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The Proud Boys Started in 2016 by Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes as a provocative club for men who love America but hate political correctness while vehemently denying any connection to the “alt-right,” here’s how the Proud Boys—now viewed by many as an alt-right extremist group, threatening enough to warrant a state of emergency in Oregon ahead of a rally planned for Saturday—became what it is today.
+McInnes began the Proud Boys in the fall of 2016, eight years after leaving Vice over “creative differences,” having co-founded the media company when it was just an edgy Montreal-based magazine in 1994 .
+A regular media personality appearing in various conservative talk shows, McInnes announced to the world Proud Boys as a secret club for “Western chauvinists,” men (“women are not allowed”) focused on “anti-political correctness” and “anti-white guilt” with meetings that would consist of “drinking, fighting and reading aloud from Pat Buchanan’s Death of the West.”
+The election of President Trump skyrocketed interest in the group, and by the end of 2017, the Proud Boys Facebook and Twitter pages had over 20,000 members, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, with chapters around the world, and possibly coaxed by McInnes’ inflammatory rhetoric (McInnes admitted he may be Islamophobic and acknowledged being sexist), began to attract the attention of extremist groups.
+Jason Kessler, a white supremacist who identified as a Proud Boy, helped organize the August 2017 “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which attracted neo-Nazi groups and Klansmen, and resulted in the death of Heather Heyer and injury of 19 others when a self-identified white supremacist deliberately drove into a group of counter-protesters.
+McInnes tried to distance Proud Boys from extremist groups, warning members that “If you decide to rub elbows with those people [while] in colors, you very well could find yourself disavowed” and expelled Kessler from the group—though had spoken with him about the rally less than two months earlier on Compound Media talk show “The Gavin McInnes Show,” which has since ended.
+In 2018, as seven group members faced charges related to a street brawl in New York, McInnes quit Proud Boys, saying his legal team and law enforcement had advised him to leave to alleviate the sentencing, but “I do this reluctantly because I still see this as the greatest fraternal organization in the world.”
Since then, Proud Boys has been one of a handful of right-wing groups to exploit tense clashes between police and protesters across the country. Group members, donning gold and black Fred Perry polos, have attended and brawled with left-wing activists at Black Lives Matter protests in Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, over the summer. These clashes between right-wing and left-wing groups, energized by Trump’s accusations that antifa is destroying weak Democratic cities, have ended in violence, and even death. On August 29, Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a supporter of the far-right Patriot Prayer group, was fatally shot following a Trump vehicle parade through Portland by Michael Forest Reinoehl, an antifa member. Since then, the Proud Boys have been planning a “show of force” in Portland, per The Washington Post, which will take place Saturday afternoon. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) declared a state of emergency on Friday in anticipation of this weekend’s rally, which organizers expect to draw as many as 10,000 right-leaning activists to Portland, in addition to a sizable crowd of counter-protesters. “Portland has franchised these riots across the country,” Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio said in an interview with The Washington Post, saying he hopes the Saturday rally spurs more crackdown on protesters from authorities.
The Proud Boys, an alt-right group who say they are “Western Chauvinists who refuse to apologize for the modern world” are holding a rally in Portland Saturday, The Seattle Times reported. The paper wrote that in anticipation of that rally, “Portland Antifa activists and other protesters” are planning their own rally at the same time about three miles away.
The city in conjunction with Portland Police issued a statement saying they will be prepared because “numerous past mass gathering events in the City of Portland, involving individuals and groups with differing ideologies, resulted in criminal behavior by some participants, including but not limited to assaults, vandalism, weapons violations, as well as a recent homicide following a rally. Some incidents have resulted in arrests; others remain under investigations.”
There have been several clashes between The Proud Boys and those who act in the name of Antifa over the last few years. Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said in the statement:
Across our region we have witnessed devastation and loss of life from COVID to wildfires to gun violence. It is up to all of us to make sure we do not have an event where further loss of life results. Lawful engagement in First Amendment rights is acceptable; attendance with the intent to harm or intimidate others is not appropriate or safe for anyone.
