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It’s the day before spring, but in Naples, Florida, a summer-strength sun is searing a regional park as flags flap and music pounds. The event is Patriot Fest 2022, a country concert, county fair, and far-right rally rolled into one.

Some 400 people in “Let’s talk Covid” shirts and MAGA hats have paid up to $150 to attend, lured by promised headliner Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who never materializes. But for now, warmed up by conservative rocker Ted Nugent, the crowd welcomes the event’s next speaker: Francis Alfred Oakes III.

Widely known as Alfie, the local farm and grocery magnate is 53, with broad shoulders and touches of gray in his close-cropped hair. Alfie is often clad in a short-sleeved polo shirt, the near-­uniform of the region. Today’s version is emblazoned with an upside-down American flag, a symbol of distress.

“I want to get behind people that have backbone,” he roars. “It’s the only way we’re going to take back this country. It’s the only chance! School board is just a little microcosm of the same 535”—i.e., Congress—“that are making reckless decisions.” A chant rises from the sweating crowd: “Alfie! Alfie! Alfie!”

To admirers—17,000 congregate on his various Facebook pages—Alfie is a godsend, a fearless, truth-telling patriot. His screeds are met with thanks and praise. “Naples is blessed to have a Man of God stand up against evil,” one fan gushed over Alfie’s defiance of local mask mandates.

Detractors disagree. “Alfie Oakes is a cancer on Southwest Florida,” says Cindy Banyai, a Democratic congressional candidate who protested outside Patriot Fest. “He’s chosen to mix politics, business, and the quest for celebrity in a way that can only be a detriment to our community.”

Alfie’s political and online presence is conspiracy-promoting, fanatically anti-vaccine, and ardently Trumpist. There’s no evidence that he financially supported the ex-president, but Alfie says he spoke to Trump on the day in December 2020 when Ivanka visited Alfie’s farms to box holiday donations.

Alfie firmly believes in the Big Lie and that Covid is part of a globalist conspiracy to enrich corporate overlords, destroy small businesses, and enable a New World Order. When I noted to him earlier this year that 900,000 Americans had died of Covid, he responded, “Come on, you don’t believe that!”

His empire, encompassing three markets, more than 1,800 farm acres, greenhouses, and aquaponics facilities, as well as wholesale, packaging, and transportation operations, employs about 3,200 workers. Between 2018 and 2021, it won $70 million in contracts with the US Defense, Justice, and Agriculture departments. (Alfie says he sold the relevant units after Biden required additional Covid precautions for contractors.)

In an effort to reshape local politics, he’s funded Florida’s Conservative Voice, an online news channel, and created the Citizens Awake Now (CAN) political action committee to back his preferred candidates in state and local elections. It’s a strategy most famously put forth by Steve Bannon, the former Trump adviser. “We’re taking this back village by village,” Bannon said in a June 2021 podcast, “where the energy is taking these school boards back…people signing up to throw out the GOP establishment.”

As Alfie expounded a few months later, “If they try to steal the next election, the ’22 elections, I’m all in. We don’t want to talk about what that is…I have enough guns to put in every single employee’s hands. I hope it never gets there.”

Alfie was 5 when he started at his father’s produce market. He began selling goods off of a truck at 15, and opened his first stand at 18. Today, his masterpiece is Seed to Table, a 75,000-square-foot megamarket stocked with field-fresh produce from Alfie’s nearby farms, complete with a two-story wine market and bar, and a wide assortment of restaurants, cafes, and food kiosks.

It’s also an enormous event space and MAGA mecca—“a shrine to Trump and Trumpism,” says Florida Gulf Coast University political scientist Peter Bergerson—where Alfie has hosted Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, and Naples residents Newt and Callista Gingrich. Far-right pundit Charlie Kirk, a personal favorite of Alfie, made a visit. Nugent also played in April 2021, testing positive for Covid a week later. Joe Biden photos have been placed in bathroom urinals.

Alfie’s political views first became prominent with an August 2018 Facebook post bemoaning that Democrats were “morphing into all out socialism.” But things really heated up in early 2020, shortly after Seed to Table officially opened and pandemic lockdowns began. Alfie’s response was to dismiss Covid as a “sham”—despite a phone call with Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) set up to convince Alfie otherwise. He threw anti–mask mandate rallies and sued Collier County and its commissioners for trying to enforce theirs.

