Headed Into Election Year, Proud Boys Appear to Be on Decline

Data collected by VICE News shows the far-right street fighting group has drastically cut back on public appearances over the last year.
Members of the Proud Boys make the "OK" sign with their hands as they pose for a picture in front of the Oregon State Capitol building during a far-right rally on January 8, 2022 in Salem, Oregon. (
Members of the Proud Boys make the "OK" sign with their hands as they pose for a picture in front of the Oregon State Capitol building during a far-right rally on January 8, 2022 in Salem, Oregon. (Photo by MATHIEU LEWIS-ROLLAND/AFP via Getty Images)

Public appearances by the Proud Boys dwindled in the final months of 2023, raising questions about the staying power of the once-ubiquitous street-fighting gang—who previously positioned themselves as Donald Trump’s personal army—ahead of what’s poised to be yet another bitterly polarizing election year. 

VICE News has tracked uniformed appearances by the Proud Boys for the last three years, ever since the violent riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 


Our data has shown how the Proud Boys regrouped in the months and years following that riot and became culture war chameleons, embedding themselves into their communities by aligning with local activists around whatever the hot-button conservative issue du jour is. 

Four of the group’s top lieutenants, including their former chairman Enrique Tarrio, were convicted on seditious conspiracy charges in connection with Jan. 6 and sentenced to decades in prison. Dozens more Proud Boys caught lesser charges. 

The ongoing prosecution efforts, intense public scrutiny, and reported infighting has repeatedly fueled speculation that the Proud Boys could be circling the drain. For the last couple of years, they’ve been resilient. But now that might be changing—but for different reasons. 

Our data showed just 36 uniformed appearances by one or more Proud Boys across 17 states last year, compared to the 63 appearances across 21 states that we logged in 2022. 

The Proud Boys have now been around for eight years, and the recent decline in their public activity could suggest they’re following similar trajectories of other American extremist groups who came before them, says Jon Lewis, a research fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. That may mean members splintering off, either in pursuit of an organization with broader grassroots appeal, that doesn’t carry the same baggage as the Proud Boys, or in pursuit of an organization that is more committed to more explicit violence and explicit bigotry. 


To a prospective recruit in alt-right circles in 2016 and 2017, the Proud Boys may have looked like a bunch of edgy, racist frat bros in their 20’s who drank beer and got into fights. But now, the Proud Boys don’t perhaps quite have the same sheen, said Lewis. 

“The younger, more online, more extreme edges of these movements are always going to split off from the ‘older’ core,” said Lewis. “The Proud Boys effectively become like the ‘normies,’ the guys who aren’t really hardcore enough to be terrorists, or overt white supremacists and whose legacy is that they got drunk and tried to storm the Capitol and then didn’t.” 

Other more extreme groups and movements have cropped up in recent years, and have been successful in drawing in younger members. The network of neo-Nazi fight groups known as Active Clubs, for example, combines the machismo bluster of the Proud Boys with overt white supremacy, and have ramped up their activities in the last year. Explicitly antisemitic and hardcore neo-Nazi groups such as Blood Tribe, Goyim Defense League, and NSC-131, also formed in recent years, have made themselves increasingly visible by holding rallies around the country. 

All that said, The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED) Project, who keep their own data tracking the Proud Boys (and include non-uniformed activity in their database), put out a report in December saying that despite the decrease in the group’s activity, they remain one of the most violent and active extremist organizations in the U.S. 


Since disbanding their “sovereign chapter,” the Proud Boys operate as a network of autonomous groups with no centralized leadership. In a Telegram post late in 2022, they claimed to have 190 chapters across every state, except for Delaware and Vermont. It’s unclear how many of those chapters are active, or how many members they have. Our data over the years has revealed fluctuating regional “hot spots” for Proud Boy activity. In 2021, it was Pacific Northwest, in 2022 it was southern states like Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida, and in 2023, clusters of Proud Boy activity was spread out across Ohio, New York, Tennessee and North Carolina. 

