They fraternize with neo-Nazis, but have black and Latino members. They just want to drink beer with their bros, but also engage in punishing violence against political opponents. They’re mockably lame, but undeniably dangerous: The FBI considers them an “extremist group.”
These are the Proud Boys.
Established during the 2016 presidential election by Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes (pictured above), the group — which McInnes sometimes refers to as a “gang” — bills itself as a fraternal organization devoted to “western chauvinist” values. The group grew out of informal meetings in New York City dive bars, where fellow travelers gathered over beers to complain about feminism and the “myth” of racism.
A defining characteristic of the Proud Boys is an enthusiastic embrace of the racist, sexist and homophobic views that drove Vice and McInnes to cut ties in 2008. In the name of opposing political correctness, they dismiss transgender people as diseased, women as housewives, and immigrants as criminals.
They say that this posture is all in good fun, but they also have a record of getting cozy with career racists. McInnes has written articles for VDare.com and American Renaissance, publications run by open white nationalists. The founding of the Proud Boys was announced in Sept. 2016 in Taki Magazine, a far-right publication formerly run by Richard Spencer.
Some telling comments from McInnes: “It is fair to call me Islamophobic.”
“I love being white and I think it’s something to be very proud of.”
“I cannot recommend violence enough. It’s a really effective way to solve problems.”
“Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler was a Proud Boy until he was excommunicated from the group after his event saw dozens of counter-protesters injured and Heather Heyer killed.
Proud Boys have engaged in violent street fights on the streets of Portland, and most recently earned headlines for brawling with anti-racist activists outside a Manhattan GOP club where McInnes made a speech.
— Christopher Mathias (@letsgomathias) August 4, 2018
That’s the context needed to understand the group. The Proud Boys’ goofy founding mythology helps conceal the legitimate danger they pose among the men’s rights activists, alt-righters, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, trolls, and other far-right malcontents.
But there is plenty to mock.
Their name, for example, comes from “Proud of Your Boy,” a song cut from the 1992 “Aladdin” Disney film.
The song, in which Aladdin apologizes for being a “louse and a loafer,” ended up becoming an important part of the stage production — a version of which McInnes saw at his daughter’s school recital.
To McInnes, the “fake, humble and self-serving” lyrics were a comment on the sad state of American masculinity.
Then there are the vows, required to “level up” to successive degrees of membership.
Level 1: Declare “I am a western chauvinist, and I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”
Level 2: Allow your fellow Proud Boys to beat you until you manage to yell out the names of five breakfast cereals. Also give up masturbation to avoid draining your sexual energy.
Level 3: Get a Proud Boys tattoo in a specific font.
Level 4 and beyond involves physical violence. Though McInnes claims this is purely in the context of self-defense, he’s also “joked” that the fourth degree involves “kicking the crap out of antifa” — a suggestion his supporters have eagerly acted out.
The Proud Boys roll up to rallies wearing matching outfits of Fred Perry black polo shirts with yellow trim, MAGA hats on their heads. They have slogans that essentially boil down to fight taunts: “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes” and, “You fuck around, you find out.”
In brief, McInnes and his crew want to engage in hateful rhetoric and violence, while retaining the ability to cast the whole thing as “ironic” when they face scrutiny.
Expect to see their name again.
(This post was originally published on Oct. 23, 2018, and updated on Nov. 19, 2018.)