How the Proud Boys became America’s most prominent hate group

Group of self-described ‘Western chauvinists’ gained attention during Trump administration

Supporters of President Donald Trump who are wearing attire associated with the Proud Boys watch during a rally at Freedom Plaza, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)
Supporters of President Donald Trump who are wearing attire associated with the Proud Boys watch during a rally at Freedom Plaza, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The Proud Boys have only been around for a few years, but in that time they have grown to become one of America’s most well-known hate groups.

The organization of far-right militants has taken part in protests and violence across the country and was even name-checked during the presidential debates during the 2020 elections. When former President Donald Trump was asked to denounce and condemn the group’s violence at protests in the Pacific Northwest, Trump responded with “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”

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The group publicly disavows bigotry; however, the Proud Boys have appeared alongside other hate groups. Notably, a former member of the Proud Boys, Jason Kessler, was among the organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the Proud Boys as a hate group.

“But we don’t identify them per se as a white nationalist group but we have always noted their affiliation with white nationalism,” said Lecia Brooks, chief of staff for the SPLC.

The Anti-Defamation League calls the group’s idealogy “misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigration,” adding that some members “espouse white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies and/or engage with white supremacist groups.”

“In very real ways they (have) become the face of the alt-right,” Brooks said.

The Proud Boys began during the presidential election in 2016, according to SPLC, and were founded by Gavin McInnes.

McInnes, originally from Canada, first gained notoriety as the co-founder of Vice Media, which began as a magazine exploring hipster culture and taboo subjects. McInnes left Vice in 2008, according to the SPLC. The company has since distanced itself from McInnes.

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“Gavin McInnes has no affiliation with VICE,” wrote Vice Media CEO Nancy Dubuc in an email to employees, which was picked up by CNN. The email was sent out following the debate where Trump addressed the Proud Boys.

McInnes began working with Compound Media, a subscription-based podcast and video network, in 2015 where he started a program called “the Gavin McInnes Show.” According to SPLC, McInnes began meeting with like-minded members of Compound Media and from these meetings, the Proud Boys formed, becoming a formal organization in September 2016.

The group’s name comes from a song written for Disney’s “Aladdin,” called “Proud of Your Boy,” according to the ADL.

Members are often seen wearing a black and yellow Fred Perry polo. The group uses the colors and the company’s laurel wreath logo in its iconography. The association pushed the company to stop selling the shirts in North America in an attempt to distance itself from the hate group.

Proud Boys rally in Portland, Ore.
Proud Boys rally in Portland, Ore.

“That association is something we must do our best to end,” the company said in a statement online. “We therefore made the decision to stop selling the Black/Yellow/Yellow twin tipped shirt in the US from September 2019, and we will not sell it there or in Canada again until we’re satisfied that its association with the Proud Boys has ended.”

Since its formation, the Proud Boys have become a regular presence at protests and rallies across the country, often taking part in violent clashes with counter-protesters. The group has claimed to be non-violent or acting in self-defense, but McIness also said on his show, “We will kill you. That’s the Proud Boys in a nutshell. We will kill you,” according to the ADL.

Proud Boys clash with counter protesters
Proud Boys clash with counter protesters

McInnes announced in 2018 that he would no longer be formally involved in the Proud Boys, but in 2019, he sued the SPLC for designating the organization as a hate group.

McInnes was replaced as the chairman of the Proud Boys that same year by Henry “Enrique” Tarrio. Tarrio is a Miami-born, first-generation Cuban-American, according to the Miami New Times. The New York Times reports that Tarrio owns a T-shirt business in Miami. He also launched a campaign for Congress, running for Florida’s 27th congressional district in January 2020, according to the Miami Herald, before dropping out before the primary.

Tarrio was arrested in January. He was accused of burning a Black Lives Matter banner taken from a Black church during a “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C.

At the time of his arrest, Tarrio was also found with two high-capacity gun magazines, according to DC Metropolitan police. Those magazines are illegal in the city. Tarrio now faces charges for destruction of property and possession of high-capacity feeding device.

Several people with ties to the Proud Boys have been arrested following the siege on the Capitol. This includes Joseph Biggs, 37, a self-described leader in the organization who lives in Ormond Beach. Federal investigators said he actively recruited people to take part in the violent takeover of the Capitol.

He is charged with obstruction of an official proceeding, entering a restricted building or grounds, and violent and disorderly conduct.


About the Author:

Thomas Mates produces News 6 at 5:30 and the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.