U.S. President Donald Trump’s refusal to denounce the Proud Boys during Tuesday night’s presidential debate has catapulted the far-right, all-male group to the forefront of an election cycle beset by divisiveness.
Debate moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump directly whether he would condemn white supremacist and militia groups by asking them to “stand down.” Following a heated exchange regarding whom exactly he was addressing, Trump said: “OK, Proud Boys: Stand back and stand by … But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing.”
Designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Proud Boys were founded in 2016 by VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes as a faction of self-described “western chauvinists,” who view themselves as a fraternal group spreading an “anti-political correctness” and “anti-white guilt” agenda. The group’s name is taken from the song, “Proud of Your Boy,” an outtake of the Disney musical “Aladdin.”
According to The Washington Post, membership, as outlined in a McInnes essay, involves a four-step process. A prospective member must:
• Publicly declare he’s a Proud Boy.
• Undergo a ritual beating “that continues until he can name five breakfast cereals,” which McInnes explained as an “adrenaline-control” exercise.
• Get a Proud Boys tattoo bearing the group’s name.
• Get into a public fight that advances the group’s cause.
The fourth tenet has since been removed.
McInnes has since left the group but not before he sued the SPLC for defamation for labeling the Proud Boys a hate group. Meanwhile, a 2018 report from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office in Vancouver, Washington, revealed the FBI called the Proud Boys “an extremist group with ties to White Nationalism,” USA Today reported.
According to the Post, the “men’s club” believes in ending welfare, closing borders and adhering to traditional gender roles.
Meanwhile, the group also claims to support small government, closed borders and “Venerating the Housewife,” according to the SPLC.
The Proud Boys have repeatedly denied holding any white supremacist beliefs, but multiple arrests of members for violent felonies, along with their anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric, paint a different picture. Their frequent protest and counterprotest appearances alongside other extremist groups make it even more difficult to distinguish their collective guiding principles from those of the company they keep.
For instance, former aspiring Proud Boys member Jason Kessler helped organize the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which attracted multiple militias, members of the Ku Klux Klan and a host of openly racist and anti-Semitic groups. The rally devolved into violent clashes that culminated with the death of Heather Heyer, who was struck and killed by a self-professed neo-Nazi who plowed his vehicle into counterprotesters.
Kessler, who was seeking to join Proud Boys at the time the rally was staged, was ejected from the group after “Unite the Right” descended into bedlam, the Post reported.
In an email to USA Today, Ronald D. Coleman, who said he is a spokesman for the Proud Boys, offered comments attributed to current Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who is Afro-Cuban, stating that the group has “longstanding regulations prohibiting racist, white supremacist or violent activity.”
“We do not care what color you are or what your background is ... if you love America ... we consider you a brother,” Tarrio said in the written statement, noting the group condemns racism, fascism, communism and socialism.
However, just last weekend, hundreds of people gathered for a Proud Boys rally in Portland, Oregon, where dozens of participants donned militarized body armor. Although police said the event concluded with little violence, videos circulating on social media captured a clear assault, a suspect kicking a man who was livestreaming the rally, USA Today reported.
Meanwhile, Proud Boys member Alan Swinney, who has been involved in recent violent clashes with anti-fascist protesters and other groups in downtown Portland, was arrested Wednesday and faces 12 charges, including fourth-degree assault, fourth-degree attempted assault, two counts of second-degree unlawful use of mace, second-degree attempted assault, three counts of an unlawful use of a weapon, two counts of second-degree assault, menacing and pointing a firearm at another person.
“The Proud Boys have had a yearslong reputation for not only violence but very clear ties to white supremacy,” Amy Cooter, a Vanderbilt University senior lecturer who studies nationalism, race and ethnicity, told USA Today in an emailed statement.
Proud Boys members are often easy to spot in black polos with yellow-trim, but British clothier Fred Perry pulled the signature line from the U.S. market recently because of its growing association with the right-wing group, CNN reported.
“Despite its lineage, we have seen that the Black/Yellow/Yellow twin tipped shirt is taking on a new and very different meaning in North America as a result of its association with the Proud Boys. That association is something we must do our best to end,” the brand stated, noting sales of the item will not resume in the United States and Canada “until we’re satisfied that its association with the Proud Boys has ended.”
And despite his debate comments, Trump backtracked on Wednesday and said he did not know who the Proud Boys are, the Post reported.
“They have to stand down. They have to stand down. Whatever group you are talking about,” Trump told reporters. “Let law enforcement do the work. Now, antifa is a real problem. The problem is on the left.”
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