Who are the Proud Boys?

Who are the Proud Boys?
Source: Marcio José Sánchez/AP

Their founder says they’re a men’s club. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) labels them an extremist hate group. For four years, the Proud Boys, founded by Gavin McInnes, have become central figures in the social and political upheavals of the United States.

These self-described “Western chauvinists” rely on an anti-PC ideology that venerates supposed Western superiority and traditional gender roles.

McInnes, who cofounded VICE Magazine in the 1990s, adamantly denies his group is associated with alt-right, white supremacist groups. Yet, members – former members, the Proud Boys insist – have frequently associated with racists at events like the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Who is Gavin McInnes?

Understanding the Proud Boys begins with getting to know McInnes, a media-savvy writer with a history of producing provocative and, frequently, inflammatory articles. Or, as The New York Times described him in a 2018 profile, “a former Brooklyn hipster turned far-right provocateur.”

In traditional political terms, the Times labels McInnes “a fiscal conservative and libertarian.” However, while he supports President Donald Trump, the English-born, Canadian-raised McInnes doesn’t align himself with Republicans. His background in punk-rock music and at VICE Magazine suggests an intrinsic desire to disrupt systems wherever he finds them.

Though McInnes has insisted he and the Proud Boys, which he founded in 2016, are not alt-right, he has published writing in far-right publications. That includes Taki’s Magazine, whose founder, Taki Theodoracopulos, has expressed sympathy for Nazi soldiers in World War II and written in support of Greece’s neo-Nazi political party, Golden Dawn.

In his own words

McInnes’ writing style frequently involves intentionally inflammatory statements about gender and race delivered in an arch tone that, in the Times’ assessment, is designed to leave him “just enough room to declare it all a joke.” Much of what he writes leaves little doubt that his views align with white supremacy.

In a post for Taki’s Magazine in 2017, McInnes listed “10 Things I Like About White Guys.” The post included traits that McInnes alleged were intrinsic to white men, alongside insults of women and other races.

This includes the sentiment, “Asians are smarter than us, but they can’t seem to invent shit,” as well as claims that Indians and aboriginal people should be grateful for colonization.

Furthermore, one of his 10 points is “We Love to Work,” but while the paragraph doesn’t specify white men in its evidence of this “work ethic” (which includes writing in the snow with urine), the article’s title implies that men of other races do not love to work.

Of women, he says they “seem content with just sitting on a beach and baking in the sun like some leftover chicken nuggets in the toaster oven.”

He also refers to women, homosexuals and people of color as ungrateful “ingrates” who are “getting a little spoiled.” With no indication of irony, McInnes further proclaims that white men “don’t whine.”

Proud Boys Magazine

McInnes and members of his “fraternal organization” publish their views through the official Proud Boys Magazine online.

In a post entitled “Proud Boys: Who Are They?” the writers, identified as “The Elders,” lay out the group’s values, which include: Maximum Freedom, Anti-Political Correctness, Anti-Racial Guilt, Anti-Racism and Venerating the Housewife.

They also espouse support for traditionally Libertarian (or conservative) stances: Minimal Government, Anti-Drug War, Closed Borders, Glorifying the Entrepreneur, Pro-Free Speech, Pro-Gun Rights.

Central to McInnes’ own definition of the group is the final value: “Reinstating a Spirit of Western Chauvinism.” Western chauvinists are people who “believe that the West is the Best.” The post argues that it is not a racial distinction and that people of all racial backgrounds are welcome. It is, however, restricted to men: women are not allowed at official Proud Boys meetings.

McInnes has said the group doesn’t care about sexual orientation. Also, while “a good 98% of us love Trump … that is not a requirement.” Higher level members are, however, required to “quit porn” and not masturbate.

Violent Proud Boys

The group also insists it is anti-violence, except in instances of self-defense. “We are not a violent group,” they say. “We don’t start fights but we will finish them.”

Violence does tend to follow the group, though. For instance, in February 2017, when McInnes was invited to speak at New York University by the College Republicans, protests of his appearance turned violent.

While the Proud Boys maintain such violence is initiated by anti-fascist protesters, reporting has often found that Proud Boys are antagonists at the scene. For instance, in 2018, two Proud Boy members were sentenced to four years in prison for attempted gang assault, attempted assault and riot. That violence occurred at a McInnes speaking event in October 2018.

Additionally, Jason Kessler, one of the organizers of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was also aligned with the Proud Boys. A tweet from the now-deleted “Alt Right Va” Twitter account showed Kessler and a group of men holding up the white power “O.K.” hand symbol. The caption reads, “#ProudBoys and #AltRight headed to downtown #Charlottesville.”

It was at the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally that a counterprotester, Heather Heyer, was killed when a 20-year-old man who espoused neo-Nazi views drove his car into a crowd.

Though Kessler was initiated into the Proud Boys (footage of the initiation has since been deleted), McInnes was quick to disavow any association with Kessler after he tweeted that Heyer was a “fat, disgusting Communist.” McInnes now says Proud Boys members are not permitted to attend such rallies, even in a journalistic capacity.

Are the Proud Boys a hate group?

Despite their insistence that they are a group devoted to celebrating Western superiority, not defaming other racial groups, the Proud Boys have been labeled a hate group by both the SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League.

As the SPLC notes, rank-and-file Proud Boys and leaders regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists.” Their bigotry includes repeated anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Similarly, the ADL has described the Proud Boys’ ideology as “Misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigration.” While exact membership numbers are unknown, the Proud Boys are said to have chapters all over the US and in foreign countries, including Australia.

McInnes and the Proud Boys have largely been pushed off traditional social media platforms.

In August 2018, Twitter suspended their accounts. Recently, Facebook has begun to remove accounts linked to the Proud Boys after they found members were planning to “actively commit violence” at Black Lives Matter protests.

For his part, McInnes has relocated to Parler, the upstart, Twitter-aping social media platform that has actively courted far-right and conservative voices.

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