A popular figure among the crew of right-wing extremists known as the "alt-right" left the movement shortly after a June event in Portland, citing racism and violence that he could no longer condone.

John Turano, known by the moniker "Based Spartan" for his Greek-inspired warrior costumes, tells Portland State University's student newspaper, the Vanguard, about his defection this week in a detailed story about far-right activity.

Based Spartan was an iconic figure among alt-right protesters, whose movement is defined by cheeky nationalism, street violence and dressing in costumes. Turano came to the rallies clad as an ancient warrior, complete with a Roman centurion's helmet with red, white and blue plumes in the crest. His cohorts called him "the beserker of Berkeley" after he fought with antifascist protesters this spring in Berkeley, Calif.

Turano, who lives outside Los Angeles, tells the Vanguard he realized that the movement he was aligning himself with didn't reflect his values at a June 4 "Free Speech" protest in downtown Portland, an event held in the wake of a double slaying on a MAX train. That event, organized by Vancouver, Wash.-based vlogger Joey Gibson, drew more than 1,000 counter-protesters appalled at the group's decision to taunt and provoke a city grieving the deaths of two men killed in an apparent hate crime.

He now says that by joining in at the alt-right protests he had "made a horrible mistake."

John Turano at a June 4 rally in Terry Schrunk Plaza. (Tom Berridge)
John Turano at a June 4 rally in Terry Schrunk Plaza. (Tom Berridge)

The Vanguard story, worth reading in full, quotes Turano as claiming an epiphany during the Portland protest. He came to feel triumphant. Instead, he just felt guilty.

Turano said he used to think all antifa “hated our guts” and intended to protest violently. When Turano came to Portland on June 4, however, he said a petite Jewish counter-protester came up to him and asked, “Does my life matter?” “It just made me feel bad,” Turano said. “I hadn’t really been paying attention; I just thought we were surrounded by all these people who hated us. But I met some people that seemed so nice.” Turano added that in his state of mind when he attended the Berkeley protest, he thought “these [antifa] people hate America.” Turano said as a single, working father, he did not have time to sit behind a computer screen and follow the alt-right. When Turano began to see swastikas at these protests and racial slurs on the internet, however, he came to understand how the “other side” saw “patriots.” “Racist ain’t too far from the truth,” Turano declared.

Although Turano is breaking rank, the alt-right's presence in Portland is far from over.

Patriot Prayer, a Vancouver-based far-right activist organization that travels from city to city holding what it calls "freedom marches", is set to host another protest in downtown Portland next Sunday, Aug. 6.

It will be the group's fifth major event in Portland this year. The marches, which have terrified minority communities and drawn national press, have led to organized counter-protests—often resulting in brawls.

The June 4 march took place just nine days after Jeremy Christian, who had attended an earlier rally, harassed two black teens on a MAX train and stabbed the three men who tried to intervene, killing two of them.

The group's last event was on June 30. It saw clashes between marchers and antifascist counter-protesters, but the violence was limited and didn't spill over into the nearby Waterfront Blues Festival being held the same day.