Man charged in Jan. 6 insurrection removed as a poll worker in Miami-Dade County

Two former members of the far-right group the Proud Boys are also listed as poll workers.
Rioters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 6, 2021.
Rioters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 6, 2021. [ JOHN MINCHILLO | AP ]
Published Nov. 1, 2022

Two former members of the Proud Boys — the far-right white nationalist extremist group that has become influential in Miami-Dade’s Republican Party — have qualified to serve as poll workers in Miami-Dade County and will be interacting with voters on Election Day.

A third former member, who actually wears an ankle monitor following an indictment for his part in the Jan. 6 insurrection on the nation’s Capitol, also continues to appear on the county’s poll worker database. But the county on Monday said he was removed from the Election Day work schedule three weeks ago after Elections Supervisor Christina White learned he’d been charged with several felonies.

Gabriel Garcia is scheduled to stand trial on two felony counts and four misdemeanors for his role in the insurrection, when federal prosecutors say he broke into the Capitol and was the infamous voice heard begging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to “come out and play.” Garcia has pleaded not guilty.

Garcia, a former U.S. Army captain, also recently took to a conservative-friendly social media site with a mocking boast that likely would have landed him into hot water with the Miami-Dade Department of Elections. The department requires its 4,800 poll workers at the county’s 1,048 precincts to be “impartial” in their roles.

“That’s right, you heard it right, I’m working the poll. Cry some more, liberals. Enjoy your day,” Garcia, 37, filmed himself saying inside a car while wearing a “F--k Biden” ball cap. The former Proud Boy posted about his briefly held new job opportunity on “Florida’s First” Telegram channel, the Miami New Times first reported.

Gabriel Garcia, the former political candidate and Proud Boy member who is accused of storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, qualified to work at the polls in Miami-Dade during the Nov. 8 election, but later was removed from the work schedule because of an indictment.
Gabriel Garcia, the former political candidate and Proud Boy member who is accused of storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, qualified to work at the polls in Miami-Dade during the Nov. 8 election, but later was removed from the work schedule because of an indictment. [ AL DIAZ | Miami Herald ]

Another former Proud Boy poll worker, Christopher Barcenas, was seen on the Capitol steps on Jan. 6, but did not enter the building. He has posted on social media about testifying before the U.S. House Select Committee investigating the attack. Nowell Salgueiro, the third former member, was not in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021.

Related: Who are Tampa Bay's accused Jan. 6 rioters, really?

“The Supervisor of Elections learned about Mr. Garcia’s indictment [on Oct. 11] and made the decision not to assign him to work on Election Day,” said Suzy Trutie, Miami-Dade’s deputy supervisor of elections. Trutie said Barcenas and Salgueiro remain on the Election Day schedule because they haven’t been charged and convicted of a crime.

One of the primary requirements for being a poll worker is being a registered voter. Because the state of Florida automatically purges convicted felons from voter rolls, Miami-Dade’s elections department forgoes background checks.

But that creates a blind spot for the department since an indictment isn’t a conviction. White only learned of Garcia’s indictment from the county elections department attorney, Trutie said.

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“The supervisor of elections made the judgment call based on the indictment and list of charges, to not assign him [Garcia] to a polling place,” Trutie said.

Leaders of Miami Against Fascism, an anonymous Twitter account that outs what it deems to be fascist threats like the Proud Boys, said it’s unlikely any of the three could serve as impartial workers, even if they have been disavowed by the national chapter. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the Proud Boys as a hate group. Estimates place as many as 75 Proud Boys at the Capitol during the insurrection.

Last February, while arguing against Garcia’s motion to ease the restrictions on his pretrial release, the U.S. Department of Justice told a judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that he had prepared for violence on Jan. 6. DOJ said they had evidence showing he texted someone that he was wearing a vest with side plates and that although he’s leaving his guns at home, he’s taking a knife.

“Not for defense,” DOJ said Garcia texted, for “offense.”

In a statement sent to the Miami Herald, Garcia insisted that as a poll worker, he would have been “the eyes and ears of keeping our democracy fair.”

“If I see something wrong no matter what political party you belong to, I will make sure it gets reported,” he said. The statement made no mention that the county had pulled him off the Election Day roster.

