Proud Boys

Proud Boys
Leader(s)Enrique Tarrio
Foundation2016; 4 years ago (2016)
MotivesOpposition against left-wing and progressive groups
Active regionsUnited States and Canada
Ideology
Political positionFar-right
Major actions
Websiteofficialproudboys.com

The Proud Boys are a far-right,[1][2] neo-fascist[3] and male-only organization[4] that promotes and engages in political violence in the United States and Canada.[5][6][7][8][9] While the group officially rejects racism, several members have been affiliated with white supremacy and they have been described by US intelligence organisations as "a dangerous white supremacist group".[10][11][12][13] The group originated in the far-right Taki's Magazine[14] in 2016 under the leadership of Vice Media co-founder and former commentator Gavin McInnes, taking its name from the song "Proud of Your Boy" from the 2011 Disney musical Aladdin.[15][16] Although the Proud Boys emerged as part of the alt-right, McInnes distanced himself from this movement in early 2017, saying the Proud Boys was "alt-light" while the alt-right's focus was race.[17] The re-branding effort intensified following the white supremacist Unite the Right rally.[18] Since early 2019, Enrique Tarrio has been the chairman of the Proud Boys.[1][19][20]

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has said that "[w]hile the group can be described as violent, nationalistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and misogynistic, its members represent a range of ethnic backgrounds, and its leaders vehemently protest any allegations of racism."[21] The group believes men and Western culture are under siege, their views having elements of the white genocide conspiracy theory.[22][23][24] Members have participated in multiple racist events and events centered around anti-antifa, anti-left and anti-socialism violence,[25][26] with expelled member Jason Kessler organizing the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.[27][28] The Proud Boys glorify violence[29][30][31][32] and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has called the group an "alt-right fight club."[28][33][34] The organization has been described as a hate group by NPR's The Takeaway[35] and the SPLC[10] while the ADL has variously described the Proud Boys as an "extremist conservative"[36] group and as "alt-lite", respectively.[21]

In late November 2018, an internal memo from the Clark County Sheriff's Office showed that the FBI had designated the Proud Boys an extremist group, but it later clarified that only certain members were extremist threats with ties to white nationalism.[8][37][38][39] In 2019, two Proud Boys were sentenced to four years in prison for attempted gang assault, attempted assault and other charges for a 2018 New York incident where they attacked individuals who prosecutors said were members of antifa.[40] The Proud Boys have been banned by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.[41]

History and organization

Gavin McInnes co-founded Vice magazine in 1994, but he was pushed out in 2008 after several years of turmoil following an interview in The New York Times in which he talked about his pride in being white. After leaving, he began "doggedly hacking a jagged but unrelenting path to the far-right fringes of American culture", according to a 2017 profile in the Canadian Globe and Mail.[42] The Proud Boys organization was launched in September 2016, on the website of Taki's Magazine, a far-right publication for which white nationalist Richard B. Spencer had once served as executive editor.[25] It existed informally before then as a group centered around McInnes, and the first gathering of the Brooklyn chapter in July 2016 resulted in a brawl in the bar where they met.[15] The name is derived from the song "Proud of Your Boy" originally created for Disney's 1992 film Aladdin but left out following story changes in production. and later featured in the 2011 musical adaptation. In the song the character Aladdin apologizes to his mother for being a bad son and promises to make her proud. McInnes interprets it as Aladdin apologizing for being a boy. He first heard it while attending his daughter's school music recital. The song's "fake, humble, and self-serving" lyrics became a running theme on his podcast. McInnes said it was the most annoying song in the world but that he could not get enough of it.[15]

The organization has been described as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)[10] and NPR's The Takeaway.[35] Spencer, McInnes and the Proud Boys have been described as hipster racists by Vox[43] and Media Matters for America.[44][45] McInnes says victim mentality of women and other historically oppressed groups is unhealthy, arguing that "[t]here is an incentive to be a victim. It is cool to be a victim." He sees white men and Western culture as "under siege" and described criticism of his ideas as "victim blaming".[42] Their views have elements of the white genocide conspiracy theory.[22][23][24] According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the group is part of the alt-lite and is "overtly Islamophobic".[46] The ADL reports that "[i]deologically, members subscribe to a scattershot array of libertarian and nationalist tropes, referring to themselves as anti-communist and anti-political correctness, but in favor of free speech and free markets."[46] In October 2019, members of the Denver chapter of the Proud Boys marched with members of the Patriot Front and former members of the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker Party. According to the ADL, "[t]hese relationships show the Proud Boys to be less a pro-western drinking club and more an extreme, right-wing gang."[46] In early 2017, McInnes began to distance himself from the alt-right, saying their focus is race and his focus is what he calls "Western values". This rebranding effort intensified after the Unite the Right Rally.[17][18][47] In 2018, McInnes was saying that the Proud Boys were part of the "new right".[48]

