Proud Boys

McInnes

Credit: Elijah Nouvelage /Getty Images

Key Points

  • The Proud Boys, founded by Gavin McInnes, are a right wing “fraternity” who present themselves as proponents of mainstream conservative values, but engage in extreme, often violent tactics to promote their agenda. The group is not cohesive and is highly decentralized.
  • The Proud Boys abhor progressive policies, liberalism and what they call “political correctness,” regularly use violence in the form of street fights, and promote violence in speeches, podcasts, and videos.
  • The group, which is nominally part of the alt lite, is overtly Islamophobic and misogynistic, and some members are also anti-Semitic and racist.
  • The group’s members regularly engage in physical altercations as part of their hazing and membership rituals, promoting violence both as a means of becoming an official Proud Boy and as a tactic for defending their values.
  • Proud Boys (including McInnes) regularly show up at rallies and events. Members of the group claim to act as “security” for controversial, right-wing politicians and public figure, including Vicky Paladino and Ann Coulter.
  • Most of the group’s official Twitter accounts were suspended in August of 2018, leaving the remaining active accounts to push far-right conspiracy theories and talking points until October 2018, when Twitter removed the remaining Proud Boys’ individual and regional accounts.
  • As of October 30th, Facebook and Instagram had deactivated Gavin McInnes, and Proud Boys groups were no longer visible on Facebook. Individual Proud Boys’ Facebook profiles remained live.

Background

The Proud Boys are an extremist conservative group founded by Gavin McInnes in 2016 that uses aggressive, confrontational and sometimes violent tactics in pursuit of its agenda. Violence has become a frequently used tactic in the advancement of the group’s political and social ideology. Proud Boys often clash with Antifa counter-protestors at rallies and events.

The name Proud Boys is derived from “Proud of Your Boy,” a song featured in Disney’s 2011 musical Aladdin.

Proud Boys often wear a uniform of Black Fred Perry shirts with gold trim. They have discussed doing away with their uniform in order to be less detectable by Antifa, counter-protestors and other opponents.

Among their catch-phrases: #UHURU, an ironic and possibly racist appropriation of the name of an African socialist party and the Swahili word for freedom, appears in many of their tweets. They frequently repeat the phrase “I am a western chauvinist and I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” An unofficial tagline is “F*ck around and find out,” a veiled threat Proud Boys often repeat at rallies.

Although the Proud Boys present themselves as guardians of mainstream conservative values, their 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.

Violent Ideology

Proud Boys are united by a disdain for liberalism, progressive values, and what they refer to as “politically correct” culture. Violence is an important tool in the promotion of their anti-left-wing agenda. It is also directly part of their operational structure: to become a full member of the Proud Boys, a person is required to complete four “degrees,” including violent acts. The first degree is “declaring you’re a Proud Boy;” the second is “getting beat up while naming five breakfast cereals;” the third is “getting a proud Boy tattoo,” and the fourth is “to get beat up and kick the crap out of Antifa.”   

Gavin McInnes regularly encourages his followers to commit violence against people who disagree with them. In a June 2016 episode of the Gavin McInnes show, he said, “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…we will assassinate you.” In 2017, he said in an interview that violence “is a really effective way to solve problems” and, also in 2017, McInnes said violence “is a really effective way to solve problems.” Although McInnes has at times repudiated violence, the group routinely engages in it, often with McInnes’ explicit encouragement.

Despite encouraging – and even requiring – his followers to fight, McInnes is quick to distance himself from responsibility when the group (and its violent tactics) receives negative attention. For example, in a response to the Proud Boys’ visible role in October’s violent clashes in New York City, McInnes insisted to Newsmax TV that he does not “control these guys,” and claimed, “I'm the founder, not the leader.”

McInnes keeps his distance from individual chapters, likely as a way of deflecting negative media attention from himself. Although each chapter is nominally independent, McInnes continues to provide general direction and ideological inspiration for the group as a whole. It is difficult to estimate the total number of Proud Boys, but the group claims to have numerous chapters in the United States, as well as Israel, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. While the group is strictly a men’s group, there are female supporters known as “Proud Boys’ Girls” who support the group’s ideals.

Public Image

The Proud Boys’ confrontational style has not stopped the group or McInnes from finding a platform in mainstream right-wing media and benefitting from the support of right-wing political candidates and officials.

