Skip to main content

Weekend Read: Violence and hate, that's the Proud Boys in a nutshell

Last Friday, members of the hate group Proud Boys and at least three ultranationalist skinheads attacked protesters outside the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City.

By the following Monday, NYPD announced it had enough evidence to charge nine of them.

Even a few seconds of footage of the attack makes it clear why. In one video, an assailant in a group of at least 15 people kicks a person curled in the fetal position, yelling “Faggot!”

In another, a man exults, “Dude, I had one of their fucking heads, and I was just fucking smashing it in the pavement! … That son of a bitch! He was a fucking foreigner!” 

These are not the words of a “movement [of] normal people trying to live their lives.” But that’s exactly how Proud Boys’ leader Gavin McInnes has described the hate group he founded in 2016.

McInnes has denied that his group has any connection to the racist “alt-right,” even as its members marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, alongside Richard Spencer, the most prominent alt-right leader.

He’s denied that the group is any different from other fraternal orders, like the Shriners or the Elks. But the Proud Boys calls its members “Western chauvinists,” and they initiate prospective members by beating them up while requiring them to name five breakfast cereals.

McInnes has also denied that the hate group seeks out violence, even as his thugs march alongside neo-Nazis and white supremacist hate groups. “We don’t start fights, but we will finish them,” he wrote last year.

“We will kill you. That’s the Proud Boys in a nutshell. We will kill you,” he said on his Compound Media show in mid-2016. 

Groups like the Proud Boys represent a new face of the radical right. They relish street-fighting, simultaneously disavow the term “white nationalism” and embrace its central tenets, and they insist on calling their agenda simply one of “anti-political correctness” — a wild understatement that signals how far we seem to have wandered, in this political moment, from the facts.

Indeed, perhaps the most distressing thing about this hate group is that it was formed during the 2016 election. Members of the Proud Boys are no less energized today by Trump’s white nationalist politics and pugilistic style; even in videos from last weekend’s attack in New York City, more than one assailant can be seen sporting a red MAGA hat.

And, of course, the attack itself took place just after McInnes finished giving a speech at none other than the Metropolitan Republican Club.

Why was he allowed to speak there? The club’s president, Deborah Coughlin, told Alan Feuer for The New York Times that she had given McInnes permission because the club considered his views to be on the spectrum of conservative “civil discourse.”

The club is not the first to provide a platform for McInnes’ extremism. He has a friendly outlet in Fox News, too, where he has appeared as a political commentator, as the founder of an anti-racist organization called the One People Project, Daryle Lamont Jenkins, told Feuer.

“They’ve utilized subterfuge and lies to keep that hate group tag from being applied to them,” Jenkins said. “Every time their members are seen doing things they’re not supposed to be doing, like showing up at Unite the Right, they claim that person left the Proud Boys.”

Our Intelligence Project has been tracking the activities of the Proud Boys and other elements of the radical right. We know they’re a hate group, and we’re monitoring their recruitment efforts on platforms as mainstream as Facebook.

“The war against whites, and Europeans and Western society is very real,” Proud Boys member Kyle Chapman told participants in an extremist rally in 2017. “It’s time we all started talking about it and stopped worrying about political correctness and optics.”

When it comes to the Proud Boys, it’s violence — not “optics” — that we’re worried about.

The Editors.

P.S. Here are some other pieces we think are valuable this week:

SPLC's Weekend Reads are a weekly summary of the most important reporting and commentary from around the country on civil rights, economic and racial inequity, and hate and extremism. Sign up to receive Weekend Reads every Saturday morning.

Photo credit REUTERS/Andrew Kelly