Due to the heightened rhetoric and many recent events where crimes occurred, we are developing a thorough plan to do everything possible to keep everyone safe.
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. 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. 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. 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.
The organization has been described as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SLPC) and NPR‘s The Takeaway. Spencer, McInnes and the Proud Boys have been described as hipster racists by Vox and Media Matters for America. 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”. Their views have elements of the white genocide conspiracy theory. The group is part of the “alt lite” and it is “overtly Islamophobic”. 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”; the rebranding effort intensified after the Unite the Right Rally. In 2018, McInnes was saying that the Proud Boys were part of the “new right”.
The organization glorifies political violence against leftists, re-enacting political assassinations, wearing shirts that praise Augusto Pinochet‘s murders of leftists and participating directly in political violence. McInnes has said “I want violence, I want punching in the face. I’m disappointed in Trump supporters for not punching enough.” He further stated that “[w]e don’t start fights […] but we will finish them.” Heidi Beirich, the Intelligence Project director for the SLPC, said that this form of intentional aggression was not common among far-right groups in the past. She further said that the far-right’s claim that “[w]e’re going to show up and we’re intending to get in fights” was new. In late November 2018, it was reported, based on an internal memo of the Clark County, Washington Sheriff’s Office, that the FBI had classified the Proud Boys as an extremist group with ties to white nationalism. Two weeks later, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Oregon office denied that the FBI made such designations, ascribing the error by the Sheriff’s Office to a confusion over the FBI designating the group as such as a designation made by the SPLC and other outside agencies.
The organization is opposed to feminism and promotes gender stereotypes in which women are subservient to men. The organization has a female-member-only auxiliary wing named “Proud Boys’ Girls” that supports the same ideology. The Anti-Defamation League states that the Proud Boys are an “extremist conservative group”. According to the ADL, McInnes and the Proud Boys are misogynistic and states that they call women “lazy” and “less ambitious” than men and “venerat[e] the housewife”. McInnes has called for “enforced monogamy” and criticized feminism as “a cancer”. Some men who are not white have joined the Proud Boys, drawn by the organization’s advocacy for men, anti-immigrant stance, and embrace of violence. 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”.
The Proud Boys has been banned by social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. 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. Facebook and Instagram banned the group and McInnes in October 2018. That same year, YouTube banned the Proud Boys founder for copyright violation in December 2018. On June 16 2020, Facebook announced it had removed 358 accounts off its platform, and 172 off Instagram, that held ties to the organization.
Here is what you need to know about The Proud Boys:
1. The Group Considers Themselves a Multi-Racial ‘Fraternal Brotherhood’ Who ‘Disavows Nazis’ & Racists
According to The Proud Boy manifesto, the group, which was formed in 2016 by Vice Co-Founder Gavin McInnis (who left the group in 2018) is “socially liberal and welcomes gay members.” They also say in the document, “We disavow Nazis and don’t want them at our meet-ups. We disavow racists and don’t want them at our meet-ups. We allow weak, beta male virgins to join because our fraternity is about helping men improve their lives and that includes all men.”
Rolling Stone reported in August 2019, “Above all else, their target is the overall “feminization” of Western culture or the idea that masculinity has been slowly degraded by leftist ideology; their core beliefs can best be summarized as a mélange of neofascism, Fight Club-esque hypermasculinity, and early-2000s-era hipster trolling.
Yet their reputation as alt-right often means they’re thrown in the pot with white supremacists. According to the Anti-Defamation League, “The Proud Boys represent an unconventional strain of American right-wing extremism. While 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.”
In fact, two of their leaders are men of color. Dante Nero, who the Proud Boys call their “Pope” because he helped found their “religion”, according to the manifesto, is a Black man. Another leader, Enrique Tarrio, who is the International Chairman of The Proud Boys, is Afro-Cuban.
