The Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violent confrontations, is under increased national scrutiny as academics and activists have warned the group has white supremacist links.
The Proud Boys were catapulted to the fore in a debate on Tuesday night when President Donald Trump dodged a chance to condemn them.
This is worrying for Amy Cooter, a senior lecturer at Vanderbilt University who studies nationalism, race, and ethnicity. Cooter told USA TODAY on Wednesday that the Proud Boys used to tolerate racism in their ranks, associate with openly racist figures, and increasingly arm themselves as they mingled with it. other right-wing groups.
The Proud Boys publicly deny supporting white supremacy and view the group as a counterbalance force against the loosely organized anti-fascist movement known as the Antifa, Cooter said.
The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, and described themselves at the time as a politically incorrect men’s club for “Western chauvinists.”
Current Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who is Afro-Cuban, says the group has “long-standing regulations prohibiting racist, white supremacist or violent activity,” Ronald D. Coleman wrote in an email to USA TODAY. Coleman said he was the spokesperson for the Proud Boys.
“We don’t care about your color or your background… if you love America… we consider you a brother,” Tarrio said in a written statement provided by Coleman. The group condemns racism, fascism, communism and socialism, the statement said.
The group is known for its “anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal advocacy organization that has identified the Proud Boys as a hate group. The SPLC has been warning of the group’s violent tendencies for years.
The Proud Boys have become an increasingly visible part of the ongoing social unrest, as the group’s protests have often turned into fighting and violence. When the Proud Boys met counter-protesters in Kalamazoo, Mich., In August, tensions turned into fighting requiring law enforcement.
Last weekend in Portland, Oregon, hundreds of people – dozens of them wearing militarized bulletproof vests – gathered for a rally organized by the Proud Boys. Although law enforcement said the rally ended without serious violence, videos showed an assault after a suspect kicked a man who was broadcasting the rally live.
“The Proud Boys have a long-standing reputation not only for violence, but also for very clear ties to white supremacy,” Cooter said in an email to USA TODAY.
The group remains dominated by white males while being “more to the right than most constitutional militias” and “more prone to physical violence,” Cooter told USA TODAY. But they seemed determined to attempt to publicly separate themselves from neo-Nazi groups.
Their reputation for violence was a subject of debate on Tuesday night.
When presidential debate moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he was prepared to condemn white supremacists and militias and urge them not to escalate violence and social upheaval, Trump asked Wallace to name a group specific. Democratic rival Joe Biden interrupted to quote the Proud Boys.
“Proud Boys, take a step back and stay away,” Trump said.
Megan Squire, a computer science professor at the University of Elon in North Carolina who studies extremism online, told USA TODAY that the comment made the group’s organizers feel “validated.”
Tarrio said in his statement that the group did not view Trump’s mention as endorsement.
An ongoing lawsuit filed by McInnes claims that SPLC’s characterizations of him as a “figure of ‘hate'” are “libelous, false and misleading” as well as “deliberately misleading.”
McInnes left the Proud Boys after an October 2018 clash between members of the Proud Boys and Antifa that followed a speech by McInnes at a Metropolitan Republican Club in New York.
Contributors: John Bacon, Courtney Subramanian, Jordan Culver, Phillip M. Bailey and Rebecca Morin; Gabriel Rom and Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, Rockland / Westchester Journal News; The Associated Press