The organization glorifies political violence against antifa[25] and leftists, re-enacting political assassinations, wearing shirts that praise Augusto Pinochet's murders of leftists and participating directly in political violence.[28][33] In April 2016, McInnes, who believes violence is "a really effective way to solve problems", has said: "I want violence, I want punching in the face. I'm disappointed in Trump supporters for not punching enough."[25][28] In August 2017, he further stated that "[w]e don't start fights [...] but we will finish them."[49] Heidi Beirich, the Intelligence Project director for the SPLC, said that this form of intentional aggression was not common among far-right groups in the past. She further said the far-right's claim that "[w]e're going to show up and we're intending to get in fights" was new.[50] In late November 2018, it was reported, based on an internal memo of the Sheriff's Office in Clark County, Washington, that the FBI had classified the Proud Boys as an extremist group with ties to white nationalism.[8] Two weeks later, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Oregon office clarified that the FBI did not mean to designate the entire group, only a number of members of the group, ascribing the error to miscommunication.[37][51][52] During the conference, the FBI recommended referring to classifications about the group by the SPLC and other outside agencies.[37]

The organization is opposed to feminism and promotes gender stereotypes in which women are subservient to men.[42][25] The organization has a female-member-only auxiliary wing named "Proud Boys' Girls" that supports the same ideology.[53] The ADL states that the Proud Boys are an "extremist conservative group".[36] According to the ADL, McInnes and the Proud Boys are misogynistic who call women "lazy" and "less ambitious" than men and "venerat[e] the housewife".[21] McInnes has called for "enforced monogamy" and criticized feminism as "a cancer".[21] Some men who are not white, including Enrique Tarrio, the group's chairman and the Florida State Director of Latinos for Trump,[20] have joined the Proud Boys, drawn by the organization's advocacy for men, anti-immigrant stance, and embrace of violence.[54] Officially, the Proud Boys condemn racism, with Tarrio stating that the group has "longstanding regulations prohibiting racist, white supremacist or violent activity". However, the ADL has deemed the group as having antisemitic, Islamophobic and racist views, with the group known to threaten, intimidate or violently assault anti-racism protesters.[55] The group has claimed there is an "inherent superiority of the West", going to great lengths to mask members' connections to white supremacy.[56] The ADL states that the Proud Boys' "extreme, provocative tactics—coupled with overt or implicit racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and misogyny and the fact that the group is so decentralized, inconsistent, and spread out—suggest the group should be a significant cause for concern".[36]

The Proud Boys have been banned by social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.[41] In August 2018, Twitter terminated the official account for the group along with McInnes' account under its policy prohibiting violent extremist groups. At the time, the group's profile photo showed a member punching a counter-protester.[57] Facebook and Instagram banned the group and McInnes in October 2018.[58] That same year, YouTube banned the Proud Boys founder for copyright violation in December 2018.[59] On June 16 2020, Facebook announced it had removed 358 accounts off its platform and 172 off Instagram that held ties to the organization.[60]

Membership

Proud Boys stand next to Joey Gibson at a 2017 rally in Seattle

According to David Neiwert, the Proud Boys recruit with emphasis on right-wing 15–30 year old white males who come primarily from suburbs and exurbs.[61] The Proud Boys say they have an initiation process that has four stages and includes hazing. The first stage is a loyalty oath, on the order of "I’m a proud Western chauvinist, I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world"; the second is getting punched until the person recites pop culture trivia, such as the names of five breakfast cereals; the third is getting a tattoo and agreeing to not masturbate; and the fourth is getting into a major fight "for the cause."[16][33][62][63][64][65]

The Daily Beast reported in February 2018 that the Proud Boys have amended their rules to prohibit cargo shorts and the use of opioids and crystal meth.[66] However, the same article mentioned no restrictions were placed on cocaine.