In a recent interview with conservative Portland radio host, Lars Larson, Tarrio said:
I don’t know what everybody’s opinion of what alt-right is, but usually they like to mingle that with white nationalism and white supremacy. And again, like I said before, we aren’t a group that cares, like when you apply to be part our great fraternity, we don’t ask you any of those questions. For us it’s about American values and standing up to tyranny really is what it is and that’s what we’re seeing here. We’re seeing unchecked anarchy and tyranny from [Porland Mayor] Ted Wheeler.
2. The Proud Boys Say There Are 10 Ways to ‘Save America’ Including Giving Everyone a Gun, Abolishing Prisons & Legalizing Drugs
Before McInnis left the group in 2018 after the FBI classified The Proud Boys as an “an extremist group with ties to white nationalism,” according to The Guardian, The Proud Boys took to heart his ideas on how to “Save America.” (The FBI later said they did not designate The Proud Boys an extremist group, The Washington Post reported.)
The manifesto says, “Our founder Gavin McInnes (peace be upon him) often cites his “10 Ways to Save America” list as a compendium of proud Western beliefs. Brothers don’t have to ascribe to all of these but it does provide a good idea of where we stand.”
According to the Proud Boys Manifesto, The 10 ways are:
- – “Abolish Prisons” because there are too many “human beings” in “cages.”
– “Give Everyone A Gun” because “mostly bad guys have guns, but good guys need them too. This will help prevent crime.”
– “Legalize Drugs” because “the drug war is a failure” and is only creating more prisoners.
– “End Welfare” because it has “shattered families” by incentivizing women to leave their husbands.
– “Close the Borders” because “we need to build a wall and encourage assimilation” and patriotism.
– “Outlaw Censorship” because “The West has thrived with the checks and balances open discussion provides. Without it, fascism thrives.”
– “Venerate the Housewife” because “Proud Boys are encouraged to put a ring on it and knock her up.”
– “Glorify the Entrepreneur” because they made many sacrifices and they are the ones “who got us here.”
– “Recognize the West is the Best” because “we fought hard to be #1 and we won. All other cultures are not merely different than us. They are worse.”
– “Shut down the Government” because they “rob us of our hard-earned wages” and no one else needs to be in control of another man’s freedom and destiny.
3. Proud Boys Are Only Allowed to Masturbate Alone Once a Month & They Revere the Housewife While Maligning the Feminist
As part of the Proud Boys code, according to their “No Wanks” portion of the manifesto, “A Proud Boy may not ejaculate alone more often than once every thirty days.” During that time they’re also told to refrain from watching pornography. If a man “needs to ejaculate” and physical sex isn’t an option, he can masturbate “within one yard of a woman with her consent.” However, no prostitutes allowed for that purpose, according to the manifesto.
The group attributes those rules to their religion, which they say comes from their “pope” Dante Nero, who calls himself a “Relationship Guru in his Twitter bio. There is no reprieve for married men who are away from their wives for long periods of time because according to the manifesto, no virtual sex is allowed.
Proud Boy members say they exalt the housewife because they “create human life, shape it, and build the communities in which we live,” according to the manifesto. “With the family, comes a deep respect for the housewife. We see housewives as sentient beings who have an incredible gift.”
Yet when it comes to women who want to be anything but housewives and the role of feminism in American culture, the Proud Boys seem to view it as a threat.
In a 2017 article by the Wisconsin Watch, three members spoke to a reporter using only their first names. One, named Eric, said of feminism, “It’s cancer … I just think it’s taken so much away from the traditional family that it’s contributed to the degradation of the American family. When it came to equality for women and equal rights and votes, OK yeah, that’s all good and well. But now it’s just turned into kind of what’s seeming to be anti-male basically.”
4. 2 Members of The Proud Boys Are Serving Prison Time for Attacking Anti-Fascists Protestors
The Proud Boys leaders sometimes say they’re not looking for fights, maintaining they’re a group of guys who like to get together and drink who share common values, yet they often end up embroiled in violence. Just one example came In October 2018, 10 members of the Proud Boys were arrested after several of them were seen chasing and then beating someone after a GOP event in Manhattan. The attack was caught on video. The men were accused of attacking protesters outside the event, according to Huffington Post.
