During Monday night’s debate, President Trump called on the Proud Boys, a far-right group engaging in combative stand-offs against Antifa, to “stand back and stand by.” The next morning social media was ripe with a cocktail of opinion on whether the Proud Boys were white supremacists.
The Proud Boys’ current leader, Enrique Tarrio, is an Afro-Cuban who serves as the international chair of the group. Tarrio says the Proud Boys aren’t the problem, but rather, “It’s the people who want to commit acts of violence against people they don’t agree with. And that is called domestic terrorism. And that’s what we’re here to fight today.”
He, along with other members of the group with minority backgrounds, have denounced white supremacy. Shaping the future of the group’s members, Tarrio told Business Insider that the group is becoming more politically organized during this year’s elections.
“Chapters around the U.S. are instead working to elect dozens of members who are running for office themselves in local, state, and federal positions.” – Enrique Tarrio, Proud Boys Leader
According to Business Insider, there are currently 22,000 Proud Boy members worldwide and at least 30 of them are running for election in the U.S. this year.
To understand the impact the group could have, we have to look at the group’s past.
Proud Boys was founded in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes as a product of what he labels the “New Right,” an ideology formed out of what began as a men’s club for “Western chauvinists.”
McInnes speaks to the need for the group. “There’s a real war on masculinity in this country that starts in kindergarten and goes all the way to adulthood. And it’s not natural,” he says.
The Proud Boys describe themselves as a “fraternal group spreading an ‘anti-political correctness’ and ‘anti-white guilt’ agenda.”
A day after the debate, Proud Boys leadership across a number of states interviewed with the media and denied a mantra of violence.
McInness himself is a comedian and takes great pleasure in trolling; his sense of comedy and extreme satire makes getting to the bottom of his beliefs difficult.
Yet here’s how founder McInnes describes the group:
“We will kill you. That’s the Proud Boys in a nutshell. We will kill you. We look nice. We seem soft. We have ‘boys’ in our name, but like Bill the Butcher and the Bowery Boys, we will assassinate you … Fighting solves everything. We need more violence from the Trump people.” – Gavin McInnes, Proud Boy co-founder
The open call to violence McInnes boasts is too brutal and vulgar to republish. For those who wish to listen to it, it’s available in the tweeted video below.
This is Gavin McInnes, founder of The Proud Boys, talking about why he created them & what their purpose is.
They are still not designed as a terrorist group.pic.twitter.com/6TljU51tH3
— Rational Disconnect (@RationalDis) May 31, 2020
(The Twitter account ‘Rational Disconnect’ is a biased, anarchist source; however, McInnes’ words are his and speak for themselves.)
McInnes himself often spouts a bundle of vulgarities about various groups. In 2010, he said:
“The Muslim world is filled with shoeless, toothless, inbred, hill-dwelling, rifle-toting, sodomy-prone men ready to kill for a God they’ve never seen. They even have their own Hatfields and McCoys: They’re called Sunnis and Shiites.” – Gavin McInnes, Proud Boy co-founder
In 2017, McInnes put out a satire video he made while on a trip to Israel that sounded like an antisemitic rant The video, pushed by Rebel Media, was a based on a a stand-up comedy routine that he had just given to a sold-out crowd at a Tel Aviv bar.
After Nazis came out in support of him, he refuted the views in the video and made it clear it was satire.
The video was originally titled (for its shock value) “Ten Things I Hate About the Jews” then later changed to “Ten Things I Hate About Israel.” In the video he defends Holocaust deniers. In a subsequent video made, which was published by Compound Media,
“I felt myself defending the super far-right Nazis just because I was sick of so much brainwashing and I felt like going, ‘Well, they never said it didn’t happen. What they’re saying is it was much less than 6 million and that they starved to death and weren’t gassed, that they didn’t have supplies,’” he said, before adding, “I’m not saying it wasn’t gassing.”
He also blamed Jews for Josef Stalin’s starvation of millions of Ukrainians. “I think it was 10 million Ukrainians who were killed,” he said. “That was by Jews. That was by Marxist, Stalinist, left-wing, commie, socialist Jews.”
He then said Jews have a “whiny paranoid fear of Nazis.”
In response to the controversy about the video, McInnes said, “I landed, and I’ve got tons of Nazi friends. David Duke and all the Nazis totally think I rock … No offense, Nazis, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I don’t like you. I like Jews.”
At the end of 2019, McIness put out a video called “10 Things I Love About the Jews” explaining his position and the satire of the previous video.
The policy of the Proud Boys is that any man can join as long as they “recognize that white men are not the problem.”
