Recent news about the Proud Boys is confusing for anyone trying to ascertain the truth behind the headlines. Of course, if you have followed political movements in the US since Trump's election, you might say "What's new?"
An article in The Guardian on 20 November this year, informs us that "FBI now classifies far-right Proud Boys as 'extremist group', documents say." It provides a link to a leaked document on the activist website Property of the People. Supposedly an authentic memo from the Clark County Sheriff's Office in Vancouver, it states: "The FBI categorizes the Proud Boys as an extremist group with ties to white nationalism." The Guardian claims to have verified the document with a Commander from Clark County, who said the FBI had warned them about local extremism in a private briefing.
The Proud Boys group was started in late 2016 by Gavin McInnes, a well known online commentator-cum-comedian, also known as a co-founder of Vice magazine. Apparently intended as a social men's group for Trump supporters, Proud Boys has since spread internationally and also been involved in a number of controversial protests in the US. McInnes has since disavowed being in a leadership role, and in the wake of legal trouble for some members accused of rioting and assault he has now formally left the group as a gesture of goodwill.
A look at the Proud Boys USA website shows they boldly espouse "Western chauvinism" ('the West is the best') which "includes all races, religions, and sexual preferences," along with traditional gender roles ('girls are girls, men are men' and 'venerate the housewife'). It also explains that they "confuse the media because the group is anti-SJW without being alt-right."
The Guardian article, mentioned above, highlights the involvement of Proud Boys members in street-fighting in Portland, but makes no mention of their opponents, radical leftist Antifa protestors. However, at the bottom of the page there is a link to an earlier item, letting us know "PayPal ban unfairly lumps antifa with far-right Proud Boys, critics say." This not so subtle pro-Antifa bias is not surprising given the Guardian's loyalty to the left of politics. The overall effect of such slanted coverage is greater polarisation of debate, and the dumbing down of political discourse in general.
A look at Wikipedia, for instance, provides the following perspectives: "Proud Boys is a far-right organization that admits only men as members and promotes political violence." In contrast, "The Antifa movement is a conglomeration of left wing autonomous, self-styled anti-fascist militant groups in the United States. The principal feature of antifa groups is their use of direct action." Note that Antifa are not described as 'far-left' but 'left-wing autonomous' and they do not 'promote political violence' but use 'direct action'. Like the Guardian, it is clear where Wikipedia's sympathies lie.
In a recent interview with Gateway Pundit, McInnes gave his own view on the group's use of violence: "The only time they've been violent is when they're attacked. They NEVER go to Antifa events. It's always radical leftists coming to their events to hassle them." This is an espousal of self-defence, but surely not an outright promotion of violence.
Some critics have referred to a damning video montage in which McInnes appears to encourage different forms of violent protest. In a statement released on 21 November on his official YouTube channel, McInnes claims such negative sound bites are just ironic or comedic jokes taken out of context from many hours of broadcasting. Though he doesn't shy away from confrontation or causing offense, in my own experience as a long-term viewer, his general message is basically one based on Libertarian values of free choice and individualism, combined with conservative values of family and responsibility.
As it happens, Gavin McInnes is set to tour Australia on a speaking tour in December, along with Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the English Defence League and anti-grooming gang activist, who was recently imprisoned by British authorities for allegedly prejudicing a trial in progress. In response, there is more than one online petition claiming that McInnes stands for fascism and white supremacy and should be banned from the country.
These are the same accusations made at Trump, and like most religious doctrines they are immune to denial or lack of evidence. No doubt the general concept of 'Western chauvinism' can be misused by those with bigoted agendas, but as far as I know McInnes has castigated the extremism of the 'alt-right', including racism or white supremacy, whenever he has been accused of similar views.
The ABC Triple J website has also picked up this story, and confidently states that the Proud Boys have been listed as an extremist group by the FBI ["Proud Boys founder's visit to go ahead, despite FBI listing group as 'extremist'"]. At this point a search of the FBI website provided no results referring to either "Proud Boys" or its founder "Gavin McInnes." On the other hand, the search term "Islamic State" provided over 6,000 results. So how real is the threat posed by this so-called 'extremist' group?
Another article on the Triple J site, bizarrely compares the Proud Boys to Islamic State, both being examples of "masculinist ideology" that lure young males with dreams of power ["How groups like Proud Boys have a lot in common with radical Islam"]. The photo they use depicts McInnes, framed by serious looking bearded men in red MAGA hats, his arms crossed and sporting a Machiavellian scowl. Another photo purports to show an anti-Trump protestor who "cowers on the sidewalk" during a street brawl. This article also presents a list of "world events" to indicate a rise in aggressive masculinity across politics, supposedly in a "symbiotic relationship" with the "new populism." This kind of conspiracy thinking is sadly becoming more common, lumping together anything vaguely threatening to a leftist progressive agenda, from Jordan Peterson to Kanye West.
If radical Islam has anything in common with the Proud Boys, it also does with the Boy Scouts (before they lose the 'Boy' that is). Any organised men's group, devoted to defending traditional values, could be meaninglessly compared to Muslim extremism. However, the sad fact that Proud Boys members have brawled in the street with their ideological foes hardly equates to the atrocities committed by Islamic State.
While the left-wing media are eager to demonise them as a nefarious 'alt-right' organisation, the Proud Boys are themselves, unwittingly or otherwise, part of a polarisation of discourse that adds to the general hubbub of conflict and confusion. Most of us can only watch from the sidelines as the public square turns into a circus sideshow.