In July 2018, Proud Boys L.A. had 160 members and up to 300 pending applicants, according to the unidentified Proud Boys L.A. president.[67]

Gender and sexuality

Women are not allowed to join the Proud Boys[25] and the unnamed president of Proud Boys L.A. told the Los Angeles Times the group only admits "biological men".[67]

According to the organization, their loyalty oath include a statement along the lines of "I'm a proud Western chauvinist, I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world" and a pledge not to masturbate.[16][33][62][63][64][65] The masturbation policy was later modified to read: "no heterosexual brother of the Fraternity shall masturbate more than one time in any calendar month".[66]

Leadership

Gavin McInnes, Proud Boys founder

Gavin McInnes founded the group and served as its leader.[68][69] After the designation of a number of Proud Boys members as extremists with ties to white nationalism,[52] McInnes said that his lawyers had advised him that quitting might help the nine Proud Boys members being prosecuted for the incidents in October. During the announcement he defended the group, attacked the reporting about it, said white nationalists don't exist, and at times he said things that made it appear he was not quitting, such as "this is 100% a legal gesture, and it is 100% about alleviating sentencing", and said it was a "stepping down gesture, in quotation marks".[38][39]

As of November 2018, the group named its leaders as Enrique Tarrio, designated as chairman, and the "Elder Chapter", which consists of Harry Fox, Heath Hair, Patrick William Roberts, Joshua Hall, Timothy Kelly, Luke Rofhling and Rufio Panman.[70][71] Jason Lee Van Dyke, who was the organization's lawyer at the time, had been briefly named as chairman to replace Gavin McInnes when he left the group, but the organization announced on November 30 that Van Dyke was no longer associated with the group in any capacity, although his law firm still holds Proud Boys trademarks and is the registered agent for two of the group's chapters.[72]

In December 2018, arrest warrant was issued for Van Dyke over his death threat to a person he previously sued.[73] Although McInnes had earlier said that any Proud Boy member who was known to have attended the Unite the Right rally was kicked out of the organization, the new chairman Enrique Tarrio admitted to having attended the event, but "he had misgivings about the torchlight march and did not participate in it".[65]

Activities and events

2017–2018

New York University

In February 2017, McInnes arrived at New York University to give a speech, accompanied by a group of about ten Proud Boys. Minor scuffles broke out between Proud Boys and antifa protesters, and the NYPD said that eleven people faced criminal charges. One member of the Proud Boys who encouraged others to fight the "faggots wearing black that won't let us in" was later arrested for punching a reporter from DNAinfo.[28][74][75]

Berkeley protests

At the 2017 March 4 Trump rally in Berkeley, California, Kyle Chapman was recorded hitting a counter-protester over the head with a wooden dowel. Images of Chapman went viral, and the Proud Boys organized a crowdfunding campaign for Chapman's bail after his arrest. After this, McInnes invited Chapman to become involved with the Proud Boys, through which he formed the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights.[50]

On April 15, 2017, an alt-right rally was organized in Berkeley by the Liberty Revival Alliance, which did not seek or receive a permit, and was attended by members of the Proud Boys, Identity Evropa (an American neo-Nazi group)[76][77][78] and Oath Keepers (an anti-government far-right group).[79][80][81][82][83] Many of these people traveled to Berkeley from other parts of the country and the rally was counter-protested and violence broke out, resulting in 21 people being arrested.[84][85]

Halifax Indigenous Peoples' protest disruption

External video 2:29
video icon Who are the Proud Boys? on YouTube (CBC News) July 5, 2017

On July 1, 2017, five Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members who self-identified as Proud Boys disrupted a protest organized by indigenous activists in Halifax, Nova Scotia, at a statue of Edward Cornwallis, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia. Indigenous activists had previously protested at the site and called for the removal of the statue because of Cornwallis's actions against Natives, including ordering a bounty for scalps of Mi'kmaq people. The Proud Boys carried the Canadian Red Ensign flag from the time of Cornwallis and one of them said to the indigenous protesters: "You are recognising your heritage and so are we."[5]

General Jonathan Vance, the head of the CAF, announced an investigation,[86][87] Rear Admiral John Newton, Commander of the Maritime Fleet of the Royal Canadian Navy, was "personally horrified" by the incident and said the Proud Boys were "clearly a white supremacist group and we fundamentally stand opposed to any of their values."[88] The CAF's investigation concluded by August 2017.[89] Later that month, Newton announced the CAF had taken "appropriate measures to address individual shortcomings" and that four of the members had returned to duty, warning: "Any further inappropriate behavior could result in their termination from the Canadian Armed Forces."[90] In 2018, the statue was removed from the site by the City of Halifax.

