Last week, attacks by members of the alt-right “Proud Boys” on protesters in Manhattan focused national attention on this growing and violent organization.
Started in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, the group is best known for its member Jason Kessler, who organized the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last year. The group has also engaged in riots in a number of West Coast cities like Portland and Berkeley. Just last weekend, a McInnes speech in New York was the occasion for the latest outbreak of Proud Boys violence.
Last year, Kyle Chapman — who headed the paramilitary wing of the Proud Boys at the time — came to New York to recruit street fighters for the organization. There were requests posted in his social media asking him to come to Long Island to help get the Proud Boys started out here, though it is unclear if he ever did come to Long Island.
Chapman has been arrested numerous times for violent assaults and is currently facing felony charges. He founded the “Alt-Knights,” an armed group whose only purpose is to engage in street fighting that provides the Proud Boys with a dedicated corps of thugs. Chapman himself has a rap sheet going back a decade, which includes felony robberies and bar fights. In spite of his shady past, he has become a hero to many on the right, earning the title “Based-Stickman” because of popular videos showing him smashing long wooden sticks over the heads of protesters.
The Proud Boys are looking to grow on the East Coast. They hope that their staunchly anti-immigrant position will appeal to Trump supporters. They are seeking financing from middle-aged conservatives of means. The New York City venue for McInnes’ recent Manhattan speech was not some grungy skinhead bar; it was the Metropolitan Republican Club. This is a meeting place for elite New Yorkers, not down-on-their-luck opioid abusers.
McInnes is profoundly anti-immigrant. His statements about immigrants are numerous and should have led to him being banned from an invitation from any responsible organization on the left or the right. For example, last year he told NBC, “I’m not a fan of Islam. I think it’s fair to call me Islamophobic.”
In June of this year, he claimed that for immigrant women, rape “doesn’t have the same trauma as it would for a middle-class white girl in the suburbs.”
Long before McInnes started the Proud Boys, he was spouting his openly xenophobic views. For example, in 2003, he spoke to the New York Times about maintaining white supremacy, saying “I don’t want our culture diluted. We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, white, English-speaking way of life.”
The only way that extremist groups like the Proud Boys can grow is if they are embraced by mainstream organizations and parties. And, this month, we may have seen the first hug.