According to The Southern Poverty Law Group who wrote in reaction to that attack:
The Proud Boy’s credo is that violence is “a really effective way to solve problems,” and, according to McInnes, the political left poses an existential threat to the nation’s future. While the Proud Boys leader might not be issuing dictums, he and his reactionary troops are using violence to shut down and punish those whose views conflict with their own and, as was the case with the “foreigner” the group beat on Friday, those they believe do not deserve a place in the body politic.
As part of the group’s manifesto, they say, “to the parasites both on the streets and in the White House who want to attack us and take what we earn. To the trespassers who want to sabotage our culture our family and our way of life. You want a war? Well, you’ve got one. To all of our enemies both high and low. BRING IT ON!”
Meanwhile, Tarrio told Larson ahead of the September 26 rally:
We just want to be left alone. We want to send our message. We want to wave our flags. We want to do our speeches and we want to go home. We don’t want any issues…. And we’re going to come to Portland planning on being peaceful. If they want to come protest us, you know what Lars, I welcome it. I want people to protest things that they don’t see as right. No matter how misguided in my opinion they are. It’s fine with me. I want that but what we won’t condone and won’t tolerate is the violence.
Two of the Proud Boys who were arrested in the NY attack tried to convince the courts that they acted in self-defense when they beat four Antifa protestors, according to NBC News. But the courts saw it differently and each was sentenced to four years in prison for attempted gang assault, attempted assault, and rioting.
5. A Proud Boy Meets the Highest Status Degree if They ‘Engage in a Major Conflict for the Cause’
Once a man takes the pledge to become a Proud Boy, which simply means embracing the mantra that they are “Western Chauvinists who refuse to apologize for the modern world” he can move up in degrees by meeting certain thresholds. If he takes those words to heart, he’s a first-degree Proud Boy.
To become a second-degree Proud Boy a member has to name five breakfast cereals while other members “pound him” with their fists. He also must agree to the “No Wanks” rules. To become a third-degree Proud Boy, a member has to get a Proud Boy Tattoo, ideally in the “traditional tattoo font of yore,” according to the manifesto.
Finally, to become a fourth-degree Proud Boy the manifesto says, “This degree is loosely defined as ‘engaging in a major conflict for the cause.’ Being arrested is not encouraged although those who are immediately become fourth degrees because the court has registered a major conflict. Serious physical fights also count and it’s up to each chapter to determine how serious the conflict must be to determine fourth.”
Whether or not choosing a Disney song called, “Proud of Your Boy” is tongue in cheek, the group’s attempt at humor, or belies some Freudian theory, the manifesto says it’s healthy to sing it “at least once a night” at the Proud Boy meet-ups. While they maintain that’s not always realistic, the manifesto says they try to find bars that might have the song available on the jukebox.
heavy.com, “Proud Boys: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know,” By Amy Beeman; forbes.com, “Who Are The Proud Boys, The Group Behind The Controversial Portland Rally?” By Jemima McEvoy; en.wikipeia.org, “The Proud Boys,” By wikipedia editors;
Activities and events
New York University (2017)
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.
2017 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.
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) and Oath Keepers (an anti-government far-right group). 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.
Halifax Indigenous Peoples’ protest disruption (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.”
General Jonathan Vance, the head of the CAF, announced an investigation, 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.” The CAF’s investigation concluded by August 2017, 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.” In 2018, the statue was removed from the site by the City of Halifax.
Unite the Right rally (2017)
In June 2017, McInnes disavowed the planned Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. However, Proud Boys were at the August 2017 alt-right event, which was organized by white supremacist Jason Kessler. Kessler had joined the Proud Boys some time before organizing the event. McInnes said he had kicked Kessler out after his views on race had become clear. After the rally, Kessler accused McInnes of using him as a “patsy” and said: “You’re trying to cuck and save your own ass.” 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.