Unite the Right rally

In June 2017, McInnes disavowed the planned Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.[42] However, Proud Boys were at the August 2017 alt-right event, which was organized by white supremacist Jason Kessler.[91] Kessler had joined the Proud Boys some time before organizing the event.[92][93][94] McInnes said he had kicked Kessler out after his views on race had become clear.[42] After the rally, Kessler accused McInnes of using him as a "patsy" and said: "You're trying to cuck and save your own ass."[18] Alex Michael Ramos, one of the men convicted for the assault of DeAndre Harris which took place at the rally, was associated with the Proud Boys and Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights.[95]

Islamberg caravan

In July 2017, the Proud Boys joined a caravan to ride through Islamberg, New York, a community of around twenty black Muslim families who moved upstate to escape the crime and racism of New York City, and which has been a target of conspiracy theories from various Islamophobic hate groups and right-wing terrorist plots.[96][97]

Pacific Northwest protests

Tusitala "Tiny" Toese and Proud Boys in Seattle in 2017[98]

The Proud Boys have been active for several years in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.[99] Starting in September 2017 and continuing into 2018, the Proud Boys participated in several rallies organized by Patriot Prayer in Portland, Oregon, and nearby Vancouver, Washington.[100][101][102] Scenes of violence from one of these rallies was turned into a sizzle reel for the Proud Boys and was circulated on social media.[6][103] Violence erupted at two events in June 2018, leaving five people hospitalized after the far-right march on June 30 devolved into a riot in downtown Portland.[104]

2018–2019

Say No to Marxism rally

In August 2018, the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) summarized a report about right-wing groups gathering weapons before a rally. The basis for the warning is a July call from a man to the Berkeley police department, expressing concern about someone he knew who allegedly was a member of the Proud Boys that was "gathering masks, helmets, and guns and would have absolute war with the liberals at an event scheduled to take place in Berkeley on August 5, 2018".[26] On August 5, 2018, a Say No to Marxism rally in San Francisco organized by the Proud Boys and their allies resulted in their outnumbering by counter-protests.[26]

Metropolitan Republican Club

In October 2018, McInnes gave a talk at the Metropolitan Republican Club on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.[105][106] He stepped out of his car wearing glasses with Asian eyes drawn on the front and pulled a samurai sword out of its sheath. Police forced him inside. Later, inside the event, McInnes and an Asian member of the Proud Boys re-enacted the 1960 murder of Inejiro Asanuma, the leader of the Japanese Socialist Party; a captioned photograph of the actual murder had become a meme in alt-right social media.[25] The audience for the event was described by The New York Times as "a cross-section of New York’s far-right subculture: libertarians, conspiracy theorists and nationalists who have coalesced around their opposition to Islam, feminism and liberal politics."[107]

Anti-fascist activists had started protesting outside the club before the event and had reportedly engaged in vandalism. Following cross-provocations between the opposing sides, the Proud Boys charged towards the protesters, who threw a bottle in response, resulting in a fight.[107][108] NYC police present at the protest reportedly did not respond.[25][109]

On November 21, 2018, McInnes said that his lawyers had advised him that quitting might help the nine members being prosecuted for the incidents in October and he said "this is 100% a legal gesture, and it is 100% about alleviating sentencing", and said it was a "stepping down gesture, in quotation marks".[38][39]

The fallout from the incident left the group in internal disarray.[107] After McInnes nominally left the group, the "Elder Chapter" of the group reportedly assumed control. Jason Lee Van Dyke, the group's lawyer, was appointed as the chapter's chairman.[70][110] Van Dyke was previously known for suing news media and anti-fascist activists for reporting on the group, and for making violent online threats with racist language.[111][112] The group then publicly released its new bylaw online, with the names of its "Elder Chapter" members listed and redacted. The redaction was later discovered to be botched, as the list of names can be accessed by selecting over the black bar of the released document.[70] A day later, the chapter announced that Van Dyke was no longer leader of the group, and Enrique Tarrio is the group's new chairman.[71]

Video evidence from three separate videos showed conclusively that the Proud Boys had instigated the fight after the Metropolitan Republican Club event.[113][114] John Miller, New York City's deputy police commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, said that "incidents like [the post-MRC fight] make it more likely" that the Proud Boys would be "higher on the radar" of authorities.[107]

