The Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist outfit founded by Canadian media magnate Gavin McInnes five years ago, exists on the margins of the white supremacy movement in the United States. Although its current leader, Enrique Tarrio, disavows racism, some of its members and former members are dyed-in-the-wool racists and antisemites who appear comfortable with violence.
However racist and violent the Proud Boys may be, the Canadian federal government has clearly staked out its position. Yesterday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair added the Proud Boys to Canada’s list of “terrorist entities,” along with 13 other groups, including The Base, the Atomwaffen Division and the Russian Imperial Movement.
Canada thereby became the first country to classify the Proud Boys as a terrorist organization.
Described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, the Proud Boys was deemed by the FBI in 2018 to be “an extremist group with ties to white nationalism.”
During last September’s U.S. presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the Proud Boys came up for discussion. When the moderator asked Trump whether he would denounce the Proud Boys, he dogged the question, claiming he had no knowledge of it, yet he advised its members to “stand back and stand by.”
This seemed like a tacit call to arms, and indeed the Proud Boys adopted his phrase as a rallying cry after Trump and Republican Party supporters falsely declared he had really won the presidential election.
Two days before the January 6 insurrection in Washington, which led to Trump’s second impeachment, Tarrio was arrested near the White House. A couple of days later, when hundreds of Trump backers stormed Capitol Hill in a bid to nullify the outcome of the election, several members of the Proud Boys were detained by police.
Shortly afterward, a non-binding resolution was passed unanimously in Canada’s parliament demanding that the federal government categorize the Proud Boys as a terrorist organization.
“It’s now on Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government to do the right thing and follow through on the unanimous will of parliament,” tweeted the leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh. “I hope he does, millions of Canadians do too.”
In justifying Canada’s decision, Blair said, “Recent events have made Canadians much more aware of the serious threat posed by violent extremist groups. These groups are unfortunately active in Canada and around the world. Their violent actions and rhetoric are fuelled by white supremacy, antisemitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and misogyny.”
“Over the past several months, we have seen an escalation towards violence for this group,” Blair added in a reference to the Proud Boys. “People have actually gone out and acquired weapons and engaged in activities which are now subject to criminal investigation and charges.”
Ottawa’s designation of the Proud Boys as a terrorist entity means it will be hard-pressed to raise funds here. Border guards can also deny its members entry into Canada.
Calling itself a “Western chauvinist” organization, the Proud Boys was established by McInnes, a far-right provocateur and the co-founder of Vice media. Known for favoring black-and-gold shirts, Proud Boys acolytes have engaged leftist protesters in street brawls.
McInnes, currently a resident of New York State, visited Israel in 2017 and produced a video that can be construed as antisemitic and/or anti-Israel.
His successor, Tarrio, is a Cuban of partial African descent. In an interview with the Washington Times, he said, “I denounce antisemitism. I denounce racism. I denounce fascism. I denounce … any other ism that is prejudiced toward people because of their race, religion, culture, tone of skin.”
On the basis of his remarks, it would seem that the Proud Boys rejects ethnocentrism. But consider this: Jason Kessler, a former member, was one of the organizers of the infamous 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which a throng of neo-Nazis and white supremacists chanted, “Jews will not replace us” in a notorious nocturnal march.
Kyle Chapman, another ex-member, broke away to form the Proud Goys. (In Yiddish, the word “goy” refers to a non-Jew).
After rebranding himself as an unreconstructed antisemite, Chapman wrote, “We will confront the Zionist criminals who wish to destroy our civilization. We recognize that the West was built by the white race alone, and we owe nothing to any other race.”
Judging by Chapman’s noxious comments and Kessler’s involvement in the Unite the Right rally, the Proud Boys attracts prejudiced and violent-prone Americans and Canadians. It’s an incubator for far-right nationalists.
At a moment when overt racism is on the upswing, the Proud Boys taps into the darkness of chauvinism. It should be watched very carefully.