US Election 2020

Who are the Proud Boys, who Trump backed but now condemns?

The self-described "Pro-Western-chauvinist" group, founded by Gavin McInnes in 2016, is considered by many to be an alt-right extremist group responsible for instigating violence.

Who are the Proud Boys, who Trump backed but now condemns?
MARANIE R. STAAB AFP

Quite alot has changed in a week. Since last Tuesday's Presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the President's been diagnosed with, hospitalised and now claims to be recovering from Covid-19, but he's also done a U-turn on comments about white supremacists, and a hateful hashtag has been repurposed with love.

Trump caused horror and outrage following the debate, moderated by Chris Wallace, when the topic of law and order came up. Asked if Trump would disavow white supremacists and militias, Trump said the now infamous line "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by." He refused to denounce far right extremists and specifically the Proud Boys, giving the group both a boost in popularity as well as their new motto. Trump further deflected the question, saying far right voilence was mostly a "left wing problem". The fascit group took it as an endorsement.

The negative backlash clearly proved to be too much for Trump's campaign, his remarks triggering discomfort even from fellow Republicans. Just two days later on Thursday, in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, the President backtracked very clearly "I've said it many times, let me be clear again, I condemn the KKK. I condemn all white supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys." adding "I don't know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that."

In the meantime, since Trump's comments caused a boom in the use of the hashtag that the far-right group the Proud Boys had been using, a movement on Twitter to reclaim the handle and repopulate the feed with photos of gay men alongside messages of love and pride and has proven very popular.

Who are the Proud Boys?

The group is considered by the Southern Poverty Law Center a "hate group", for which they are being sued for defamation by McInnes. The Proud Boys claims to be a fraternal organization that gets together to drink beer, fight and read Pat Buchanan's "Death of the West." They state that they are a libertarian organization that is pro-business, "venerating the housewife" and are against racism.

However, the founder Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice Magazine, has through numerous statements and publications vocalized views that would indicate to the contrary. He has repeatedly made denigrating remarks about Muslims and has called himself Islamophobic. As for women, he doesn't seem to hold them in very high esteem either, has made demeaning comments of them.

The male-only organization's actions also take away the veneer of a libertarian, free speech supporting group. They have been involved in altercations with Black Lives Matter protesters, along with other groups protesting. They say they are protecting American from a left-wing threat. They often take advantage of clashes between protesters and police to instigate violence themselves, notably in Portland and Kenosha.

Birds of a feather fly together

They have been associated with alt-right and white supremacists groups, with whom they have participated in rallies, often resulting in violence. A former member, who was only expelled after outrage at the event, Jason Kessler organized the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally in August 2017. Joe Biden said that President Trump's failure to condemn the racist rhetoric of the rally-goers at the event was the reason he felt he had to run for President. In late-August, they participated in a "Back the Blue" caravan rally in Portland with several extreme right groups. Both rallies ended in violent confrontations and bloodshed.

Not welcome

The clothing brand Fred Perry have stopped selling its black and yellow polos, one of the group's symbols, saying in a statement "It is incredibly frustrating that this group has appropriated our shirt and subverted our Laurel Wreath to their own ends. The Laurel Wreath has represented inclusivity, diversity and independence." Their conduct and rhetoric has also caused them to be banned from several social media platforms and online pay platforms.