Ten men connected to the Proud Boys were arrested in connection with the October 2018 incident.[115] Seven Proud Boys pleaded guilty to various charges including riot, disorderly conduct and attempted assault.[115][116] Two of the men who accepted plea deals were sentenced to five days of community service and did not receive jail time.[117] In August 2019, two of the Proud Boys, Maxwell Hare and John Kinsman, were convicted following a jury trial of attempted gang assault, attempted assault and riot; the jury deliberated a day and a half of deliberations before rejecting their claims of self-defense.[115] Hare and Kinsman were each sentenced to four years in prison.[118] The final defendant is awaiting trial.[115][116]

The four anti-fascist victims of the beating are not cooperating with prosecutors, even to the extent of revealing their identities, and are known only as "Shaved Head", "Ponytail", "Khaki" and "Spiky Belt". Because of their non-cooperation, the Proud Boys could not be charged with assault—which requires evidence of injury—and were instead charged with riot and attempted assault, which merely require an attempt to cause injury. Without the victims to testify, the bulk of the evidence in the trial came from videos of the incident, including footage shot by a video documentarian, and video from security cameras.[115][116]

Connection with Roger Stone

In early 2018, ahead of an appearance at the annual Republican Dorchester Conference in Salem, Oregon, Roger Stone sought out the Proud Boys to act as his "security" for the event; photos posted online showed Stone drinking with several Proud Boys.[119][120][121]

In February 2018, the Proud Boys posted a video on Facebook which they described as Stone undergoing a "low-level initiation" into the group. As part of the initiation, Stone says "Hi, I'm Roger Stone. I'm a Western chauvinist. I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world", making him a "first-degree" member, which Kutner characterizes as being a "sympathizer". Stone denies being a member of the group. In July 2020, Facebook announced it had shut down the accounts and pages linked to Stone and Proud Boys. This network of over 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts spent more than $300,000 on ads to promote their posts and included false personas.[122]

In late January 2019, when Stone was arrested by the FBI on seven criminal counts in connection with the Mueller investigation, Enrique Tarrio, the chairman of the Proud Boys, met Stone as he left the courthouse in Florida. Tarrio, who wore a "Roger Stone Did Nothing Wrong" T-shirt, sold by a company owned by Tarrio, told a local TV reporter that the indictment was nothing but "trumped-up charges", and was later seen visiting Stone's house. The next day, in Washington D.C., a small number of Proud Boys demonstrated outside the courthouse where Stone pleaded not guilty to the charges, carrying "Roger Stone did nothing wrong" signs and others that promoted the InfoWars conspiracy website. The Proud Boys got into an argument with anti-Stone hecklers.[123][124][125] Tarrio was later filmed behind President Donald Trump in February 2019, during a televised speech in Miami, where he was seen wearing the same message on a T-shirt.[126]

Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes said Stone was "one of the three approved media figures allowed to speak" about the group.[127] When Stone was asked by a local reporter about the Proud Boys' claim that he had been initiated as a member of the group, he responded by calling the reporter a member of the Communist party.[121] He is particularly close to the group's current leader Enrique Tarrio, who has commercially monetized his position.[121]

Portland mayor threat

In January 2019, Reggie Axtell, a member of the Proud Boys, threatened Ted Wheeler, Portland, Oregon's Democratic mayor, in a Facebook video post. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Axtell said in the video that Wheeler's "days are fucking numbered ... I promise you this, Ted Wheeler: I'm coming for you, you little punk." Axtell also said that he would "unmask every [anti-fascist] son of a bitch that I come across", referring to a campaign initiated by Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson, Proud Boy Tusitala "Tiny" Toese and former Proud Boy Russell Schultz to tear off the bandanas of anti-fascist demonstrators and taking pictures of their faces, thereby "demasking" them. The announcement of the campaign came shortly after an altercation that took place when Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer members attempted and failed to invade a chapter meeting of the left-wing organization Democratic Socialists of America. The groups clashed with anti-fascist activists nearby after being denied entry to the meeting, and said that they had been attacked.[128][129][130]

1776.shop

In February 2019, Slate magazine reported that Square, Chase Paymentech, and PayPal had pulled their payment processing services from 1776.shop, an online far-right merchandise site associated with the Proud Boys. 1776.shop lists itself as a project of Fund the West LLC, a Miami business registered to Henry Tarrio. In the past, Enrique Tarrio, the chairman of Proud Boys, has said that he is the "business owner" of 1776.shop, raising the probability that "Henry Tarrio" and "Enrique Tarrio" are the same person. Henry Tarrio is also the registered owner of "Proudboys LLC", which uses the same address as Fund the West.[19]