Reached Monday afternoon, Barcenas stalled and didn’t answer directly when asked if he accepted the 2020 presidential election results. Still, he promised to be impartial with voters.

“I think there were statistical anomalies that are questionable. But there have been multiple questionable elections, including George Bush’s. But I’m 100% impartial [with voters],” he said. “It’s about the process. It’s about keeping the integrity of the election.”

Poll workers interact with public

Becoming a poll worker in Miami-Dade isn’t arduous, but can be time-consuming. Requirements to work and interact with the public inside a precinct on Election Day also include being a U.S. citizen and registered voter in Miami-Dade, being at least 18 years old and taking an oath. The one-paragraph oath says workers will try to prevent fraud, deceit, or abuse on voting day.

“I further swear that I am not an opposed candidate for any office; and I will conduct myself with the highest degree of integrity and effort in all aspects of election day activities...,” the oath goes on to say.

Once that is achieved, a poll worker is qualified to do a number of things, from looking up and checking in voters, to printing out ballots, to greeting and walking voters to privacy booths and a ballot scanner. Overall, 4,746 poll workers are expected to be on the job in Miami-Dade on Election Day, Nov. 8.

Poll workers, who aren’t permitted to wear clothing or apparel supporting a party or candidate, also get paid between $273 and $346 a day for three days, including two set aside for training.

Related: Florida elections officials grapple with misinformation, myths

Poll watchers just watch poll

Poll workers differ from poll watchers, who are volunteers designated by a candidate, political party or a Political Action Committee. The watchers, who are also permitted inside a polling station, must maintain a reasonable distance from voters and machines and can’t interact with voters. Any questions must be addressed to the clerk at the site, and poll watchers are issued badges that identify which party or candidate they represent.

Miami-Dade has about 1,700 poll watchers at its 28 early voting sites this year. But only one watcher representing a candidate or a party is permitted inside the facility at one time. Candidate representatives can range from the governor’s race to small municipal elections.

“Poll workers interact with voters. As opposed to poll watchers, who do not. They only observe,” said Trutie.

The duo aren’t the first of the Proud Boys to work during an election cycle. In 2019, former Proud Boys chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio served as a poll watcher at the elections department in Doral, which is also an early voting site.

The profile of the once largely obscure group was elevated during a presidential debate prior to the 2020 election when President Donald Trump said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” Trump, in an interview on Fox News later, condemned the group and other white racist groups, saying “I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that.”

Trio also sit on GOP executive committee

But former members of the group still have emerged as influential in Miami-Dade Republican politics.

The three former Proud Boys, whose Miami chapter was disavowed by national leadership, are members of the Miami-Dade GOP Executive Committee, a group that adopts constitution and bylaws, pushes for candidates, determines spending and advocates conservative positions.

Executive Committee Chairman Rene Garcia, who in the past has refused to discuss the issue with the Miami Herald, conceded to WTVJ Channel 6 and The New York Times in June that there are fringe elements in the executive committee’s makeup.

“Yes, we have different points of view in our party. That’s how we are. And my job as Republican chairman is to protect everyone’s First Amendment right, however wrong they may be,” Garcia told The New York Times over the summer.

Barcenas and Salgueiro were highlighted in a June New York Times story that focused on local Proud Boys morphing into leadership roles in the local Republican Party. Barcenas, 34, who describes himself as a conservative and crypto enthusiast, told The New York Times that he first considered running for a seat at the GOP committee over a year ago.

Seen outside the Capitol protesting on Jan. 6, Barcenas never entered the building and voluntarily testified to the Jan. 6 committee about his understanding of the Proud Boys role during the insurrection.

Salgueiro made headlines in August when he was spotted working a Westchester polling station during the primary election. State records show he owns a pair of companies, including a refrigeration and air-conditioning firm. State records also show he’s been arrested at least twice well over a decade ago, once in Orlando and later in Miami-Dade, where the case was dropped.

Before the county decision, Garcia was scheduled to work Nov. 8 at precinct 422 at Everglades K-8 Center in the Westchester/Fountainbleau neighborhood.

Salgueiro will work nearby at precinct 436 in the Rockway Park Recreational Building in the Westchester area. And Barcenas will help out at precinct 614 at a fire station in Coral Gables.

Miami Herald Staff Writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.

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