The Proud Boys, the right-wing street gang that just a few days ago staged a rally that fell far short of their own attendance estimates, has enjoyed a surge of attention thanks to President Donald Trump.
At Tuesday night’s presidential debate, Trump instructed the group to “stand back and stand by” rather than denouncing them and white supremacist groups. The Proud Boys, who relish street violence with lefty protesters, blasted memes around the web.
As a result of the shout out, many Proud Boys-oriented channels on the messaging app Telegram “have found an influx of 300 to 500 new users just in the past day,” Megan Squire, a professor of computer science at Elon University who tracks hate groups online, told TPM Wednesday.
Brian Fishman, director of counterterrorism and dangerous organizations at Facebook, also said Wednesday evening that he’d seen an “uptick on FB in content related to the Proud Boys,” including memes featuring Trump’s quote.
Much of the content was critical of the Proud Boys and Trump, Fishman said, but Facebook has also removed content in the past two days supporting the group. The Proud Boys and the group’s founder, Gavin McInnes, were banned from Facebook in 2018 for violating the platform’s hate group policy.
Fishman noted Wednesday that Facebook has removed networks of Proud Boy members and content three times in 2020, most recently targeting accounts that were promoting the group’s recent rally, in Portland. But the platform has a problem, he noted: “When we remove content promoting their rallies, we see them replace ‘Proud Boys’ with ‘Trump 2020’ and ‘MAGA’ on their content.”
Mentions of the group have surged on Twitter as well, surpassing one million since the debate, compared to a couple thousand on average per day prior to that, Clemson University social media researcher Darren Linvill told The Washington Post.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump claimed to not know who the Proud Boys were, then told them to “stand down [and] let law enforcement do their work.”
The group saw that coming.
“Don’t be surprised if he makes a statement on us in the upcoming days to appease the masses,” said Joe Biggs, a prominent Proud Boys organizer, wrote online. “But he knows we are the good guys.”