Menacing critics

In July 2019, it was reported that on several occasions Proud Boys had gone to the homes of their critics and menaced them. In June 2018, Vic Berger, who posts videos online mocking far-right figures, including Proud Boy founder Gavin McInnes, reported that he was visited at his home by a Proud Boy who told him: "You're really hurting the Proud Boys. You need to stop making these videos." Berger later said he had come into possession of an internal Proud Boy document which called for Proud Boys to find the addresses of their opponents and those of their relatives and "SHOW THEM THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES!!!"[131]

On June 29, 2019, a group of Proud Boys showed up at 11 p.m. at the Philadelphia home of Gwen Snyder, who tracks the movements of the Proud Boys. Snyder was not home at the time, so the group spoke to a neighbor, telling them that Snyder needed to stop posting on Twitter the names of Proud Boys and other information about them. One of the group allegedly said: "You tell that fat bitch she better stop." Snyder reported the threat to the Philadelphia police, giving them security camera footage of the incident. Prior to the menacing of Snyder, an anonymous Proud Boy posted on Telegram, a messaging app, a comment which called for action against "Philly's biggest shit stains."[132]

Demand Free Speech rally

A Proud Boys rally called Demand Free Speech[133] took place on July 6, 2019, in Washington, D.C.'s Freedom Plaza and Pershing Park, drawing about 250 people.[134][135][136] McInnes, Laura Loomer and Milo Yiannopoulos appeared while former Trump advisor Roger Stone and Jacob Wohl did not. A counter-protest and dance party across the street drew more people than the main rally. Police said there were only minor skirmishes between the far-right and antifa, and no arrests were made.[134][135][136] Republican candidate Omar Navarro, a perennial challenger for Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters' congressional seat, withdrew from speaking at the event, tweeting that his ex-girlfriend DeAnna Lorraine, a self-described "MAGA relationship expert", had threatened him, using cocaine and having sex with members of the Proud Boys.[133] In response to Navarro's tweets, the Proud Boys issued a video featuring former InfoWars staff member Joe Biggs and Ethan Nordean—the star of a viral video showing him beating up an antifa protester—in which they "banished" Navarro from the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys' chairman Enrique Tarrio described the group as "pro-drugs". Other speakers who had been scheduled for the rally, including Pizzagate promoters Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec, had already cancelled their appearances for reasons not apparently related to Navarro's charges.[133]

2019–2020

Counter-terrorism and extremism intelligence reports

In 2019, the 22-page Violent Extremism in Colorado: a Reference Guide for Law Enforcement from the Colorado Information Analysis Center (the state's version of the DHS) and the Colorado Department of Public Safety was released, with the organizations discussing the Proud Boys under the "White Supremacist Extremism" heading. In coverage from The Guardian, it was reported that member organizations of the national network of counter-terrorist centers had issued warnings about the Proud Boys.[26] Calling Proud Boys a "threat to Colorado", the guide related them to neo-Nazi terrorist group Atomwaffen Division and how violent clashes in 2018 with the Rocky Mountain Antifa ended in the arrest of two members of the Proud Boys. Guidance about the Proud Boys in the report involved describing them as "a dangerous white supremacist group", as a white supremacist extremist threat, and with a "concern that white supremacist extremists will continue attacking members of the community who threaten their belief of Caucasian superiority".[26]

Also in 2019, the Austin Regional Intelligence Center (AIRC) compiled a Special Event Threat Assessment of potential dangers to the Austin Pride Parade. The AIRC identified the Proud Boys as being associated with a "growing backlash against Pride Month" which has emerged in the form of the straight pride movement, noting that a June 2019 transgender pride event in Seattle, Washington was disrupted by the "alt-right Proud Boys organization".[26]

Taunting soccer fans

After Major League Soccer (MLS) ruled that the Emerald City Supporters (ECS), the anti-fascist fans of the Seattle Sounders Football Club, could not fly the flag of the 1930s anti-Nazi Iron Front paramilitary group at Sounders' matches, eleven members of the Proud Boys met the group of about 100 people as they marched into the stadium on August 4, 2019 to taunt and yell expletives at them. There was additional police coverage, with the only incident occurring when the Proud Boys attempted to enter a bar which is a known place for ECS members to gather. The MLS had categorized the Iron Front flag as "political imagery", which was at that time forbidden under league rules. However, groups in Seattle and elsewhere challenged the ruling,[137] which was reversed in September 2019 when the MLS reaffirmed "its long-time commitment to the values of inclusion and diversity, including opposition to racism, fascism and homophobia and to ensuring that there is no place for repugnant hate speech in MLS stadiums".[138][139][140]

