The Proud Boys of Scotland, South Dakota, just wanted to dance. But their reputation as an insurrectionist street-fighting gang got in the way.
Amid unspecific “safety concerns,” the Proud Boys have withdrawn as sponsors of a “street dance” event slated for September in the small town of 841 people.
Earlier this month, the Scotland City Council voted unanimously in favor of the Proud Boys’ request for a permit to hold a 12-hour music festival in the town, which would require several thoroughfares to close.
When asked about the vote, Scotland’s city attorney, Kent Lehr, told the Bismarck Tribune it was his understanding that “while the Proud Boys have gained some negative national attention, there have not been any problems locally.” He also added that several area residents were part of the group. “I’m not saying the city is condoning or agreeing with what the group says,” Lehr told the paper.
While a small Proud Boys event in a tiny town may seem like no big deal, it’s a troubling indicator of the group’s resilience and ability to organize on a hyper-local level—despite being under intense scrutiny since many of its leaders were implicated in the January 6 riot.
So far this year, the group has eschewed large-scale meet-ups and rallies in favor of coalition-building with other far-right groups and hyper-local culture war dramas. For example, they’ve protested a Los Angeles spa’s policy of accommodating transgender customers; defended an evangelical preacher outside a Planned Parenthood in Salem, Oregon; and rallied in support of a school nurse in Stafford Township, New Jersey, who lost her job after she refused to enforce the school mask mandate.
They’ve also tried to paint themselves as good Samaritans and patriots who have been smeared in the media, a message that may resonate in parts of the country that are still bitter over former President Donald Trump’s electoral loss. Earlier this year, the Proud Boys hosted a community Easter egg hunt in a predominantly white suburb of Chicago. Proud Boys also participated in a July 3 parade in Buhl, Idaho, and even had their own float, decked out with a giant flag bearing the group’s logo and balloons in their trademark black and gold.
- Gavin McInnes was a co-founder of VICE. He left the company in 2008 and has had no involvement since then. He later founded the Proud Boys in 2016.
When making his pitch to the Scotland City Council earlier this month, Proud Boy associate David Finnell described his group as a “fraternity.” As news of the event began to spread and prompt criticism from beyond Scotland, residents of the area took to Facebook to weigh in. Some were outraged by the town’s tacit acceptance of the group; others argued “So what?” and insisted they’d rather have Proud Boys over antifa any day.
At one point, Finnell weighed in with an apparent effort to defend the Proud Boys. “I am a business owner and thought it was time to put away the hate. The fighting. The protesting. And wanted to unite people with the power of music,” he wrote. He claimed that the Proud Boys had been “doing charity all over South Dakota” and offered to help fund the music festival, which he said would bring “eight nationally known bands that everyone would know and would normally pay a fortune to see” to Scotland. “No, the music isn’t all white supremacist,” Finnell said. “I have had the pleasure of meeting the Proud Boys and definitely can say don't believe the media. At least in South Dakota. They are true patriots. Fathers. Sons. And trying to make our great state better.”
Proud Boys, which are now designated a terrorist organization in Canada, have been linked to violent incidents across the U.S. and are known for casual bigotry, glorification of political violence, and misogyny.
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