In October 2018, The Metropolitan Republican Club of New York City invited McInnes to speak; the event received national attention after Proud Boys and Antifa clashed in street fights following McInnes’ remarks. Following the Proud Boys’ violent activity in New York City, right-wing commentator Ann Coulter signaled her support for the group, tweeting: “get a Proud Boys wristband to defend the men who defend you,” and providing a link to the Proud Boys’ online store. In June 2018, Mayra Joli, who is running for U.S. Congress in Florida’s 27th district, appeared in photos with a Miami Proud Boy. McInnes has appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program 24 times, has been a regular contributor to Fox News, and, despite protests, spoke to New York University’s College Republican Club in 2017. He has also hosted Tucker Carlson on his programs on multiple occasions.

At one time, The Proud Boys maintained a robust social media presence, which they used to promote themselves and far-right conspiracy theories. However, most of the group’s official Twitter accounts were suspended in August 2018. Two months later, Twitter removed the remaining Proud Boys’ individual and regional accounts.  As of October 30th, Facebook and Instagram had deactivated Gavin McInnes, and Proud Boys groups were no longer visible on Facebook. Individual Proud Boys’ Facebook profiles remained live.

Racism:

While the Proud Boys often publicly denounce white supremacy, their activity has attracted white supremacists who share their opposition to the left and seek to engage in physical confrontations. The Proud Boys participated in the 2017 protests at the University of California-Berkeley, alongside a variety of white supremacist groups, including Rise Above Movement (R.A.M)., Identity Evropa and the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP). Similarly, members of Identity Evropa and TWP have joined Proud Boys and fellow right-wing group Patriot Prayer events in Portland. One man, wearing a patch for the Proud Boys associated Fraternal Order of Alt Knights (FOAK), attended the October 2017 neo-Nazi “White Lives Matter’ rally in Shelbyville, Tennessee. During the rally, he taunted the counter-protesters by destroying an Antifa flag. Members of the Proud Boys also attended the violent August 2017 “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.  They later circulated an image of themselves in a celebratory pose with a flag they “captured” from Antifa. In October 2018, Proud Boys also posed with members of the 211 Bootboys, an ultranationalist skinhead group, after McInnes’ speech at the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City.

Misogyny:

Gavin McInnes frequently states that he (like Proud Boys generally) “venerates the housewife,” but he has also said that women are “lazy” and “less ambitious” than men, and that the pay gap between women and men is due to the fact a woman “would rather go to [her] daughter’s piano recital” than work. He has said that women are “magical” and that “birth is a magical thing,” and that the U.S. should have “enforced monogamy” because women are “colostomy bags for various strangers’ semen” when they have sex outside of marriage.  He has described feminism as “a cancer” which “makes women ugly.”

Islamophobia:

McInnes has said that Islam is “not a very good ideology” and an article on the Proud Boys website refers to Islamberg, a town in upstate New York with a significant Muslim population as “an Islamic training ground.” In July 2017, Proud Boys participated in a ride through the town, intended to intimidate and harass residents. McInnes once told NBC “I’m not a fan of Islam. I think it’s fair to call me Islamophobic.”

Anti-Semitism:

Although McInnes has decried racism and anti-Semitism, his past statements tell a different story. He has posted videos of himself giving the Nazi salute and repeatedly saying “Heil Hitler.” He was accused of anti-Semitism in March 2017 when he posted a video on Rebel Media called “Ten Things I Hate about Jews,” which was later retitled “Ten Things I Hate About Israel.”

McInnes has made a number of contradictory statements about Zionism. Prior to his trip to Israel in the spring of 2017, McInnes appeared in a Rebel Media video in which he asked people to crowdfund his trip to Israel so he could see what the country was like for himself; however, in that same video, he referenced both “The Culture of Critique,” by white supremacist Kevin MacDonald, and David Duke’s book “Jewish Supremacism.” The Proud Boys currently have a chapter in Israel, although the chapter is not particularly active and is comprised of no more than six members, most of whom are South African.

Transphobia:

In 2014, McInnes wrote a controversial article for the blog Thought Catalog: “Transphobia is perfectly natural,” which included the passage, “Haven’t you seen all the totally functional, happily married, normal trannies walking around? They aren’t all dead, you know…They’re non-heteronormative. In fact, the only thing more normal than castrating yourself and taking tons of hormones to grow tits is chopping them off.”

