Formed as the “tactical defense arm” of the Proud Boys, the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights (FOAK) has become an accelerant for violence at right-wing rallies.
The group’s founder, repeat-felon Kyle Chapman, organized FOAK after a melee with counter-protestors in Berkeley, California, to “protect and defend our right-wing brethren” through “street activism, preparation, defense and confrontation.” The Proud Boys argue that FOAK is the next “logical step” in the growth of their “pro-Western” movement. “The need for defense has grown since recent premeditated attacks by the radical Marxist group ‘Anti-Fa’ have become the norm at any cultural event politically to the right of Jane Fonda,” Pawl Bazile wrote in Proud Boys Magazine in April 2017. But the Alt-Knights — who attend rallies suited up in homemade armor and equipped with batons, hammers, daggers, tasers and pepper spray — seem to be less interested in defense than confrontation. “Did anybody get to bash a commie yet?” Chapman asked a group of his followers at a Portland pro-Trump rally held just over a week after the murder of two men allegedly committed by a self-described white supremacist. “Well, let me know when the time is right because I’m not going to miss out on the fun.”
For the Alt-Knights, violence is the only way to eradicate what Chapman calls the “unholy alliance” of “globalism, radical Islam, and communism” that seeks to enslave white, Christian Americans and, in the process, destroy Western civilization. Such mythical ideas pervade FOAK’s concept of itself, and the group’s leaders — especially Augustus Invictus, who was Chapman’s second-in-command before resigning in September 2017 — see themselves as the historically destined saviors of western (i.e. white) culture. Invictus speaks frequently of a coming Great War and the need for “total insurrection.” As Chapman has stated more crassly: “The only way we are gonna maintain our freedom in this country is to bleed and die for this shit.”
In its own words
“I was talking to a Ukrainian guy the other day. And about a year ago a bunch of Muslims beat a Ukrainian man to death. The Ukrainian people got together, they all picked up AR-15s, and about 70 of them went into the Muslim neighborhood and shot it the hell up. Now I’m not saying that’s what we need to do, but I’m telling you that spirit and the heart of these people is something to be commended. And the willingness to fight and die in defense of their civilization is a beautiful thing and we need to embrace that sort of spirit here in America.”
—Kyle Chapman, Unite American First Peace Rally, July 8, 2017
“How many of our children have to die before we rid our lands of Islamic invaders? Our civilization destroyed. WAKE UP YOU COWARDS! FIGHT!”
—Kyle Chapman, posted on Twitter, May 23, 2017
“Our brethren in Europe, they're struggling right now. Their societies are under vicious attack from Islam, Globalization and Neo-Marxism. Our European Brethren are in a struggle for their very existence. Let's send them our prayers and support their causes wherever we can.”
—Kyle Chapman, Reddit AMA, April 4, 2017
Kyle Chapman was transformed from an obscure Bay Area commercial diver to celebrated right-wing meme in March 2017 when — sporting a gas mask, ski goggles, bike helmet and homemade shield with a design inspired by a Ron Paul campaign logo — he beat a counter-protestor over the head with a wooden rod during the #March4Trump in Berkeley, California. Footage of the attack spread online, transforming Chapman into “Based Stick Man” — “based” referring to an indifference toward other’s opinions, and “stick,” of course, being his weapon of choice. The right quickly embraced Chapman, and images of Based Stick Man in his Berkeley armor were photo-shopped into scenes of Captain America, on the Gadsden flag, and into a painting of a charging Confederate army. In the internet’s perpetual meme war, Chapman’s actions placed the racist so-called “alt-right” back on the offensive after suffering a blow when a video of Richard Spencer being sucker punched went viral.
