We had gathered with the event organizer to talk about how things were going, and the organizer told my partner and I that everything was going great—turnout was up over the previous year, in fact growing bigger and bigger every year, especially with ally support. “The only trouble I’ve really seen,” she said, “is that the Proud Boys are here.” She glanced over each shoulder as she said this, whether on the lookout for Proud Boys or because she didn’t want to alarm other parade attendees, I’m not sure.
But the name “Proud Boys,” and the way this woman said it, sent a chill down my spine. I was new to the community at the time, having only come out publicly less than a year prior. I was (and am) still feeling my way around, still with so much to learn. Bigotry feels different when it is being directed at you.
Who Are the Proud Boys?
It takes some digging to get information directly from the source because when you search “Proud Boys,” their own website doesn’t show up until the third page of Google results. I’m guessing their crappy ranking is a result of having been ejected from every major social media platform due to being labeled an extremist hate group.
In any case, the Proud Boys were founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes (who, oddly enough, is a jilted co-founder of the left-leaning site Vice), when he realized there simply aren’t enough men’s clubs around anymore. Gloria Steinem is a mean lady and made all the menfolk quit their clubs in the 1980s.
So McInnes founded the Proud Boys, which he really just wanted to be a drinking group for people with penises, with specific tenets in mind. From a 2017 article on the Proud Boys website, the original Proud Boy tenets:
- Minimal Government
- Maximum Freedom
- Anti-Political Correctness
- Anti-Drug War
- Closed Borders
- Anti-Racial Guilt
- Pro-Free Speech (1st Amendment)
- Pro-Gun Rights (2nd Amendment)
- Glorifying the Entrepreneur
- Venerating the Housewife
- Reinstating a Spirit of Western Chauvinism
“All that is required to become a Proud Boy,” says the site, “is that a man declare he is ‘a Western chauvinist who refuses to apologize for creating the modern world.’” Of course this totally ignores that the United States was built upon the backs of Black slaves and that “modern world” theory exists only in the context of the West comparing itself to cultures it deems inferior.
As to the use of the term “chauvinist,” generally considered a pejorative, Proud Boy elders insist it’s not how it sounds! Chauvinist can just mean proud, the website reminds us repeatedly by presenting the textbook definition and then adding their own proposed addition via a 2019 article on the Proud Boys website because, hey, why not just change the meaning of words because you feel like it?:
1. aggressive or exaggerated patriotism
2. an irrational belief in the superiority or dominance of one’s own group or people
3. blatant or unapologetic patriotism (proposed addition)”
“Proposed addition,” in case you didn’t catch that, is literally the Proud Boys suggesting that we shift the meaning of chauvinism to take out the “aggressive” and “exaggerated” because wait wait wait that’s not what they meant when they said that.
But the Proud Boys’ chauvinism is very much aggressive and exaggerated, as is McInnes’ chauvinism. It has always been. “I don’t want our culture diluted,” McInnes told the New York Times all the way back in 2003. “We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, white, English-speaking way of life.”
The website claims the Proud Boys “do not discriminate based upon race or sexual orientation/preference.” Except if you’re Muslim or gay or trans. Of course, the Proud Boys don’t claim not to be sexist because being sexist is literally their whole point.
“Maybe the reason I’m sexist is because women are dumb. No, I’m just kidding, ladies. But you do tend to not thrive in certain areas — like writing,” McInnes said on The Gavin McInnes Show in 2017.
The Proud Boys Today
The Proud Boys has evolved as a group since its formation in 2016, taking on a life of its own and further radicalizing even beyond the far-right leanings of its founder. For the past couple of years, the Proud Boys have been involved in numerous violent protests in Oregon, Washington, and New York.
In 2018, Governor Cuomo of New York called for an investigation into the group when violence erupted following an appearance by McInnes at a meeting of the Metropolitan Republican Club. Proud Boys were seen beating up a man on the ground and calling him “faggot.” Other witnesses got a recording of Proud Boys bragging about kicking a “foreigner” in the head. Two Proud Boys were eventually convicted of gang assault, attempted assault, and rioting, and sentenced to four years in prison.
President Donald Trump seems pretty chummy with them though, which is surprising to no one. In the presidential debate Tuesday night, when Chris Wallace asked Trump if he was “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 we’ve seen in Portland?” Trump said he was “willing to do that,” but added that “almost everything I see is from the left wing.”
When pressed further, Trump asked, “what do you want me to call them? Give me a name. Who would you like me to condemn?” Wallace said white supremacists and Biden mentioned the Proud Boys. Trump responded, “The Proud Boys. Stand back and stand by.”
Twitter immediately lit up with screenshots from other apps of the Proud Boys’ gleeful responses (remember, Proud Boys aren’t allowed on Twitter): “Trump basically said to go fuck them up! this makes me so happy.”
The Proud Boys are ecstatic tonight about getting mentioned in the debate tonight.
"Trump basically said to go fuck them up! this makes me so happy," writes one prominent Proud Boy. pic.twitter.com/hYA7yQVAOn
— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) September 30, 2020
And this image was posted on Telegram, a less-popular social media site:
The Proud Boys continue to be associated with violence and unrest, even as their leaders attempt to clean up their image by supposedly distancing themselves from said violence and unrest. They show up to demonstrations wearing body armor, armed with bear mace, and drinking alcohol, and then appear baffled that anyone would suspect them of nefarious intentions. They try to distance themselves from the alt-right, but the bulk of their membership is comprised of of alt-right white nationalists.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has labeled the Proud Boys a hate group and lists on their website, with ample sources, the plentiful reasons why. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) calls them “hard-core white supremacists.”
In 2018, upon advice from his legal team, founder Gavin McInnes publicly quit the group via a YouTube video. Additionally, in February of 2019 McInnes brought a lawsuit against the SPLC, accusing the organization of “defaming” and “defunding” him, causing him to lose the ability to accept online bank payments, crowdfund, speak at public events, or have an online platform.
McInnes may claim not to be an alt-right racist bigoted piece of shit, and he may claim that’s never what he intended with his group. But his “Boys” show up to family-friendly Pride parades, to peaceful demonstrations, ready to cause trouble. They attract members of the violent alt-right and garner the implied endorsement of Donald Trump. The Proud Boys can claim not to be a hate group all they want, but their actions prove otherwise. Fuck off, Proud Boys.
UPDATE: Well-known Proud Boys member Alan Swinney was arrested on September 30th in Portland, with 12 charges “including multiple for assault, unlawful use of a weapon, pointing a firearm at another person and unlawful use of mace,” according to KOIN 6 News. This comes after — among other things — shooting a paintball gun at others: once at a protest on August 15th, and then again at a pro-Trump rally on August 22nd.
It may be only one member, but it’s a start.