Proud Boys are raising the temperature in Nashua, New Hampshire, by showing up to school board meetings in their black-and-yellow uniforms and with their faces covered to protest anti-racist education.
Their presence is a menacing addition to an already tense situation. Like many communities across the U.S., Nashua, New Hampshire’s second-largest city, has become a flashpoint for national culture war issues. Discussions over school mask mandates in the past grew so heated that police are now present at each meeting.
But it’s the latest moral panic du jour that’s attracting members of the far-right street-fighting gang: “critical race theory.” Critical race theory originally applied to a 40-year-old academic movement focused on deconstructing systemic racism. Of late, the term has been co-opted by the GOP and Fox, who’ve claimed that any discussion about race in classrooms is racist. As a result, this issue has roiled school board meetings across the country.
Local activists posted photos of the group loitering by the school building holding flags, flashing their trademark “OK” sign (which has been co-opted by racists), and carrying signs saying things like “Marxism has no home here.” After a solitary Proud Boy showed up earlier this week and raised alarm bells, the local Black Lives Matter called on community members to rally at the next meeting. On Wednesday, about a dozen Proud Boys, joined by anti-maskers, showed up.
School board members are not happy about this development. “I do find it concerning that we have Proud Boys showing up at our meetings,” school board member Jennifer Bishop told the Union Leader. While it’s not her intention to silence anyone, she added, her priority was ensuring that everyone in the community felt safe. “We have a community of minorities that we need to support,” she added.
The Proud Boys are under intense scrutiny since many of its leaders have been charged with conspiracy for their alleged involvement in the violent insurrection at the Capitol. (The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, who was a co-founder of VICE. He left the company in 2008 and has had no involvement since then.)
Since January 6, members of the group have steered clear of large-scale rallies, and instead attempted to build grassroots support in their communities by latching onto hyper-local culture war dramas and ginning up tensions. They’ve forged ties with anti-vaxxers in Los Angeles, provided security to evangelicals outside a Planned Parenthood in Salem, Oregon, and joined Cuban protesters in Miami. Their attempt to insert themselves into the discussion over critical race theory in Nashua is just the latest example of this.
Last September, former President Donald Trump issued an executive order instructing federal agencies to cancel any race sensitivity training programs that mentioned “white privilege” or “critical race theory,” calling it “divisive, un-American propaganda.” This year, conservatives have stepped up their attacks on critical race theory, accusing schools of instilling racism in children by teaching them about it. A discussion about critical race theory at a school board meeting in Loudoun, Virginia, actually descended into violence earlier this year, as unruly parents brawled, resulting in at least one injury and an arrest. Fox News host Tucker Carlson even suggested that teachers wear body cameras to ensure they don’t talk about racism in the classroom.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who is a Republican, signed new restrictions into law earlier this year that prohibits teachers or other state employees from teaching that any group is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive. So far, more than 25 GOP-led states have passed or proposed restrictions on how teachers can talk about race.
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