When moderator Chris Wallace asked President Donald Trump to condemn white supremacists and named Proud Boys as one such group, the name may have been off-putting to some, not just because co-signed racial hatred but because they'd never heard of the group.
Rather than denouncing them as he was challenged to do, the president instead seemed to give the white supremacist group a shout-out, telling them to “stand back and stand by.”
Members of the organization, which has been formally classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, have since taken to social media to celebrate the comment as seal of approval from the president himself.
But who are the Proud Boys? Here's what you should know.
1. Their founder made his career off of being 'edgy'
The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 by Canadian Gavin McInnes, the cofounder of Vice Magazine. The magazine, and MicInnes in particular, initially specialized in irreverent, politically incorrect, hipster humor. If you’ve ever had a white friend or co-worker who says racist, sexist and otherwise offensive things but claims that he’s just joking or saying these things ironically, that’s McInnes.
As reported by the now-defunct website Gawker, McInnes parted ways with Vice over “creative differences” in early 2008. Around this time, the 50-year-old started to engage with white supremacist publications and websites, showing that he wasn’t joking about his offensive views.
2. The group started off with drinking and fighting
McInnes announced the creation of the Proud Boys in a 2016 article in Taki's Magazine.
Here's how he described his new group during its early days:
“Meetings usually consist of drinking, fighting, and reading aloud from [ultraconservative author and politician] Pat Buchanan’s Death of the West. There were about fifty men at this gathering and no women because women are not allowed. The basic tenet of the group is that they are Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world. Like Archie Bunker, they long for the days when girls were girls and men were men."
In other words, gather up all the disaffected, angry, racist young white guys you’ve accidentally come across because you wandered into the wrong bar or entered the wrong online forum, give them a name and voila, you’ve got the Proud Boys.
3. They are proudly hateful but (falsely) claim to not be racist
McInnes readily admits to being sexist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant and otherwise biased. As reported by The Wrap, he's called Senator Corey Booker a "Sambo," among many racist remarks. Nevertheless, the Proud Boys have attempted to distance themselves from racism (in part because they deny racism exists) and white nationalism.
They claim to practice Western chauvinism rather than white supremacy, and claim that men of any race are welcome to join (women are not allowed, but they can join the derivative Proud Boys' Girls group ). By splitting hairs and playing with semantics, the group has claimed that it is not racist.
4. They surround themselves with jokes and memes to deflect from their hatred and racism
The Proud Boys name comes from an ironic reference to the song “Proud of Your Boy” from the stage version of the Disney musical Aladdin. The group adopted black and yellow Fred Perry polo shirts as an unofficial uniform, leading to the label discontinuing the item, as stated in a Fred Perry press release.
The group has also ironically adopted the Swahili word uhuru, meaning freedom or independence, drawn from a video about reparations — as a rallying cry. Such use of memes and inside jokes are part of the group’s strategy to make their true bigoted and violent intentions less obvious.
5. One of their members organized the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville
One of the biggest demonstrations of the Proud Boys agenda came when one of their members, Jason Kessler, organized the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virgnia to protect a Confederate statue. As Blavity previously reported, the rally became infamous for its crowds of tiki torch wielding white supremacists and for its violence, most notably when one of the attendees rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing anti-racist activist Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more. It was only after the bad publicity of the attack (and Kessler crudely insulting Heyes) that the Proud Boys tried to distance themselves from the rally and the “alt-right” movement.
6. They have strange initiation rituals
The Proud Boys apparently operate based on a series of membership levels. According to a post by Will Sommer, each level is obtained by carrying out specific and often bizarre actions, such as getting a Proud Boys tattoo, being beaten by other members while yelling out the name of breakfast cereals, again mixing jokes with violence, and abstaining from masturbation (it’s unclear how this last one is enforced).
7. They're violent
Vox reports that the group added a fourth level of initiation, obtainable by getting into fights with members of opposing groups. The Proud Boys readily use violence. They’ve targeted Black Lives Matter protestors, often showing up at BLM rallies looking to attack. They’ve also gotten into various street fights with members of antifa, the anti-fascist movement which confronts right wing groups. The New York Times reports that two Proud Boys members were sentenced to prison in 2018 for one such brawl in New York City.
8. They go way back with Trump
As Blavity previously reported, the Proud Boys have fully embraced Trump's debate shout-out, even creating a logo with his "stand back and stand by" exhortation. Though not directly connected with the president, the Proud Boys have drawn inspiration from Trump since the beginning. One of the group's earliest public outing was a 2017 pro-Trump art show.
Trump’s brand of offensiveness masquerading as humor or political incorrectness fits well with the Proud Boys' own approach to groups they don’t like. Trump gave validation to them and other groups in Charlottesville when he commented that there were “very fine people” on "both sides" of that event. And now, Trump has all but endorsed the group while condemning their antifa rivals, the Proud Boys are fully embracing the president's words and gained a newfound notoriety that is likely to make them even more bold in targeting the people and ideas they don't like.