Extremist Group “Proud Boys” Racked with Infighting After the Election


A group of Proud Boys wearing tactical gear and their signature black and yellow Fred Perry polo shirts (Photo from The Guardian).

Jake Risch

As election season winds down, one group, reliant on the momentum created by President Donald Trump, has found themselves fracturing. The Proud Boys gained national attention after Trump namechecked them in the first presidential debate (an incident which very much emboldened the group) and are now in a power struggle that could determine the future of the group. 

The Proud Boys are a neo-facist gang (although they claim the moniker “western chauvinist fraternal group”) that was formed in the midst of the 2016 presidential election by VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes. Although they adamantly state that they are simply a fraternal group spreading an “anti-political correctness” and “anti-white guilt” agenda, their actions and their embrace of white nationalist ideals belie their public statements. Both leaders and rank-and-file members of the Proud Boys regularly spout white supremacist memes and maintain relationships with more extreme neo-nazi groups and anti-goverment millitia organizations. The Southern Poverty Law Center says this rhetorical inconsistency is part of McInnes’ “duplicitous rhetorical game: rejecting white nationalism and, in particular, the term ‘alt-right’’ while espousing some of its central tenets.”

Often appearing at both Trump rallies and alt-right events, the Proud Boys attempt to obscure the taxonomy of the extreme right wing in America. At the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, organized by Proud Boy member Jason Kessler, McInnes warned members not to wear their signature Fred Perry polos so as not to draw any links between the group and other, more extremist groups at the march like the Klu Klux Klan or the various neo-nazi groups prescent.

After the violence in Charlottesville, McInnes attempted to maintain the group’s fratty, innocuous reputation. He claimed that the member who organized the event — the same member who, before the rally, was interviewed on McInnes’ podcast to promote the event — was not really a Proud Boy and expelled him from the group. However, despite McInnes’ comments, violence is an integral tenet of his and the Proud Boys’ dogma.

“I cannot recommend violence enough. It’s a really effective way to solve problems,” declared McInnes after a speaking engagement at New York University turned violent. There is also footage of McInnes punching a counter protestors at the 2017 Deploraball, an unofficial inauguration ball event.

After footage surfaced of Kyle Chapman beating a counter protester over the head with a stick in 2017, Chapman, with McInnes’ “full approval,” created the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights (FOAK). FOAK, in Chapman’s words, is the “tactical defense arm” of the Proud Boys, made to eradicate an alliance between “globalism, radical Islam, and Communism.” Sporting homemade armor and equipped with batons, hammers, tasers, and all other manner of weaponry, members of the group regularly appear at rallies with the Proud Boys and often attempt to provoke counter protestors and incite violence. The group’s true goals are perhaps exhibited best by a post on an alt-right Facebook group, showing a photoshopped billboard with Chapman next to the message, “Join Your Local Right Wing Death Squad.”

During the first presidential debate, when asked if President Trump would denounce the Proud Boys and other white supremacist groups, he said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by!” Members of the group immediately took to social media, praising the President for his comments.

“I’m am extremely PROUD of my Presidents performance tonight [sic],” tweeted Enrique Tarrio, the chairman of the Florida chapter of the Proud Boys. Tarrio said, “Him telling the ProudBoys to stand back and standby is what we have ALWAYS done.”

Along with McInnes and Chapman, Tarrio has been one of the most visible members of the group and, since McInnes’ departure from the group following a brawl in New York City in late 2018, Tarrio has assumed leadership of the group. This move caused some trepidation in the more openly racist parts of the group, though the Proud Boys managed to maintain their tenuous balance, at least for some time.

Shortly after the presidential election, on Nov 9, Kyle Chapman declared on the encrypted messaging app, Telegram, that he would assume leadership of the group. Chapman used racial slurs against Tarrio, an Afro-Cuban himself, and announced that the group’s “grifting leaders” had been deposed. The group would assume the new name “Proud Goys,” a reference to the Yiddish word for non-Jews, which is sometimes used by white supremacists to signal their anti-semetic beliefs, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Chapman announced that the group would no longer allow “homosexuals or other ‘undesirables’ into our ranks,” and that they would “confront the Zionist criminals who wish to destroy our civilization.”

It remains unclear which of these factions will prevail in this struggle for leadership but it adds another layer of uncertainty to the role of the Proud Boys and other related groups after Trump leaves office. Whether the Proud Boys will fade away, grow larger and less radical, or move farther to the right and become more violent is yet to be seen, the Proud Boys and the new wave of alt-right movements around the United States will be cause for concern for the foreseeable future.