Proud Boys try to spread terror from coast to coast
reports from New York City after the far-right Proud Boys went on a rampage earlier this month following their founders’ strange display in Manhattan.
THE PROUD Boys showed once again this month that violence and hate is at the heart of their organization—and that the left can’t let them go unopposed.
On October 13, in Portland, Oregon, the group’s thugs targeted mourning activists at a memorial for Patrick Kimmons, a Black man murdered by the Portland police, and then roamed the city’s downtown, looking for fights.
The day before, the hate group was at the center of an event with multimillionaire founder Gavin McInnes at the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan. Afterward, McInnes’ thugs also went out looking for a fight.
Before that, the audience was treated to a re-enactment of the 1960 murder of Japanese socialist Inejiro Ausnama by a 17-year-old, sword-wielding member of Japan’s far right. McInnes himself entered the building swinging a sword, and on stage, he played the part of the young assassin. The audience of roughly 100 delighted in this celebration of violence.
Following the re-enactment, and after rubbing shoulders with other far-right activists in the mainstream conservative clubhouse, McInnes led his goons into the streets to confront 80 counterdemonstrators who had gathered to condemn the Proud Boys’ hatred and violence directed against the left.
Waving a katana around in front of a small unit of the New York Police Department (NYPD), McInnes then hopped into his ride and sped off, letting his “Proud Boys” proceed to the next phase of the event: fighting the left.
The Proud Boys use hazing and other rituals to induct new members into the group, attempting to build up a sense of belonging and loyalty. The bizarre rules include yelling out the names of cereals as fellow Proud Boys beat the young recruit, getting a tacky tattoo of the organization’s name, and refraining from self-stimulation.
But at the core of the group’s induction rituals is committing violence against the left as proof of a new pledge’s commitment. McInnes himself has issued frequent calls for such violence. He has often been seen bragging that the Proud Boys “will kill you,” and like in New York, he has incorporated street fights into his public appearances.
After McInnes’ exit, Proud Boys spilled out into the street to provoke anti-fascists and counterdemonstrators to start a brawl. Following a spat with a smaller group further down the street from the event, a large group of Proud Boys, enjoying the protection of the NYPD, proceeded to attack three anti-fascists.
Members of two skinhead gangs — the 211 Bootboys and Battalion 49 — were among the group mixing it up with counterdemonstrators. Video footage shows the Proud Boys and skinheads shouting homophobic slurs as they beat a handful of anti-fascists, while the police looked.
Following the attack, three counterdemonstrators and anti-fascists were arrested for allegedly punching a Proud Boy and taking his backpack. Though several members of the Proud Boys have been arrested and charged since, there were no arrests that night of the racists or skinheads who beat up the counterprotesters.
THE NEWS coverage during and after the event betrayed a clear anti-left bias from both the media and police officers themselves.
Republicans expressed horror at the “violent leftists” who targeted their stately midtown club with graffiti, a broken window and a note telling the club that it was “on notice” for inviting McInnes.
Yet it was the Metropolitan Republican Club that was guilty of provocation—by inviting a speaker whose explicit goal is to employ violence against political opponents. The invitation itself betrays the hard-right drift of a club that in past years wouldn’t have entertained the idea of associating itself with the Proud Boys, but has now openly embraced them.
In the days that followed the brawl, New York’s Democratic establishment denounced Republicans for tolerating the Proud Boys in their spaces—but predictably criticized anti-fascist counterprotesters, too.
From City Council members to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Democratic figures called on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to bring the full force of the law to bear on the street fighters. After days of press conferences, the mayor conceded to Cuomo and ordered the NYPD to use its hate crimes unit to investigate the matter, resulting in a call for nine members of the Proud Boys to turn themselves into the police.
The Republicans, equally predictably, conjured the mythology of a “violent leftist mob” and called for the restoration of “law and order.”
Following a week of criticism, McInnes arranged to have nine of his followers surrender to the police. Although essentially ratting out his own organization’s fighters, McInnes probably sees this as a peace offering to keep authorities off his back—and a gesture of “cooperation” meant to secure lesser charges against his members.
As this article was being written, five of the nine Proud Boys have turned themselves in — John Kinsman, Geoffrey Young, Irvin Antillon, Douglas Lennan and Maxwell Hare. Charges against them include assault, rioting and attempted gang assault, among others.
Some of the five, such as Antillon, have been involved in skinhead gangs and other far-right rallies across the country, such as the deadly Unite the Right rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
BUT THESE arrests won’t stop the Proud Boys or the right’s violence. As author Alexander Reid Ross said to a writer for HuffPost: “[B]y inviting McInnes to their event, the Republicans are not only endorsing but encouraging his usage of extreme violence and facilitating associations between fascists and the radical right within the party.”
Meanwhile, the media have shown that they will tolerate these creeps and their ideas—and not just the right-wing cheerleaders at Fox News either.
The Wall Street Journal’s opinion page carried an article promoting the far right’s conspiracy theories about George Soros being behind the anti-Kavanaugh protests, and NBC News hosted the neo-Nazi group Identity Evropa for a largely unchallenged sit-down interview with the Today Show about its electoral strategy in the Republican Party.
Reactionaries like McInnes make it clear that they are connected to far right movements internationally. This was probably part of the reason for re-enacting a young Japanese fascist murdering a prominent socialist leader—to show Proud Boys their connection to the larger global phenomenon of right-wing politics.
We have the power to stand up to these thugs. But we need to remember where our power lies—in solidarity and mobilizing the largest numbers we can in a united front. We should stand for our right to defend ourselves from the far right, but we also understand that a strategy focused on physical confrontation gives the reactionaries exactly what they want.
The most effective strategies for building up our forces to stand against fascism also focus our politics where we have power: in our labor. We will win with masses of people acting in solidarity, or we won’t win at all.