The sudden fame provided Chapman with a platform to build both a brand and a ragtag vigilante movement. He began selling Based Stick Man apparel with Gruntworks (including a $35.99 sweatshirt printed with the slogan “F CK ANTIFA,” in which the “U” is replaced with a blood splatter) and building his online presence — even though, before Berkeley, he was only a casual Facebook user who wasn’t sure how to pronounce the word “meme.” He instructed his followers to make shields like his own using a wooden table top from Home Depot, and, in a Reddit AMA, told them to look for hickory or ironwood to fashion a stick that would ensure “max damage.”
His participation in the Berkeley protest also put Chapman into contact with Gavin McInnes, a co-founder of VICE who left the company in 2008 due to “creative differences” (and was subsequently nearly completely expunged from its online archive). In the midst of the 2016 presidential election, McInnes created the Proud Boys, a “pro-Western fraternal organization” made up of men who “refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” He reached out to Chapman after a Proud Boy had started a WeSearchr fund — which raised more than $87,000 after a promotional bump from Mike Cernovich –— to pay his bail and legal fees, and began featuring him as a guest on “The Gavin McInnes Show.”
After Chapman and the Proud Boys attended the violent “Second Battle of Berkeley” in mid-April, Chapman announced that his newly created organization, the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, would be partnering with the pro-Western fraternity with McInnes’s “full approval.” “The weak or intimidated need not apply,” he wrote in a Facebook post announcing the new paramilitary organization’s launch.
To Proud Boys leadership, the partnership only made sense and was, in fact, necessary for the progress of their movement: with violent “neo-Marxists” stopping at nothing to destroy Western civilization, a contingent of men should be in place to defend against the ever-present threat. As Chapman explained to McInnes after the Berkeley rally, “I knew…it was going to be full of domestic terrorists that were intent upon attacking us and the chance of violence on their part was 100%.” Because “many people were going to be unaware of this…I knew I was going to have to protect those people.” Indeed, Chapman sees himself as a selfless warrior, constantly emphasizing that he has, through no choice of his own, been thrust into a position of leadership.
While Chapman insists FOAK only engages in violence as an act of self-defense, their attendance at left-leaning events is clearly meant to create a confrontation, and Chapman has been caught goading them on. In a tweet he posted before a June “Free Speech” rally in Portland where 14 people were arrested and dozens of weapons confiscated by police, Chapman told his followers to declare “open season on antifa” and “smash on sight.” He’s also endorsed lynching politicians who allowed a “dirty illegal” to enter the country. In speeches, he dips into moments of grander oratory, like when he told an audience at the Sacramento Unite America First Peace Rally on July 8 that he was there to impress upon them “the necessity of sacrifice.” You’re going to “have to come to the realization that you may have to bleed to keep this going … and you very may well have to die,” he told the crowd, “I’m willing to die. Are you guys willing to die?”
In addition to his pending felony charge related to the March 4 rally, Chapman has three felony convictions that date back to 1993 and include armed robbery, grand theft, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. According to an investigation by “The Smoking Gun,” he has an extensive history of drug abuse — he apparently particularly enjoyed huffing Scotchgard fabric spray — and his own lawyer once described him as having “severe psychological problems.” The evidence of his erratic and violent behavior is all over YouTube. Even a cursory search of Chapman’s name reveals endless examples of him attacking even those who are supposedly on his side, like when he punched an Oath Keeper in the face after he suggested that Chapman might be a white nationalist.
Though Chapman is quick to deny claims that he’s part of the "alt-right," his views are ideologically consistent with others in the movement, and he regularly borrows from the white nationalist playbook when identifying those he counts as enemies. Namely, it’s the “cultural Marxists” — a (fictitious) shadowy cadre of leftists hell-bent on toppling white, heteronormative, Christian society — who’ve pushed multiculturalism and convinced white people to feel “ashamed of their culture, their heritage,” blinding them to the threat of radical Islam.
“Western countries must place a moratorium on immigration from all countries NOW,” he tweeted in October 2017, “Stop the unholy alliance of Marxism and Islam.” It’s no surprise that he idolizes Tommy Robinson, an anti-Muslim activist and former leader of the English Defense League who in 2010 sent hordes of men into Muslim neighborhoods around London and Bradford to harass their residents and instigate violent clashes. Chapman has expressed hope that Robinson “will be leading an army in a short time.”