End Domestic Terrorism rally

The Proud Boys and Joe Biggs, a Florida-based radio talk show host and former InfoWars staff member, organized an August 17, 2019 demonstration in Portland attended by members of several far-right groups.[141][142][143] The End Domestic Terrorism rally,[143] which was sometimes subtitled "Better Dead than Red",[144] was intended to promote the idea that antifa should be classified as "domestic terrorism". It received national attention, including a tweet from President Trump.[145][146] One day prior to the rally, Patriot Prayer's Joey Gibson, who had organized similar events in 2017 and 2018, was taken into custody on charges of felony rioting during a May 1, 2019 incident.[147] The Proud Boys organized the August event in response to a video that went viral of masked demonstrators assaulting conservative blogger Andy Ngo at a Portland rally on June 29, 2019.[147] The End Domestic Terrorism event drew more counter-demonstrators than participants—with at least one group urging its members in advance not to attend—and ended with the Proud Boys requesting a police escort to leave.[142]

Bon Air Fire Company

In September 2019, Haverford Township, Pennsylvania, announced that one of its volunteer fire companies, the Bon Air Fire Company, had been permanently relieved of duty at the end of business the previous day because of its unwillingness to dismiss a leader in the fire company, Bruce McClay Jr., who was in the "initiation" process of joining the Proud Boys; McClay had offered his resignation, but the fire company had declined to accept it.[148][149] Four days after the township cut ties with the Bon Aire Fire Company, the fire company reversed its decision and accepted McClay's resignation, saying its initial decision to refuse it was a "mistake"; this cleared the way for the township to re-open the company.[150]

Anti-BLM protests, COVID-19 misinformation and arrests

The Proud Boys at a Second Amendment rally in Richmond

In January 2020, the Proud Boys attended a large Second Amendment rally in Richmond, Virginia. They are opposed to Black Lives Matter protests and see attempts to remove statues of Confederate leaders and other historical figures as a "left-wing plot to destroy American history".[151]

On May 10, 2020, a bulletin on COVID-19 protest disinformation campaigns by the Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC) described how "the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, has been active in spreading conspiracy theories regarding Covid-19 on Twitter, Facebook, and Telegram", suggesting that "a faction of elites are weaponizing the virus, and a vaccine would likely be a tool for population control and mind control".[26] The CIAC bulletin also warned that "spread of disinformation has the potential to cause civil unrest and mass panic".[26]

On May 30, 2020, Facebook officials reported that internal systems flagged activity from Proud Boys-related accounts encouraging "armed agitators" to attend protests following the killing of George Floyd.[60]

The group remained active in the Pacific Northwest and had a dozen chapters in Idaho, Oregon and Washington by 2020.[152] In June 2020, members of the Proud Boys rallied at the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle, Washington, in an effort to confront protesters.[151]

The Proud Boys at an Ohio event in 2020

Washington resident and Proud Boys member Tusitala "Tiny" Toese, known for brawling in the streets of Portland and Seattle during political protests,[153] was arrested in Washington on August 28, 2020.[154] He was wanted for multiple probation violations related to his 2018 misdemeanor assault conviction that left a protester with stitches and a concussion in June 2018.[154][155] Toese, previously affiliated with Patriot Prayer, had been observed participating in other assaults with members of the Proud Boys, including an assault at a Clark County, Washington mall in May 2018[156] and an assault in Seattle in June 2020.[155]

Texas-based Proud Boys member Alan Swinney was arrested on September 30, 2020 and held in Oregon on "multiple assault charges, pointing a firearm at another, unlawful use of a weapon and unlawful use of tear gas, stun gun or mace."[157] Swinney had been recorded firing airsoft pellets at protesters and journalists, and at one point brandished a revolver at his opponents during a Portland, Oregon protest in August 2020.[158]

On October 1, 2020, The Guardian reported several United States agencies variously described the Proud Boys as "a dangerous 'white supremacist' group", "white supremacists", "extremists" and as "a gang", with law enforcement showing concern "about the group's menace to minority groups and police officers, and its conspiracy theories", including COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories.[26]

2020 presidential debate

In the first 2020 presidential debate on September 29, 2020, President Donald Trump was asked by moderator Chris Wallace: "Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups, and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha, and as we have seen in Portland?" Trump replied: "Sure. Sure, I am willing to do that." He then asked for clarification, saying: "Who would you like me to condemn?" Wallace mentioned "white supremacists and right wing militia". During the exchange, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden replied "Proud Boys" and Trump replied: "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem."[159] Shortly after, Joe Biggs, one of the Proud Boys organizers, shared through his Parler social media account a logo with the president's words "Stand back" and "Stand by".[160]

External video
video icon The Proud Boys: How the right-wing extremist group gained prominence. The Washington Post, September 30, 2020.

