The Proud Boys are continuing to organize, rally, and engage in violence, in plain sight and often in uniform, despite the intense scrutiny on the far-right street-fighting gang for its alleged role orchestrating the deadly Capitol riot.
VICE News counted 20 public appearances in 13 different cities by the far-right street-fighting gang, including events that they helped organize, since January 6, with Oregon, California, and Florida emerging as hotspots for Proud Boy activity.
As congressional Democrats and national media remain laser-focused on unraveling what led to the Capitol riot, casual weekend political violence in the nation’s suburbs and cities has persisted. The events compiled by VICE News also suggest that the Proud Boys have sought to build coalitions within the far-right across an array of cultural flashpoints and causes, from guns, to policing, to vaccines.
At least six of the Proud Boy-linked events identified by VICE News devolved into violence. That includes a March 28 Easter Egg hunt, organized by Proud Boys, which turned violent when a small group of counterprotesters showed up. A brief clip of the melee showed people brawling, as sirens wailed in the background.
In Fresno, California, the planned sale of an iconic movie theatre has been a political flashpoint for months. Proud Boys, many armed with knives and mace, have on several occasions traveled from around the state to face off with local activists who want to stop the sale. On one occasion in April, about 50 or 60 Proud Boys showed up. Tensions escalated into physical violence and a pregnant woman got knocked to the ground during a scrum.
More recently, last weekend in Oregon City, a suburb of Portland, Proud Boys and antifascists battled in what was described by a local reporter as “giant medieval clashes” and “open warfare.”
Both sides were reportedly armed with guns, bear spray, pepper spray, and shields. The clash came just a few weeks after Oregon City was the site of another far-right “flag wave” event, where Proud Boys showed up in body armor and carrying rifles.
The fact that Proud Boys, in many places, have not shied away from public appearances in the last six months undermines the narrative that the aftermath of the Capitol riot—which included news that their national leader has operated as an FBI informant—dealt a significant blow to the group’s ability to organize, or had a chilling effect on public appearances. On the contrary, they appear to have remained welcome in spaces catering to supporters of former President Donald Trump, and maintained their cozy rapport with certain local GOP groups.
On April 18, about a dozen Proud Boys joined Trump supporters at a Trump-themed coffee shop in Largo, Florida, for the third and final day of “Trumparilla,” a multi-day “MAGA-fest” that has scheduled events across the U.S. in the coming months. The weekend kicked off with a “VIP fundraiser” for political operative Roger Stone, who has close ties to the Proud Boys and whose involvement in the January 6 riot is reportedly under investigation.
Proud Boy “chairman” Enrique Tarrio was invited to speak at an event hosted by the Boca Raton Regional Republican Club in early May. Also in early May, the Multnomah County GOP retained a security company belonging to a Proud Boy associate for a meeting in Portland. Users of the civilian app NextDoor reported about 30 Proud Boys patrolling their neighborhood from about 5 p.m. to midnight. “They were drinking, shouting to each other, shining flashlights into our neighbors’ homes and faces, and displaying weapons,” the person wrote, according to Willamette Weekly. “They circled, harassed, and threatened another neighbor on this street who was working out. They vandalized our block with Proud Boy stickers.”
Proud Boys have also latched onto local causes, or stoked local anger around culture war issues. For example, on Tuesday, uniformed Proud Boys attended a City Council meeting in Modesto, California, to show their support for a cop who was recently fired and charged with voluntary manslaughter of an unarmed man, and protest against proposed police reforms, including the creation of a civilian oversight committee.
Earlier this month in Sacramento, Proud Boys and far-right activists rallied in support of Ashli Babbitt, who stormed the Capitol and was killed by police. That was the same day that Black Lives Matter activists were honoring what would have been the 28th birthday of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was killed during a no-knock raid in Louisville last year. Tensions boiled over, and brawls ensued. Proud Boys are seen in videos scuffling with police. Another video appears to show someone (unclear if they are a Proud Boy) kicking over a memorial to Taylor.
Last month, in Stafford, New Jersey, uniformed Proud Boys joined anti-maskers at a protest in support of a school nurse whose contract wasn’t renewed after she refused to wear a face mask to work. In March in Raleigh, North Carolina, Proud Boys joined forces with anti-vaxxers to protest against the COVID-19 vaccine.
Proud Boys have also attended or helped organize several pro-gun events. They were in Richmond, Virginia, for an annual pro-gun rally, in late January. The following month, Proud Boys joined forces with other right-wing activists for a pro-Second Amendment event in Salem, Oregon. They spoke at, attended, and provided security for another pro-gun rally in Salem in early May.
Proud Boys also showed up to a “White Lives Matter” rally in Huntington Beach, California, in April, which drew a mixed buffet of gun rights activists, Trump supporters, a KKK leader, and white supremacists.
The small-scale activity also speaks to the resilience of the regional Proud Boy power structure, which is a network of chapters with their own budgets and leaders, who abide by a set of rules laid out by a “chapter of elders” and overseen by their chairman. The group fell into disarray when a bombshell Reuters report revealed that Tarrio had previously been a federal informant, with several chapters including in Alabama, Indiana and Oklahoma, declaring independence from the main group.
Tarrio was subject to interrogation by Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, on his podcast “Get Off My Lawn” in late February. McInnes, who tried to distance himself from the group after members were involved in a violent street brawl in New York City, has made no secret of his disdain for Tarrio. McInnes lambasted Tarrio, who took over as “chairman” in late 2018, for his emphasis on large-scale rallies that brought Proud Boys from around the country to places like Portland, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Washington D.C., often drawing large counterprotesters and exposing the group to media scrutiny.
- 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.
In that conversation, Tarrio indicated that the group was pulling back from the public eye for a bit.
“Have you heard of the ‘Make Proud Boys Clandestine Again’ movement?” McInnes asked. ‘Where they’re saying, ‘Never go to fucking rallies, let’s make them a secret organization again, just make it beer drinking, secret meetings, and all that.”
“We’re trying to focus internally, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job of that,” Tarrio said. “No rallies, no colors in public, things like that.”
But Proud Boy activity seems to have picked up since May; almost half of the events compiled by VICE News occurred since the beginning of May. That might have something to do with the fact that many in the group had advocated for a “stand down” on public events through May 1, according to court documents in the case against Proud Boy Sergeant-at-Arms Ethan Nordean, who is facing serious conspiracy charges for his alleged actions at the Capitol.
Prosecutors obtained chats that appeared to show Nordean resisting the idea of a “stand down,” before he was arrested.
“They’re coming for you no matter what. Wake the hell up. I’m not gunna be sitting on my ass waiting for the end,” said Nordean. “We aren’t gunna stop getting involved in the community, especially with the momentum we have and if your worried about getting arrested and think that doing nothing will remove that threat you’re fooling yourselves.”
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