No longer ‘standing by,’ Proud Boys bring politics of intimidation to streets in defense of Trump
It’s become apparent that, even as Donald Trump tries to deny reality and continue claiming he won the election, the hate group that he ordered, on national television, to “stand back and stand by” now considers (per leadership’s statements that “standby order has been rescinded,” as well as other threatening statements on social media) those orders null and void: The Proud Boys are now playing the role of Trump’s goon-squad defenders in the streets—and appear unlikely to stop anytime soon.
Following the initial burst of Proud Boy violence in Washington, D.C., during and after the “Million MAGA March” of November 14, the familiar black-and-yellow polos, red MAGA hats and thug tactics have been showing up on the streets of Raleigh, North Carolina; Sacramento, California; and Staten Island, New York. At each event, brawls broke out amid overheated rhetoric, much of it in Trump’s defense.
The violence follows the pattern established over the previous four years—right-wing extremists organizing gangs of out-of-town thugs from rural and exurban areas to invade liberal urban centers on vague political pretexts in order to engage in threatening acts of intimidation and provoke violence that they can then blame on “antifa” and the “left.” And as with all those events, the Proud Boys’ presence has been to act as street enforcers for a variety of far-right causes: Denouncing the election results, protesting about COVID-19 public-health measures, or whatever else might be the right-wing grievance du jour.
Mostly, it’s about creating fear and violence on behalf of a white-nationalist agenda. That’s what the Proud Boys exist for, and it’s why the Southern Poverty Law Center lists them as a “general” hate group.
All during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Proud Boys have been whipping up a sense of public intimidation at the liberal cities where they hold rallies while spreading conspiracist misinformation about the virus, its spread, and the government orders intended to fight it. These appearances have been part of the Proud Boys’ steady drumbeat of bringing the politics of thuggery to American cities throughout 2020, as the Institute for Education and Research on Human Rights has mapped out in detail, for a variety of ostensible causes.
In Raleigh last weekend, Proud Boys came out to protest North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s pandemic-related business restrictions, particularly those on indoor gatherings. Calling it a “Pilgrims and Patriots Thanksgiving in Raleigh” event, organizers with Reopen Carolina joined arms with the Proud Boys and a Latinos for Trump group at the state Capitol. Then, as usual, they proceeded to provoke brawls with counterprotesters who held an event called “Racists Out Of Raleigh.”
There were no fights, since police kept the two sides separated assiduously. So the Proud Boys turned their thug tactics to the press who came to cover the event, including a reporter for the Indy who they harassed. Their report describes it:
A man in a Proud Boys bandana kept the INDY reporter from recording speeches by putting his hand in front of the camera, while others around pretended to sneeze. A woman in a white tank top and MAGA hat also told the reporter to leave. This happened a second time once the group was back at the Jones Street corner; this time, the man who had been blocking the camera told the reporter, “we can ask you to leave, or we can make you leave.”
Proud Boys also showed up at another COVID-related protest in Staten Island—this time outside Mac’s Public House, a tavern that had recently been busted for offering food and drinks beyond a 10 PM cutoff time mandated by New York City officials. A large, entirely maskless crowd gathered outside the pub on Wednesday night to protest the charges.
Inside the pub, there were chants of “Proud Boys in the house.” According to the New York Post, a speaker also led a Proud Boys chant: “I am a proud Western Chauvinist.” Afterward, they segued into singing Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
According to The Sun, protesters blamed New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for the pandemic measures, with signs reading “Dictator Cuomo.” One protester shouted at cops through a megaphone: “Where is your backbone? Where is your morality?”
The event in Sacramento had nothing to do with COVID-19, but instead was entirely a protest of the election results, and an insistence that Trump won the election—and heavily populated by Proud Boys and their militia cohort. One of the Proud Boys told the crowd that the organization’s role was to defend “people like you that come out to rallies.”
As Capital Radio reporter Scott Rodd observed, those were hollow words:
But the Proud Boys also played the aggressor. CapRadio observed one Proud Boy take a swing at a member of the press for filming him. Other members, after the demonstrators returned to the barricaded area near the Capitol, remained outside the perimeter and instigated counter-protesters and passersby. Several chased after one counter-protester. Some also followed and taunted observers from the National Lawyers Guild.
By day’s end, multiple brawls had broken out, and police—who declared an unlawful assembly and issued a dispersal order—reported one arrest on “assault-related charges.”
Reporter Gabe Stutman of Jewish Weekly was also present, and watched as, after their rally speeches ended, “they spilled into the streets of downtown Sacramento, chanting ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’ and ‘F*ck antifa!’ while butting up against police cordons that blocked their path. The demonstrators exchanged insults and threats with roughly a dozen people identified as part of antifa …”
Stutman notes that “each protest has followed a similar pattern,” one familiar to reporters covering Proud Boys events elsewhere: First, a peaceful demonstration with speeches in a public space, followed by a march into downtown or other urban areas with the intent of brawling with counterprotesters—or, for that matter, anyone who shouts at them or protests them.
The San Francisco-based office of the ADL for the Central Pacific region issued a statement decrying the event: “First, they bring attention and possibly attract new adherents to extremist agendas and groups like the Proud Boys,” it read. “Second, their provocative and divisive rhetoric can and does lead to violence, as we saw in Sacramento and elsewhere.”
Stutman also described getting the intimidation treatment from a right-wing protester, who shouted insults and blocked his cell-phone-camera lens. When Stutman asked if he was a Proud Boy, the man responded: “I’m a white boy, motherf*cker.”