One researcher said that Proud Boys memberships on Telegram channels grew nearly 10 percent after the debate. The Washington Post reported that Trump's comments were quickly "enshrined in memes, including one depicting Trump in one of the Proud Boys' signature polo shirts. Another meme showed Trump's quote alongside an image of bearded men carrying American flags and appearing to prepare for a fight."[161]

On September 30, President Trump clarified his statement, stating that he "doesn't know what the Proud Boys are" and that "they should stand down. Let law enforcement do their work."[162][163] On October 1, Trump said on Sean Hannity's show: "I've said it many times, and let me be clear again: I condemn the KKK. I condemn all white supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys. I don't know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing. But I condemn that."[164][165][166]

Lawsuits

SPLC lawsuit

Although he had supposedly cut his ties with the Proud Boys by November 2018, stepping down as chairman,[38][39] McInnes filed a defamation lawsuit in February 2019 against the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in federal court in Alabama over the SPLC's designation of the Proud Boys as a "general hate" group.[167][168] The SPLC took the lawsuit "as a compliment" and an indication that "we're doing our job".[169] On its website, SPLC said that "McInnes plays a duplicitous rhetorical game: rejecting white nationalism and, in particular, the term 'alt-right' while espousing some of its central tenets," and that the group's "rank-and-file [members] and leaders regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists. They are known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric. Proud Boys have appeared alongside other hate groups at extremist gatherings like the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville".[10][168] McInnes is represented by Ronald Coleman. In addition to defamation, McInnes claimed tortious interference with economic advantage, "false light invasion of privacy" and "aiding and abetting employment discrimination".[170] The day after filing the suit, McInnes announced that he had been re-hired by the Canadian far-right media group The Rebel Media.[171]

The SPLC filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in July 2019.[172]

May 2019 federal lawsuit

On May 17, 2019, Bill Burke of Ohio filed a $3 million lawsuit against the Proud Boys, Kessler, and multiple other people and groups associated with the Unite the Right rally. Burke was seriously injured in the August 2017 Charlottesville car attack which followed the event.[173][174] The 64-page initial complaint alleges that the named parties "conspired to plan, promote and carry out the violent events in Charlottesville". According to Burke, his physical and mental injuries have led to "severe psychological and emotional suffering".[175][176]

Subgroups

Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights

In 2017, Kyle Chapman, nicknamed "Based Stickman" after the 2017 Berkeley protests, formed a paramilitary wing of the Proud Boys called the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights (FOAK).[50] Alt-right figure Augustus Sol Invictus acted as FOAK's second-in-command until he left the group.[10]

Symbolism

Members of the Proud Boys can be identified by their use of black and yellow Fred Perry polo shirts, American flags, Make America Great Again (MAGA) hats and military armor. Members often carry guns.[177]

Association with Fred Perry clothing

Proud Boy in a Fred Perry polo and MAGA hat at a neo-Confederate rally in 2019

Since the early days of the group, Proud Boys have worn black and yellow Fred Perry polo shirts on McInnes' suggestion.[178][179][180] The brand, having previously been negatively associated with skinheads and the British National Front in the 1970s,[180] issued several public statements distancing themselves from the beliefs of the Proud Boys, and calling on members to stop wearing their clothing.[181][182]

In 2017, Fred Perry's CEO John Flynn denounced the affiliation with the Proud Boys in a statement to CBC Radio, saying: "We don't support the ideals or the group that you speak of. It is counter to our beliefs and the people we work with."[183] The shirts have not been sold in the United States since September 2019. In September 2020, the retailer announced that it will not sell them in the United States until association with Proud Boys has ended.[184]

MAGA hats

Proud Boys commonly wear red MAGA hats to rallies, often alongside Fred Perry black polo shirts.[11][151][185][186]

See also

References

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