US President Donald Trump has a troubled history with racial accountability. The Republican candidate for the November elections is no stranger to inappropriate statements — from calling Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas" in a jibe at her Native American heritage to publicly doubting the “eligibility" of many non-white political candidates, the most recent being Democratic vice presidential nominee and Senator Kamala Harris.
However, the President exceeded himself in the American eye when he referenced ‘Proud Boys’ — a group linked with white supremacy and violence — in his Presidential debate with Democratic candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem this is a left wing…," said Trump in the debate, when asked to condemn white supremacists and right-wing militia.
The ‘Proud Boys’ were fast to interpret Trump’s comment as an endorsement. Minutes after the remark, Enrique Tarrio, the group’s state chairman, began preparations to roll out T-shirts with ‘Proud Boys Standing By’ printed on them.
After mounting pressure on the statement, Trump told Fox News on Thursday that he condemned the Ku Klux Klan, and all white supremacists, including the Proud Boys. He also clarified he did not know much about the group. However, what is the history of this organisation, and what does Trump’s statement signal towards his actual endorsements? News18 explains.
Origination and Ideology
The ‘Proud Boys’ came to life in 2016 through British-born Canadian writer Gavin McInnes, who was also one of the co-founders of Vice Media. The far-right, neo-fascist and and ‘men-only’ organisation, with roots in the US and Canada, was classified as an “extremist group with ties to white nationalism" by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2018. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lists them as a hate group.
To join the group, one must recite - “I am a proud Western chauvinist, I refuse to apologise for creating the modern world". Then, one must get punched by fellow members, get a tattoo, vow not to masturbate and get into a fight towards “the cause".
The group’s activities, online and offline, indicate its anti-semitic, Islamophobic, misogynist, anti-transgender, anti-immigrant and ‘white supremacist’ ideology, experts have said. ‘Proud Boys’ members have also been booked for violence at political rallies, a value McInnes has repeatedly espoused at various platforms.
McInnes has also defended colonialism, saying, “We brought roads and infrastructure to India and they are still using them as toilets. Our criminals built nice roads in Australia but aboriginals keep using them as a bed. The next time someone b—— about colonisation, the correct response is ‘You’re welcome.’"
While group leaders disassociate themselves from racism, at a popular ‘alt-right’ and anti-semitic podcast ‘The Daily Shoah’, one of its hosts Brian Brathovd argued the group’s “western chauvinist” label was just a front. “Let’s not bullshit. If the Proud Boys were pressed on the issue, I guarantee you that like 90% of them would tell you something along the lines of ‘Hitler was right. Gas the Jews’,” he said.
Here are some of the disruptive incidents ‘Proud Boys’ has been associated with previously:
• Trump Rally in Berkeley, 2017: At a rally organised in Berkeley, one Kyle Chapman was filmed hitting a counter-protester’s head with a wooden rod. ‘Proud Boys’ organised a crowdfunding campaign to bail out Chapman after his arrest. Consequently Chapman founded the ‘Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights’ - which describes itself as the ‘tactical defence arm’ of the Proud Boys.
Chapman has often made Islamophobic statements, including one where he commends an alleged incident of violence in a Muslim neighbourhood by a Ukranian group. “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," Chapman had said at the Unite American First Peace Rally in 2017, the SPLC reports.
• Halifax Indigenous Peoples’ Protest, 2017: In July 2017, five off-duty military members who identified themselves as the Proud Boys disrupted a protest by Indigenous people near the Edward Cornwallis statue in Halifax. Cornwallis, a governor of Nova Scotia, has been credited for founding Halifax. However, debate ensues on his actions against Natives, as he is also known for issuing a bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaq people. “You are recognising your heritage and so are we," said one of the members to the protesters. The group has also been opposed to removing the statues of Confederate officials, after the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum in the US.
• Unite the Right Rally, 2017: The Unite the Right rally was a white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally held in Charlottesville in August 2017. While McInnes distanced himself from the rally, Proud Boys attended the same. Later, one of the men convicted in the assault of a man, named DeAndre Harris, at the rally, was found to be associated with the group as well as the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights.
• Portland Protests, 2020: One of the more recent examples of the group’s problematic activities is when US police arrested a supporter of the group who was indicted earlier for pointing a firearm and firing a paintball gun at anti-racism protesters in Portland, Oregon. Alan Swinney’s arrest came hours after Trump’s statement.
Proud Boys member Alan Swinney, who pointed a firearm and fired a paintball gun at anti-racism protesters in Portland, was arrested https://t.co/NXOmifpq69 pic.twitter.com/V5KoyI8TLz— Reuters (@Reuters) September 30, 2020
What Could Trump’s Statement Signal?
After the Black Lives Matter movement enveloped the United States following the death of African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in June this year, Trump blamed far-left umbrella group Antifa for the violence that occurred at some of the protests.
However, his statement for ‘Proud Boys’ is not just an echo of the Republican President’s ideology, Kathleen Belew, an expert on ‘white-power movement’ explained in the New York Times.
While Trump has publicly declined to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the November election, the President also regularly distrusts the process of mail-in ballots and has called for “poll watchers", which Belew said, are “clear invitations of intimidation".
According to her, Trump’s ‘endorsement’ seems to be a call to arms and preparedness to groups such as ‘Proud Boys’ which endorse violence as their means to an end. “It suggests that these groups, who are eager to do violence in any case, have the implicit approval of the state," she added.
The Roger Stone Connect
Roger Stone, a conservative political consultant who has also worked on the Trump campaign, sought out the ‘Proud Boys’ for security in early 2018, before his appearance at the annual Republican Dorchester Conference in Salem. In November 2019, after the Mueller report and Special Counsel investigation, Stone was convicted on seven felony crimes, which included lying to investigators and witness tampering and lying to investigators. His 40-month sentence to Federal Prison was commuted by the US President in July.
In January, following his arrest on the orders of Robert Mueller, the ‘Proud Boys’ came to support him at the federal courthouse in Florida. They held signs saying ‘Roger did nothing wrong’. He has also been seen with the group in videos, while even repeating their slogan. McInnes has even said that Stone was one of the three “approved media figures" allowed to speak about ‘Proud Boys’.