Who are the Proud Boys?

Small, ret­ro­grade and ‘will­ing to go places and dis­rupt things’

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA - BY MICHAEL MACDON­ALD

Un­til this week, few Cana­di­ans had heard of the Proud Boys. That changed on Canada Day, when five young men in match­ing black polo shirts dis­rupted an Abo­rig­i­nal cer­e­mony in Hal­i­fax.

That brief, 10-minute con­fronta­tion has put the mil­i­tary ca­reer of each man in doubt – and it has shone a spot­light on a ret­ro­grade group that sprung up last year amid the rise of Don­ald Trump and the many in-your-face, far-right groups that sup­port him.

Will Som­mer, a jour­nal­ist in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., who has fol­lowed the small move­ment, said the group was founded in the U.S. by Gavin McInnes, a Cana­dian who helped es­tab­lish Vice Me­dia and is now an out­spo­ken po­lit­i­cal pun­dit with an in­ter­net talk show and reg­u­lar stints on Fox News and Canada’s Rebel Me­dia web­site.

McInnes has been ea­ger to speak to re­porters about the ugly Canada Day in­ci­dent, saying he plans to travel to Hal­i­fax to present mil­i­tary of­fi­cials with an on­line pe­ti­tion that de­scribes what hap­pened as a witch hunt.

“He has made a se­cond ca­reer as a right-wing provo­ca­teur ... or prankster,” said Som­mer, a jour­nal­ist with The Hill, who also pro­duces an on­line news­let­ter about con­ser­va­tive me­dia.

“They are def­i­nitely worth keep­ing an eye on. They tell them­selves it’s like the Elks Lodge or the Knights of Colum­bus, but there’s this po­lit­i­cal el­e­ment, and the prank­ish­ness has al­lowed them to say they’re just kid­ding around ... There is a vi­o­lent as­pect to it, though they say it’s all in self-de­fence.”

Som­mer said the group, which prob­a­bly in­cludes no more than 1,000 mem­bers in the U.S., is a tamer ver­sion of the hard-core, racist and an­ti­Semitic alt-right groups that have sprung up in the shadow of Trump’s pres­i­dency.

The Proud Boys, Som­mer said, are “alt-lite.”

“They are able to have events all over the coun­try and they can pull about 20 or 30 people in ran­dom cities,” he said in an in­ter­view. “It’s not a huge or­ga­ni­za­tion ... (But) as we saw in Canada, they’re will­ing to go places and dis­rupt things.”

The group’s pub­lic Face­book page has about 10,000 fol­low­ers.

How­ever, be­com­ing a Proud Boy in­volves more than just sign­ing up on­line. As part of the group’s odd ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­mony, prospec­tive mem­bers de­clare, “I am a West­ern chau­vin­ist who re­fuses to apol­o­gize for cre­at­ing the modern world.” Ex­ist­ing mem­bers then pum­mel the re­cruit as they try re­cite the names of five break­fast ce­re­als.

It’s all in good fun, said McInnes, who is based in New York. The frat-like rite was adopted from a rough game he learned while at­tend­ing high school in the Ot­tawa sub­urb of Kanata, he said in an in­ter­view Thurs­day. McInnes in­sists the Proud Boys are just a bunch of lads who like to share a brew or two in a club — away from their wives. With the rise of fem­i­nism in the 1980s, men have stopped get­ting to­gether to form bonds at so­cial clubs, McInnes said.

The group now has about 3,000 mem­bers, he said.

Ini­ti­a­tion rites ac­corded with higher sta­tus in­clude get­ting a tat­too, ab­stain­ing from mas­tur­ba­tion for a month and “get­ting into a ma­jor fight for the cause.”

CP PHOTO

Gavin McInnes is sur­rounded by sup­port­ers after speak­ing at a rally in April in Berke­ley, Calif. McInnes, co-founder of Vice Me­dia and founder of the pro-Trump “Proud Boys,” spoke at a park gath­er­ing later in the day.

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