Online, they remain a noisy rabble of Telegram channels and rarely discuss upcoming public appearances, with the exception of recently advertising a planned rally in Columbus, Ohio, to commemorate the anniversary of Jan. 6. 

Since mid-2022, the Proud Boys’ primary focus has been anti-LGBTQ activism, roughly the same time period when many Republicans began pushing back on decades of progress for the LGBTQ community. The hard-right coalesced around conspiracy theories claiming that anyone who exposed children to LGBTQ-inclusive educational programming—which includes drag story hours, family-friendly pride events, or children’s books featuring same-sex parents—was on a sinister queer agenda and trying to “groom” kids. 


The Proud Boys went full throttle, showing up to drag shows, Pride events, and school board meetings around the country. 

In February, more than a dozen Proud Boys showed up to a bookstore in Silver Spring, Maryland, to protest a drag queen story hour and clashed violently with members of an activist collective called Parasol Patrol, who have mobilized around the country to defend such events by shielding attendees, organizers and performers with big, rainbow umbrellas. 

In March, around a dozen Proud Boys protested a drag event in Wadsworth, Ohio. They joined a melee of other extremist groups, including white nationalist Patriot Front and members of Blood Tribe, a hardcore neo-nazi group. 

Ahead of Pride Month, Proud Boys vowed to “take back June” by organizing their own anti-LGBTQ protests. Their menacing promise added to an already ominous environment, as organizers of Pride events around the country found themselves navigating a barrage of threats and forced to spend significant resources on complex security plans. 

June and July were the Proud Boys’ busiest months in 2023, but their activity still fell short of the large-scale show of force they’d threatened. Their largest turnout all year was in July, when approximately 55 Proud Boys showed up to protest a drag queen story event at a children’s store in Chaska, Minnesota. 

Around a dozen Proud Boys also showed up in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, to gatecrash the end of a Pride celebration. Video shows them getting out of cars wearing tactical gear and swarming activists in a heated confrontation. 


They also continued efforts to ingratiate themselves in their communities by participating in charity work, which is a tactic long used by extremist groups to drum up local support and lure in prospective recruits. In February, Proud Boys delivered food and water supplies to residents of East Palestine, Ohio following the train derailment there. Proud Boys of Long Island and upstate New York did a toy drive for children’s hospitals for the second year in a row, and published a photo slideshow set to “Nightmare before Christmas” by Trap City to their Telegram channels. 

Hiding behind Allies and Plain Clothes 

The ACLED’s report highlighted the Proud Boys’ opportunism when it comes to latching onto grievances, building alliances with other groups and maintaining relevance. 

“Their ideological flexibility has meant that while overall mobilization has declined between 2020 and 2023, its drivers have shifted in focus on multiple occasions, largely depending on the issues that appeared to hold more sway in far-right circles at a given time,” they wrote. 

The Proud Boys’ pivot to anti-LGBTQ activism and grooming conspiracies opened the door for them to join forces with Christian nationalist and right-wing “parents rights” groups. 

In some cases, local coalitions of right-wing activists with innocuous-sounding names may be providing cover for Proud Boys. “Floridians First” is one such example, dubbed a Proud Boy “front” by local activists, run by affiliates of the group. 


And in California, men with ties to the Proud Boys (or who were at least at one point members) showed up on several occasions to violent protests organized by radicalized, conservative parents against LGBTQ-inclusive education in schools—in what became some of the most shocking examples of political violence last year

“I think that’s always going to be the central point to all this. Whether or not the Proud Boys as an entity, with their logo, with their colors, live or die, succeed or fail, it doesn’t matter if they take off one patch and put on another,” said Lewis. “Because the movement, the narratives, the grievances, the racism, the nativism, the Islamophobia, the antisemitism, is still going to be at the core of whatever new movement takes the place of these “legacy” violent extremist groups.” 

(Disclosure: Gavin McInnes, who founded the Proud Boys in 2016, was a co-founder of