“None of us ever knew anybody that owned a slave,” McInnes says. “Personally, my family didn’t emigrate here until the first World War. I share no white guilt. I’m not guilty about any of the things that happened here 200 years ago. I wasn’t here. My relatives weren’t here. We didn’t move here until way after the Civil War. So I’m done being villainized as the white devil. I’m not him.”
Watch the Proud Boys “sizzle reel”:
The contradictions between what is said and what is seen lend to the confusion of what the Proud Boys really are. Beyond the label of white supremacy, there is another field of extreme patriotism that sees Western culture and values within a fixed window of time as superior.
This framing of what Western culture is doesn’t take into account a history rich with the migration of ideas and thinkers, all of which have contributed to the modern-day West as we know it.
Nor does it take into account that a future world of people has the potential to and likely will improve upon even the best of what Western civilization is right now.
Probably the best short description of the Proud Boys is that it is a fight club anchored to a likely immutable interpretation of what it means to be an American man. And with that, they have found a nesting space within President Trump’s “Make American Great Again (MAGA)” philosophy, which, for the Proud Boys, relies on looking backward rather than looking forward on how a nation can continue shaping itself into an ever-advanced civilization.
Elizabeth Neumann, a global security risk and operations expert and a former assistant secretary for threat prevention in the Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security, compares the Proud Boys to a gang.
In a tweet thread, she writes:
“…the Proud Boys bear many of the hallmarks of a gang and its members have taken part in multiple acts of brutal violence and intimidation … many members have criminal records for violent behavior and the organization actively pursues violence against their perceived enemies.
After several years of forging alliances with members of the Republican political establishment, the Proud Boys have carved out a niche for themselves as both a right-wing fight club and a volunteer security force for the GOP.
Despite assoc[ications] with mainstream politicians, Proud Boys’ actions & statements repeatedly land them in the company of white supremacists & right-wing extremists. Kessler, the primary organizer of the deadly 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, is a former Proud Boy.” – Elizabeth Neumann, former Assistant Secretary for Threat Prevention, DHS
The Proud Boys are not white supremacists per se; rather they are closer to neofascists. And it doesn’t bode well for the prospect of a unified America that the day after the debate, the Proud Boys turned Trump’s “stand back, stand by” comment into their new slogan.
— Linda Hung (@lindahaung93) October 1, 2020
A Gen Z American I spoke with after the debate had this to say, echoing the narrative that support for one extreme group yields support for another extreme.
“Why is antifascism [Antifa] a bad ideology? I guess I’m just wondering if the president is actively rallying white nationalists, what have we to do beside support antifascists?” – Gen Z voter, male.
Every action has an opposite reaction until and unless a gridlock between the two is broken — during the first presidential debate, that opportunity was missed by both candidates.
While some Americans see the Proud Boys as a civilian line of defense against Antifa — including, possibly, the president of the United States based on his “stand back, stand by” comment — other Americans will respond to the surge of support for the Proud Boys by latching onto Antifa with greater passion.
One polarity drives the other. This is the “War of the Extremes” and it thrives where nuance, education and dialogue are absent.
There is deep confusion about where to go from here. It’s been three years since Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally put white supremacy back on the public’s radar. Three years later we’re still not at a collective understanding of white supremacy, toxic nationalism or the understanding that fascism is diversifying its branding into splintered identity groups.
While our national hyper-focus on race has pegged all issues within this context, the surge of extremism that America is experiencing has less to do with race and more to do with polarity and tribalism at this hour.
Concerning the Far Left, we need to understand that Antifa (short for “anti-fascist”) is no less fascist because it has the word “anti” in it. Similarly, the cultural Marxists who are running the Black Lives Matter organization have exhibited the same type of fascism.
On the side of the Far Right, we need to look at the identities of groups like the Proud Boys and the Boogaloo Bois, which are often aligned with white supremacist philosophies despite attracting an ethnically diverse membership.
The Proud Boys and the Boogaloos evolved from a younger, broader Alt-Right movement that is minimal/anti-government, nativist and growing. Although white supremacists are members of these groups, being a white supremacist and even being white are not core in the way they were even a generation ago. There’s a significant generational shift that started taking place distinctly around 2015.
Some might call this shift White Supremacy 2.0, but white supremacy is a side dish — it’s not the steak, it’s the peas. The steak is disenfranchisement. It comes from the sense of feeling marginalized, which brings the conversation full circle to preventing violent extremism (PVE) and what drives people to join these movements.
What Clarion has found in our research into PVE is that the driving factors are community, identity, purpose and belonging. Most significantly, especially in the case of the normalization of fringe groups like Antifa, Boogaloo and the Proud Boys, the driving factor is a common purpose.