Like McInnes and the Proud Boys, Chapman hawks an “anti-white guilt” agenda, arguing that white people “are the least racist and most generous ethnicity on the planet” and “the worst sufferers of racism in the world.” He frequently cites an ongoing and intensifying war against whites, using the hashtags #WhiteGenocide and #TheWarAgainstWhitesIsReal. In August 2017 he outlined a supposed biological assault against Western men when he spoke at the “Make Men Great Again” event, warning they risk further decline due to low sperm mobility and birthrates, and implored men to stay away from BPA in plastics and to work out more in order to increase their testosterone levels.
Chapman has a wide reach — with his platform on McInnes’s show, upwards of 42,000 Facebook followers, and more than 33,000 followers on Twitter — and an assemblage of FOAK chapters and vetting groups have cropped up online expressing ideological agreement with Chapman, echoing his calls for violence, warnings about the threat of Islam, and eschewal of white guilt. Their accounts are filled with images of Pepe, Kekistani flags and “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE” Facebook profile filters. Several have meme-ified images of the car that killed Heather Heyer as she protested white supremacy in Charlottesville during the "Unite the Right" rally, including one that shows George Washington entering the car before it drove through counter-protestors and another that includes the caption “Communism is bad for your health.”
On the California-based Alt-Knight Facebook community, the page’s administrator advertises his homemade armor, ranging from $250 for a “functional” set to $1,500 for one that’s reminiscent of those worn during the Middle Ages. “This armor will protect against things such as pepper spray, tasers, knives (or anything else meant for stabbing), and blunt trauma,” they promise. If FOAK’s intentions were unclear, another associated Facebook group posted a photo-shopped image of a billboard featuring Based Stick Man and the message “Join Your Local Right Wing Death Squad.”
Some FOAK members cast their participation in the group as part of a greater historical and even divine mission to protect the white race. For instance, Travis Pinkerton — who holds a leadership position in the Alt-Knights and acts as an administrator for nearly all of the organization’s Facebook pages where they vet new members — is also a member of the Wotan Network. A creation of Stephen McNallen, a longtime peddler of a racist brand of paganism, the organization’s mission is to “awaken the European peoples from their sleep, and to empower them so that they have — now and forever — complete control over their destiny.” They worship the Norse god Odin, apparently, as Pinkerton does, by posting images of blonde children alongside the slogan “The existence of our people is not negotiable” — one that sounds remarkably similar to the white-supremacist 14-word slogan coined by David Lane.
Medieval references — like the armor crafted by one member — suffuse the language and imagery of FOAK. Indeed, they make numerous references to Christian warriors who fought against the Islamic Empire during the Crusades and, in addition to Based Stick Man’s headgear and facemask, the Medieval battle cry “Deus Vult” graces the crest of the Alt-Knights. It’s an attempt to turn themselves into the latest iteration of white, Christian warriors in an ongoing mythical battle against Islam.
The same preoccupation with destiny pervades the rhetoric of FOAK’s former second-in-command, the 2016 Florida Libertarian Senate candidate Augustus Invictus, who was known as Austin Mitchell Gillespie before changing his name to the Latin for “majestic unconquered sun.” Identifying as pagan, Invictus once slaughtered a goat after a spiritual quest through the desert and drank its blood as part of a ritual sacrifice. Invictus doesn’t identify as a mere worshipper, however, but as a god who is here on earth to restore the “Ancient Ways.” His demeanor is likewise ostentatious, delivering his speeches in a bizarre JFK-inspired accent often while donning a three-piece suit. When he attended the Charlottesville rally, his usual clean-cut uniform made him stand out among the other ersatz armor-clad attendees.