At Seed to Table, Alfie posted signs calling three pro-mandate commissioners “socialists” and depicting them in Nazi-esque military helmets. Commissioners who voted against the mandate got Uncle Sam hats. (None of the officials would speak for this article.)

Shortly after George Floyd’s May 2020 murder, Alfie posted a Facebook screed calling him a “disgraceful career criminal, thief, drug addict, drug dealer and ex-con who…spent his last days passing around fake 20s to store owners.” Black Lives Matter demonstrators subsequently picketed Seed to Table, and the neighboring Lee County school district abruptly canceled a lunch contract with Oakes Farms worth more than $5 million. (Alfie sued, and litigation is ongoing.) He also says he lost $20–$30 million of business with Market Basket, a New England chain.

Alfie’s stridency made him a hero to local Trumpers, and in August, he handily unseated a long-standing member of the Collier County GOP’s executive committee.

When Biden was elected, Alfie refused to accept it, posting that once “the overwhelming amount of fraud has been proven,” Biden would “spend the remaining years of his life…back in his basement or perhaps in prison.” By September 2021, Alfie had taken up the fringe cause of auditing Florida’s results, going on Alex Jones’ Infowars to offer Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis a $100,000 contribution if he would sit down and hear out his argument for examining a contest that everyone agrees Trump won. The governor never took him up. Fellow Republican Christy McLaughlin, a congressional candidate and county party official, worried that the offer could harm DeSantis’ reelection campaign. In a TikTok video, she argued, “Republicans in Collier County have become numb to Oakes’ hyperboles…his actions have some serious consequences.” (Alfie called the video nonsense.)

Alfie hired buses for 100 Trumpers to go to the capital on January 6, while he took his private plane. He told me that he went to support the president, not overthrow the government. While he admitted to being “all over” Capitol Hill, he denied breaching barriers, entering the building, or doing anything illegal. He flew home the same night.

Recently, Alfie has shifted focus to his region’s school boards, railing against mask mandates and perceived liberal curricula. At a June 2021 Collier County school board meeting, Alfie’s denouncement of critical race theory became so unruly he was escorted out. “[C]orrupt teachers unions” are another target, he wrote on Facebook that August. “We need to take them down by force!!…all enemies foreign and domestic !!!” (He later told me that he meant confronting unions through legal means.)

Alfie’s fervor can distract from the serious business interests he has in the outcome of local midterm elections. At Patriot Fest, he began soliciting CAN PAC contributions from Seed to Table customers and endorsed a slate of candidates. New allies on school boards in Lee and Collier counties, and especially on the Collier County Board of Commissioners, could create a looser regulatory environment for Alfie’s businesses. (Alfie claims his only goal is to elect candidates who “uphold the Constitution.”)

After his quick rise to local power broker, Alfie may have his eyes on statewide office; he recently floated the idea of running for state commissioner of agriculture and consumer services. But for now, he told me he’s after something more ephemeral—to make the county “look like a town in America in the 1950s, when there were American values and respect for both sides.”

Considering that Alfie was born in 1968, this is a hazy vision, one spun by Trump and pursued by diehard followers, of conformity and uniformity, of a greatness that predates historic advances in racial equality, women’s rights, ballot access, diversity, or dissent. But Alfie and those like him will be campaigning hard at school boards and county commissions, going, as Bannon said, “village by village,” imposing their version of paradise and reshaping government to their benefit. As Alfie told the crowd at Patriot Fest, “This midterm 2022 election is the most crucial election of our lifetime. Don’t kid yourself!…This is a dire time. We’re not going to get another chance.”

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Fact:

In-depth journalism that investigates the powerful takes real money and is so damn important right now.But it doesn’t take a Mother Jones investigation to know that billionaires and corporations will never fund the type of reporting (like they do politicians) we do that exists to help bring about change. Instead, our mission-driven journalism is made possible by people power, and has been for 46 years now since our founding as a non-profit.

In “TITLE TK” Monica Bauerlein writes about the perilous moment we’re in, and why it’s so important that we raise $325,000 by the time November’s midterms are decided so we can be ready to throw everything we have at the big issues facing the nation no matter what happens. Please help MoJo’s people-powered journalism with a donation today.

$400,000 to go!

payment methods

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