Current Leadership

Gavin McInnes founded and now leads the Proud Boys. Born in England to Scottish parents, McInnes grew up in Canada and then moved to the United States, where he lived in Brooklyn and later settled in Westchester, NY with his family.

McInnes has long been a controversial figure. In 1994, he founded Vice media with Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi, but left the company in 2008. Since then, McInnes has pursued the spotlight in right wing media, as a contributor to Ezra Levant’s far right site Rebel Media. He has also hosted the Gavin McInnes show on Compound Media, started the website Street Carnage, and was a guest on Alex Jones’ Infowars, as well as a number of Fox news shows. Today, McInnes hosts two shows on the Conservative Review website.

McInnes has expressed racist and anti-Semitic views, and repeatedly used the n-word on his shows. On a November 2016 episode of the Gavin McInnes Show, he repeatedly yelled “Heil Hitler” and gave the Nazi salute. Like many on the far right, McGinnes relies on weaponized “humor” to attack his enemies, then dismisses any criticism as overreaction. He claimed during an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio that “the left is willfully ignorant of jokes.” 

McInnes show

McInnes regularly contradicts himself in terms of his position and authority within the Proud Boys. On the one hand he will encourage members to engage in violence, and on the other, he will deny any leadership role, insisting that he is “just” the founder, and that he is unable to “control these guys.”   After the October brawl in New York City, McInnes arranged for the surrender of a number of Proud Boys to law enforcement, indicating that he does wield considerable authority over the group.

Activity

The Proud Boys see themselves as righteous provocateurs, and work diligently to elicit responses from their adversaries. Unsurprisingly, there have been a number of violent interactions between Proud Boys and counter-protestors, including the following:

  • October 2018: Proud Boys and Antifa clashed on the Upper East Side of Manhattan after McInnes gave a speech at the Metropolitan Republican Club. Four Proud Boys were arrested.
  • October 2018: counter-protesters, including Antifa, sparred with members of the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer during a “Resist Marxism” rally at the Rhode Island State House. No arrests were made after a fist fight – which ended when someone sprayed the crowd with a fire extinguisher.
  • June 2018: The Proud Boys appeared to ramp up their violent activities when Proud Boy Ethan Nordean (who also goes by the name Rufio Panman) punched an Antifa activist at a rally in Portland.
  • May 2018: Tusitala “Tiny” Toese and other Proud Boys attacked a black teenager at the Vancouver (Washington) Mall.
  • September 2017: Patriot Prayer (with Proud Boys in attendance) and local anti-hate coalition “Portland Stands United Against Hate” held competing rallies on the same day in Portland. Several fights broke out and three people were arrested, one for speeding towards counter-protestors in a car.
  • August 2017: at Unite the Right in Charlottesville, Alex Michael Ramos, one of the men convicted of assaulting DeAndre Harris, claimed he joined the Proud Boys after Charlottesville
  • July 2017: Proud Boys attended a “Ride for Homeland Security” in Islamberg, New York, a town that his received a lot of anti-Muslim/Islamophobic attention.
  • May 2017: Brittany Venti, an alt right internet personality and Proud Boys’ Girl, was arrested at a May Day demonstration in New York during a clash with Antifa.
  • April 2017: members of the Proud Boys, the anti-government extremist Oath Keepers and the white supremacist Rise Above Movement (R.A.M.) were involved in a violent brawl with Antifa protesters before a “Patriot’s Day” rally in Berkeley, California.. Several people were injured and at least 21 were arrested. During the event, the former head of the white supremacist group Identity Evropa was caught on video punching a female counter-protester.
  • March 2017: The Proud Boys marched in Berkeley in the “Freedom to be Violent Rally.” Here, Based Stickman (aka Kyle Chapman, who at the time was involved with FOAK) got attention for beating people with a stick.
  • February 2017: Several fights broke out between Proud Boys and Antifa in New York City outside an event hosted by the NYU College Republicans where Gavin McInnes was scheduled to speak. The NYPD reported that 11 counter-protesters were arrested.
  • January 2017: McInnes spoke at The Deploraball (a right-wing celebration of President Trump’s inauguration) in Washington, D.C. He later bragged about punching a protestor outside the event.