Despite his transcendent pronouncements, Invictus is motivated by earthly prejudices: racism, sexism and antisemitism. Trained as an attorney, in 2012 he represented the white supremacist militia American Front against charges related to their preparation for a race war and, in a law school essay that shares its name with one of Hitler’s speeches and cites a number of racist academics, he defended eugenics. He’s also a Holocaust denier:
“Do I believe that 6 million Jews were killed by evil Hitler? Is that what you’re asking me?” he asked during an interview with Hatewatch. “Okay, then I am still waiting to see those facts.”
He is a prolific writer, and his fiction features frequent denigrations of women, including the graphic rape of a 14-year-old girl. Invictus himself has been accused of engaging in violence against women, although he has not been convicted. In February 2016, a woman called 911 to report Invictus had threatened her with a gun and, in March 2017, a former girlfriend filed a report against Invictus accusing him with domestic abuse, including sexual battery. According to the police report, in one incident “Mr. Invictus got angry, beat her until her eyes were shut, dragged her into the closet and put a gun to her head, asking her why he shouldn’t just kill her.” After breaking up with another woman, he concluded a rant about her on Facebook, “F--- you, ----. Kill yourself, worthless piece of shit.”
Invictus’s violent ideation is extensive, seeing as he deems bloodshed necessary to conquer the nebulous forces seeking to destroy Western civilization. On “The Gavin McInnes Show,” for instance, he called for journalists and lawyers to be hung from lampposts, and his writing is replete with calls for Westerners to take up arms against politicians who have forced Arab and African immigrants upon them. “You must execute the traitors,” he wrote in a longwinded letter addressed to the people of Europe.
Invictus’s penchant for violence puts him in good company with FOAK’s leader in Indiana, Brien James, who in 2003 helped found the racist skinhead gang Vinlanders Social Club. Before that, James belonged to the Outlaw Hammerskins and Hoosier State Skinheads – all organizations with extensive reputations for engaging in extreme violence. He now claims, however, that he’s left his racist past behind, and that both FOAK and his own organization, American Guard – based on the 19th-century nativist group the Bowery Boys and inspired by its violent leader, William “Bill the Butcher” Poole — are “civic nationalist” groups. Nevermind that James and his fellow Indiana American Guard members marched alongside neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.
Invictus, too, was a member of American Guard, acting as Sergeant at Arms for the Florida chapter of James’s organization. But in late September 2017, Invictus found himself ousted from the organization. His attendance at "Unite the Right," it seems, had drawn bad publicity for American Guard. “He will no longer be allowed to discredit our organization, or its membership,” an official statement read. “We reject his claim that disagreement with Nazis, Socialists, and other totalitarians makes one a coward, ‘c---’, or traitor.”
Only a month later, Invictus also withdrew his FOAK membership — not due to any clear ideological disagreements between him and Chapman, but because of petty infighting. After California FOAK member Johnny Benitez was forced to step down (after evidently challenging Chapman’s authority by getting “way too into” the fraternity), cracks started to appear in the organization’s fragile foundation. Chapman gave a “Green light” on Benitez if he showed up at any more rallies and, when someone on a Facebook thread suggested he should “Just put a f------ bullet in him and move on,” Chapman concurred by liking the comment. Though Invictus had to admit that “Every time Chapman has attacked a communist, he’s done a great service to America,” the drama was too much for him. Since his departure, he’s embarked on new extremist ventures, including joining Kyle Bristow’s Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas and growing his online store and video channel called The Revolutionary Conservative.
Chapman has a lot to worry about in the coming days — aside from internecine squabbles, he was recently charged with violating the conditions of his parole after being caught with a small, knife-like weapon called a Kubotan and, once again, his supporters helped him make bail. But even if Chapman does wind up back in prison, there’s reason to believe the organization he built will continue to function without him, and men will keep showing up to rallies in hopes of beating a protestor on the other side. As one FOAK member recently said of Chapman, “He may be an icon, but he’s not the movement.”