Proud Boys Now Serve As GOP's Violent Paramilitary Wing
Credit: Nathan Howard/Getty Images
July 17, 2022

The Proud Boys’ post-insurrection strategy of eschewing large rallies and instead fanning out into local right-wing protests appears to be working: A recent data survey by Grid found there are now more of the neofascist organization’s chapters in the United States than there were on Jan. 6, 2021, when their members led the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Moreover, as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Cassie Miller recently explored, the strategy is maturing and congealing into a dedicated army of thugs focused on attacking abortion-rights protesters and the LGBTQ community—an animus that is being widely stirred up by mainstream right-wing media and politicians. In the process, she observes, they are becoming what they always intended: the violent paramilitary arm of the broader American right.

Grid assembled data gathered by the nonprofit Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and found that the number of Proud Boys chapters is now larger than it was at the time of the insurrection, rising from 43 to 72. Since then, its members have participated in nearly 200 public events that range from organized violence to threatening Pride events to leading supposed charitable events to improve their image.

The analysis found 17% of these events featured violence. It also noted that some of the events are obvious attempts to engage in public-relations damage control, such as an Easter egg hunt and serenading anti-vaccine protesters.

The SPLC drilled a bit deeper, focusing on the first six months of this year, and found that Proud Boys were involved in harassing or counterprotesting people at 28 different LGBTQ and reproductive-justice events around the nation. It found that their activity intensified in June as their focus shifted primarily to Pride events where they harassed attendees—a total of 14 anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion-rights incidents that month.

Far-right groups with a broad range of ideological focuses, including neofascist white power groups like Patriot Front (which had 31 members arrested in Idaho while attempting to create a riot at a Pride event), and Christian nationalists (including fundamentalist preachers demanding that gay people be lined up and shot in the head) have been targeting Pride events around the nation this year. The ADL reported that it monitored seven in-person extremist activities targeting the LGBTQ community on one weekend alone, that of June 11 and 12.

While they all seem to have a variety of pseudo-rationales for their irrational hatreds, the one thing they share in common in these attacks is the vicious eliminationist demonization using rhetoric—such as labeling every LGBTQ person and their defenders “groomers,” or calling abortion-rights activists “baby killers”—identifying them as predatory pedophiles, either actual or potential, or child murderers. For the Proud Boys, it’s an ideal fit.

Miller explains that the Proud Boys’ localized strategy helps them to “forge new coalitions,” which include right-wing activists involved in protests against masking, vaccines, “critical race theory,” and LGBTQ-inclusive education policies. But those coalitions have coalesced this year into “a tightly focused campaign of transphobia, homophobia and misogyny.”

As Miller observes, the origins of this campaign actually lie within the mainstream Republican right:

These hateful sentiments have always helped fuel the far right, but they currently sit at the forefront of its organizational efforts. To understand why, one needs only to look to the GOP. A growing radical wing of the party has in recent months embraced militant opposition to LGBTQ people and reproductive rights – a position reflected most clearly in in their legislative assault on trans people and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The Proud Boys’ harassment and violence now help reinforce a multi-fronted attack against those fighting for bodily autonomy, racial equity and democracy, and their current activities are a sign of how tightly interwoven extremist activists such as the Proud Boys have become with the GOP.

This was probably always the intended outcome of the strategy. From their beginnings, Proud Boys have portrayed themselves as the “manly” vanguard against leftist ideology, “communists,” and “globalists,” and have (like all authoritarians) insisted that their beliefs reflect the “real America.” They frequently complain that mainstream conservatives’ issues are also theirs; and indeed, many of their earlier large rallies used popular mainstream-right issues—“free speech,” gun rights, immigration, whatever was playing on Fox News that month—as the ostensible reasons for their “protests.”

As we saw during their coordinated attacks on school boards and other local government bodies, they frequently presented themselves merely as “concerned citizens,” even though they frequently lived outside these boards’ jurisdictions and did not have children enrolled in the public schools. And when they turned up at Pride events, their attacks had the self-righteous and utterly baseless patina of the running claim on the right that all LGBTQ folk are pedophilic “groomers.”

But the intent is always the same, regardless of the target. Texas far-right activist Kelly Neidert—who has described herself online as a “Christian fascist”—expressed the shared view of both the Proud Boys and their allies when she tweeted: "Let's start rounding up people who participate in Pride events."

And that, as they will be happy to tell you, is just the beginning.

Published with permission of Daily Kos

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