Chaos erupted outside a local Republican club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side last Friday night.
After a speech by Gavin McInnes—founder of the Proud Boys, an openly racist, Islamophobic, “western chauvinist” group known for engaging in violent street fights—members of his far-right group fanned out into the posh residential neighborhood, brawling with a waiting crowd of anti-fascist protesters.
Several of those protesters were arrested on the scene. Following an outcry from local Democratic officials and an investigation by the New York Police Department, Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea announced Monday that police have compiled sufficient evidence to arrest nine Proud Boys and three additional protesters on charges of rioting, assault, and attempted assault. Police have yet to make any new arrests, however.
Here’s what happened outside the Metropolitan Republican Club and how New York City officials are responding to the unfolding situation.
Fights break out after McInnes’ speech on ‘Western Values’
The local political club invited McInnes to give a talk as part of its regular speaker series. Its website described the far-right bomb-thrower as a “Godfather of the Hipster Movement” who has “taken on and exposed the Deep State Socialists and stood up for Western Values,” making him “one of Liberty’s Loudest Voices.”
McInnes was a controversial choice for the club, a century-old institution whose past members included Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. But McInnes isn’t far outside the spectrum of far-right figures who’ve scored invites. The Metropolitan club has also hosted self-proclaimed guerrilla filmmaker James O’Keefe of Project Veritas and anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller.
At Friday’s event, McInnes brought a plastic samurai sword to perform a dramatic reenactment of the “inspiring” 1960 assassination of Japanese socialist leader Inejiro Asanuma by a teenage nationalist, as the Southern Poverty Law Center reported.
McInnes then departed the venue in a waiting car. Violent scuffles between his supporters and anti-fascist protesters promptly broke out on the surrounding sidewalks. Citizen journalists documented the brawls in videos posted to YouTube and Twitter.
The first fight erupted on East 82nd Street, according to the New York Times. Another quickly followed down the block on Lexington Avenue. Per the Times, three protesters were arrested on East 84th Street and Third Avenue after a member of the Proud Boys told a police officer that they had attacked him and stolen his backpack.
The trio—Caleb Perkins, Kai Russo and Finbarr Slonim—were charged with robbery and assaults in the only arrests NYPD made that night.
The NYPD pushes back on allegations that they mishandled the situation
In Monday remarks, NYPD officials announced that they’re now pursuing arrests of nine Proud Boys and three more protesters.
Police Commissioner James O’Neill called the events on Friday night “disturbing and outrageous,” but deflected criticism that the department was slow to apprehend the Proud Boys caught on camera beating protesters.
“Did you see the video?” O’Neill said, in public remarks provided to TPM by the NYPD. “It was two or three cops on scooters. It was a group of about 20 people. As soon as they pulled up, everybody dispersed.”
The police are also looking for two individuals who defaced the club’s headquarters prior to the event, scribbling anarchist symbols on the walls and breaking windows and doors, according to the Times.
Democrats denounce Proud Boys, while GOP defends free speech
Top Democratic city and state officials went on the offensive as reports of the violence began circulating, issuing full-throated condemnations on social media. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Barbara Underwood, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and others called for a full investigation of the incident and for Proud Boys members to be brought to justice.
In a statement, Cuomo criticized the Metropolitan Republican Club for inviting the founder of “a hate group with a history of inciting violence” to speak to its members. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the Proud Boys as a hate group, and Twitter has suspended both its main account and McInnes’ private one for violating the social network’s policy on “violent extremist groups.”
McInnes has denied instigating any violence, telling Newsmax that he doesn’t “control these guys” and is “the founder, not the leader” of the group.
The club has defended its decision to extend an invitation to McInnes, releasing a statement saying that they would “never endorse violence.”
“We do invite speakers to the Club with differing political points of view — some we agree with and some which we do not. But we are staunch supporters of the 1st Amendment,” club officials said in the statement. “Gavin’s talk on Friday night, while at times was politically incorrect and a bit edgy, was certainly not inciting violence.”
Ed Cox, chair of the New York state GOP, went after Cuomo for overlooking the vandalism to the club’s building, calling him a “political coward.”
“A real leader would call for calm. He would work with the NYPD to protect a near- century-old club from further attacks, but that’s not Andrew Cuomo,” Cox said in a statement.
Proud Boys espouse an extremist, hateful worldview
The group was started during the 2016 presidential election by McInnes. Once known as the co-founder of Vice, McInnes cut ties with the mainstream media world by 2008, creating his own brand as a gleefully inflammatory, far-right troll.
McInnes has called the Koran a “hate book,” agreed it was fair to label him Islamophobic and sexist, and often boasted that he was “very proud” to be white. He’s written articles for sites run by open white nationalists Peter Brimelow and Richard Spencer, and announced the Proud Boys’ founding in Spencer’s former publication, Taki Magazine.
Despite their ties to prominent white nationalist, alt-right and anti-Muslim figures, the group doesn’t have much in the way of a coherent ideology. McInnes describes the Proud Boys as just a “men’s club” and “gang” founded on an “anti-political correctness” and “anti-white guilt” platform.
The group essentially functions as a channel for white male grievance, expressed through violence
The far-right group has a long, ugly history of carrying out similar attacks
The Proud Boys have been involved in many similarly ugly events over the past three years, clashing with anti-fascist activists at bar fights and free speech rallies across the country.
Several members attended the Unite the Right white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer, which was organized by a former Proud Boy, Jason Kessler. Kessler was forced out of the group in the wake of the deadly event, and McInnes claimed he urged members not to attend.
More recently, they’ve become a fixture at the Patriot Prayer rallies that have disrupted downtown Portland periodically over the past few months.
In their down time, some members have also provided security to GOP figures including President Trump ally Roger Stone.