Matthew Skidmore is exhausted. He hasn’t been home for two months and he doesn’t know when he will next see his family.
That’s because over eight months ago, he dropped everything to follow Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign around the country.
“Andrew’s campaign brought me out of depression. Andrew’s campaign made me see, like, the value in life again,” Skidmore told Fox News from outside Yang’s third of seven events last Saturday. “And I don’t know if there’s any other candidate that has a message that is so powerful, that is able to transform people’s lives like that because I’m in such a complete, like, opposite position than where I was maybe eight months ago just mentally.”
Skidmore may be tired, but he is not alone. He is just one of many hard-core “Yang Gang” members who have cast their lives aside to trail Yang’s campaign. Fox News spoke with three of Yang’s most devoted followers — and what’s more, they are all former Republican voters.
Skidmore is a 20-year-old self-described “right-leaning independent” hailing from Maryland that started his own online company at the age of 15. In March 2019, he and his friend Zach started a YouTube channel that was originally meant to talk about politics in general. But by May, he was full-on “Yang Gang” and the channel converted to following the presidential candidate through Iowa and New Hampshire live-streaming his events.
To do this, Skidmore turned his company over to his older brother and began fundraising through Pantheon (an online donation-based platform used by content creators). He also fundraises for the candidate with a direct link on his profile. With the original objective of $100,000, Skidmore raised $25,000 in one day alone and says he has well surpassed his goal.
Matt Skidmore meets Andrew Yang’s wife Evelyn at a campaign event. (Photo provided by Matthew Skidmore)
Russell Peterson is a 44-year-old North Carolinian who quit his job as an Olive Garden server and uprooted his wife, Elasa, and 4-year-old son, Zephaniah, for the cause. He describes himself as a “Yang-ocrat” and a part of the “broke-folk-vote,” a lifelong conservative that “never voted for a Democrat in my life wouldn’t even consider it up until this point.”
Yang is the only person he will cast a vote for in 2020, even if it means a write-in. He told Fox News that he was converted by Yang’s appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast — a sentiment heard frequently from Yang’s supporters.
“His vision for America is just so profiled in, so humanity first. It was like a breath of fresh air,” Peterson said. “And I was like finally somebody is talking my language, somebody’s actually trying to address the problems that affect my life.”
But it was at the Clyburn Fish Fry, the annual June event hosted by Congressman James Clyburn in Columbia, S.C. where every four years Democratic presidential candidates flock to win over voters, that Peterson felt wholly convinced. He called that the turning point for Yang saying, “There was so few of us, we were like, the smallest group, but we made so much noise, we got the crowd so energized.” Just after that he started his youtube channel “Grassroots Yang Gang” and has garnered 11,000 subscribers since.
Russell Peterson and his wife Elasa pose for a picture with Andrew Yang. (Photo provided by Russell Peterson)
He and his family have also become “homeless” after their landlord asked them to vacate their North Carolina home for personal reasons last summer. They have been living mostly with his sister in Vermont, five minutes north of the New Hampshire border.
“I went to my wife, and we discussed it and we thought that the greatest use of our voice would be to come up to New Hampshire, and try to, you know, Yang as many people as possible before the primaries, and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since,” he said. (“Yang“ is now a verb used by his supporters for convincing someone to vote for the candidate.) When they aren’t live streaming campaign events, they use their channel to show themselves door-knocking or talking with other Yang supporters.
Fred Ramey, a 43-year-old former salesman now trucker, is in a different boat. Rather than quitting his job, Ramey convinced his employer to allow him to wrap the trucks he was driving to become a mobile billboard for the presidential hopeful. (He says he did it by “Yang-ing” them.) He met Yang last May when the candidate was riding with truckers in an effort to prove his point about automation.
“I took the meeting with him in order to disprove him,” he said. “And in order to try to figure out who he was and what he’s about I listened to his book in audio form, and when I did that, I was completely swayed the other direction. I decided that I was going to go full force and really support Andrew with 100 percent reckless abandonment… I just knew that I had to drop the Red vs Blue tribalism and join alongside with Andrew and make sure he gets into office.“
Fred Ramey speaks at an Andrew Yang campaign event. (Photo provided by Fred Ramey.)
Since then Ramey estimates he has driven his “Yang-ed out” trucks over 50,000 miles and tells Fox News that a private analyst calculated over 1.2 million people have laid eyes on his truck. He also started a super PAC, “Truckers for Yang” that he uses to raise money for new truck wraps. He calls it, “a grassroots effort to bring people together behind Andrew and his policies.”
Ramey told Fox News that a majority of PAC donors are supporters who have maxed out their ability to donate to the campaign officially. He is also starting a program to use his trucks to give voters rides to the polls, having launched it for the Iowa caucuses.
None of these gentlemen are receiving any help or funding from the campaign. In fact, they all told Fox News they are careful not to cross any lines that could “get the campaign in trouble.” Ramey and Skidmore have worked with professionals to make sure that no campaign finance laws are broken and never coordinate their movements with his staff.
But they all say that their relationship with Yang and his employees is great, and Ramey calls his bond with Yang “very personal,” texting him regularly for life and leadership advice. (Yang apparently uses an abundance of thumbs up and American flag emojis when texting.)
Fred Ramey of “Truckers for Yang” talks to Fox News outside Yang’s Saturday night rally in Des Moines, IA.
Peterson was quick to point out that Yang is the most welcoming candidate to “former Trump-ers” frequently pausing his events to applaud them for the change of heart.
“Andrew has never once demonized us for voting for Donald Trump or anybody else’s voting for Trump,” he said.
Yang tells them that he understands why they voted for Trump — that he saw the right problems but presented the wrong solutions and that Universal Basic Income (UBI) is the real solution to the “fourth industrial revolution,” not a wall.
Skidmore took a while to warm up to the idea of a UBI but was won over by Yang’s “value added tax” which would fund it. As someone who runs his business on Amazon, he sees their success as inherently good for society but also recognizes that it is creating an issue for other Americans.
“I think the value added tax is a really good idea… You don’t want to stop progress. But at the end of the day, there has to be something there for people who do lose their jobs due to a changing economy … truthfully, my stocks are doing pretty good this year,” he said. “Thanks, I guess to Trump or whoever. But I’ve just realized how impactful everyone getting $1,000 a month no questions asked would be to just improve so many people’s lives and prevent so many people from reaching that point, rock bottom.”
Peterson (whose brother is a trucker) spoke to Fox News about the threat of automation and said that UBI or the “Freedom Dividend” as Yang calls it is the best solution to poverty in America.
“I mean, do you have any faith that the government’s gonna spend your money right, I don’t,” he said. “For a long time, they say instead of giving that money to them. Why don’t we give them back to the American people?”
All three men have run into each other on the road and consider themselves good acquaintances. They describe the “Yang Gang” like a family.
Peterson credits Yang’s “humanity First” vision for the welcoming nature of his followers.
“When you go into it knowing that is humanity first — with that mindset already in place, man it’s just a natural thing,” he said. “There’s a lot of … There’s a lot of love in the Yang Gang because we’ve all grasped on to this vision that Andrew has for the country. And we’re all behind that because most of us don’t want to see our neighbors struggling.
“Most of us don’t want to fight with our neighbors, regardless of their color or creed or whatever. We don’t care about that. What we do care about is just getting along and all of us doing a little bit better.”
None of them were ready to discuss what happens if Yang drops out of the race. When asked about these followers, the Yang campaign had no comment.