2017 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.
Pacific Northwest protests
The Proud Boys have been active for several years in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.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. Scenes of violence from one of these rallies was turned into a sizzle reel for the Proud Boys and was circulated on social media. 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.
2018 Metropolitan Republican Club
In October 2018, McInnes gave a talk at the Metropolitan Republican Club on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. 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. 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.”
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. NYC police present at the protest reportedly did not respond.
On November 21, 2018, shortly after news broke that the FBI had classified the Proud Boys as an extremist group with ties to white nationalists—a claim later disavowed by an FBI official, who said they only intended to characterize the potential threat of some members of the group—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”.
The fallout from the incident left the group in internal disarray. 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. 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. 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. 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.
Arrests and prosecutions of the Proud Boys in connection with incident
Video evidence from three separate videos showed conclusively that the Proud Boys had instigated the fight after the Metropolitan Republican Club event. 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.
Ten men connected to the Proud Boys were arrested in connection with the October 2018 incident. Seven Proud Boys pleaded guilty to various charges including riot, disorderly conduct and attempted assault. Two of the men who accepted plea deals were sentenced to five days of community service and did not receive jail time. 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. Hare and Kinsman were each sentenced to four years in prison. The final defendant is awaiting trial.
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.
Connection with Roger Stone
In early 2018, ahead of an appearance at the annual Republican Dorchester Conference in Salem, Oregon, Stone sought out the Proud Boys to act as his “security” for the event; photos posted online showed Stone drinking with several Proud Boys.
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.
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. 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.
Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes said Stone was “one of the three approved media figures allowed to speak” about the group. 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. He is particularly close to the group’s current leader Enrique Tarrio, who has commercially monetized his position.
2019 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.
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.
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 that “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!!!”
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 wasn’t 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; “You tell that fat bitch she better stop”, one of the group allegedly said. 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, an encrypted Russian messaging app, a comment which called for action against “Philly’s biggest shit stains.”
2019 “Demand Free Speech” rally
A Proud Boys rally called “Demand Free Speech” took place on July 6, 2019, in Washington, D.C.‘s Freedom Plaza and Pershing Park, drawing about 250 people. McInnes, Laura Loomer and Milo Yiannopoulos appeared, but former Trump advisor Roger Stone and Jacob Wohl did not. A counter-protest/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.
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 DeAnne Lorraine, a self-described “MAGA relationship expert,” had threatened him, using cocaine and having sex with members of the Proud Boys. 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.
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, 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”.
2019 “End Domestic Terrorism” rally
The Proud Boys and radio talk show host and former InfoWars staff member Joe Biggs organized a demonstration held in Portland on August 17, 2019 which members of numerous far-right groups attended. The rally, which was sometimes subtitled “Better Dead Than Red“, was intended to promote the idea that antifa should be classified as “domestic terrorism“. It received national attention, including a Tweet from President Donald Trump. The 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.
Haverford, Pennsylvania, volunteer 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. 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. Proud Boys at an Ohio event in 2020
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”.
Facebook officials reported that on May 30, internal systems flagged activity from Proud Boys-related accounts encouraging “armed agitators” to attend protests following the killing of George Floyd.
The group remained active in the Pacific Northwest and by 2020 had a dozen chapters in Idaho, Washington and Oregon. In June 2020, members of the Proud Boys rallied at the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle, Washington, in an effort to confront protesters.
Arrests and prosecutions of Proud Boys in 2020
Washington resident and Proud Boys member Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, known for brawling in the streets of Portland and Seattle during political protests, was arrested in Washington on August 28, 2020. 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. 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 and an assault in Seattle in June 2020.
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.” 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.
2020 presidential debate
In the first 2020 presidential debate on September 29, 2020, incumbent 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.” 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”.
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.”
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.” 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.”
Racism and Slavery Postings