The FBI never designated the Proud Boys as a far-right extremist group, the bureau’s top agent in Oregon told The Oregonian and other local publications at a Tuesday meeting.
That comment contradicts a widely-reported internal memo from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office made public last month that suggested that the FBI considered the “western chauvinist” organization an “extremist group with ties to white nationalism.”
“We do not intend and did not intend to designate the group as extremist,’’ Special Agent in Charge Renn Cannon said Tuesday, according to the Oregonian.
Cannon said that the FBI does not make these sort of characterizations about any particular group, and is tasked only with investigating federal offenses—some of which may involve members of extremist groups.
The misunderstanding, according to Cannon, stemmed from a recent briefing that the FBI gave to local law enforcement about the violent brawls that have erupted across Portland in recent months between anti-racist activists and members of far-right groups, including the Proud Boys. At that briefing, the FBI encouraged officers to check out other sites—including the Southern Poverty Law Center, which considers the Proud Boys a hate group—for more information.
“I can see where Clark County representatives came to that conclusion. That was not our intention. That’s not what we do,’’ Cannon said, according to the Oregonian. “We will not open a case if someone belongs to antifa or even the Proud Boys. There has to be a credible allegation or a threat of violence before someone opens a case.’’
The Clark County memo made waves nationally given the Proud Boys’ involvement in a number of recent violent incidents, including a brawl outside a Manhattan Republican club this fall that led to the arrests of several members of the group.
Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes even quit the group shortly after The Guardian first published the memo in mid-November. In a YouTube video, McInnes said he was “officially dissociating” from the group because his leadership lent credence to the notion that the organization was a gang with a “head of operations.”
McInnes himself has previously referred to the Proud Boys as a gang, urged members to engage in violence, and made comments disparaging Muslims, Jews and women.