
With respect to shutting Cleveland Antifa down, Stella Sader said that the Order of the City (Levie) would work to "suppress their activities until they cease operations."
"We are not threatening violence," he said. "Mac will be attending the Cleveland Pride Rally on June 24th. The antifites have indicated that they plan to be there as well with intent to do harm to him. He will be in full armor."
When we saw Levie at the Pride parade and festival for the first time, he was strutting north on East Ninth Street with handfuls of litter, seeking a garbage can. Outside the Rock Hall, he briefly engaged with a bible-thumper, disputing the man's contention that all gay people would end up in hell.
"You're all going to heaven," Levie told the colorful passersby. "All of you!"
The bible-thumper persisted, spouting hateful nonsense about Jesus Christ and sin, and Levie chanted over him, "Sin is legal, sin is leeeeegal." Then something occurred to him. "That's Taqiya! You're Muslim, aren't you? I should've known! Taqiya! Taqiiiiiiiiiya."
It was an absurd scene. A young onlooker quietly suggested a rap battle between the two characters, which would've been appropriate. It was pure theater.
Some time later, after Levie had entered the festival at Voinovich Park, a small contingent from the Refuse Fascism group arrived. Levie hopped to: He'd been waiting for them. This group is unaffiliated with the Cleveland Antifa Facebook group, but that didn't much matter to Levie. He proceeded to engage in his preferred brand of suppression: just kind of being an asshole. He followed alongside them, occasionally taunting them, reminding them that they were promoting the agenda of elitist billionaires.
A woman with the group pulled out a bullhorn outside Nuevo Mod Mex and announced to the crowd nearby that "Chainmail Guy" was a racist white supremacist who had been spitting on them. Everyone should avoid him for their own safety, she said.
The exchange felt abundantly petty, personal, and exaggerated on both sides. Most of the psychedelically apparelled passersby regarded these personalities as irrelevant — they were there to celebrate love and acceptance, etc. The stately harmonies of the North Coast Men's Chorus eventually drowned out the dust-up.
Anyway, police were summoned. Much to Levie's dismay, he was asked to leave. The cops began escorting him out, but the long-haired knight dashed off ahead of them, deking out a tree on his way toward the exit.
"I'll see you on Public Square, Antifa!" Levie shouted over his shoulder, as the officers rolled their eyes. "I'll see you on Public Square!"