Boys to Men
On Friday, members of the Proud Boys assaulted leftist protesters outside New York City’s Metropolitan Republican Club, the state GOP’s home base in the city and a center of Trumpism in Manhattan, following an appearance by their leader, VICE co-founder Gavin McInnes. Joined by prominent members of the city’s racist skinhead scene, they screamed slurs as they stomped on heads; afterwards, they posed for group photographs. Not to be outdone, their compatriots on the West Coast repeated the performance on Saturday, attacking an anti-police violence vigil in Portland. A week earlier, Proud Boys had attacked counter-protesters at a “Resist Marxism” demonstration in Providence, Rhode Island.
The past three years have seen a proliferation of such groups: organized reactionaries of various political tendencies seeking out ideological enemies (mostly, but not exclusively, on the anti-capitalist left) to beat to a bloody pulp. The more hardcore elements of the so-called alt-right—the Nazis, the neo-Confederate KKK affiliates, the esoteric fascists and white separatists—sneer at the Proud Boys as insufficiently radical. In a sense, they’re not wrong: the Proud Boys are closer to the mainstream of American conservatism than Andrew Anglin and Richard Spencer. That, however, is what makes them so dangerous. The Proud Boys aren’t just a less overtly racist branch of the alt-right; they’ve become a militant wing of the Republican Party. Anglin and Spencer aren’t getting invited to speak at GOP events, but McInnes is; Atomwaffen Division isn’t running security for Republican candidates for Senate, but the Proud Boys are. McInnes “is part of the right,” Ian Reilly, Executive Committee Chair of the Metropolitan Republican Club, told Gothamist, comparing him to previous guests Tucker Carlson and Ann Coulter.“We promote people and ideas of all kinds from the right.”
Reilly continued:“We would never invite anyone who would incite violence.”
Except, this is exactly what they had done: McInnes was at the Metropolitan Club to celebrate the fifty-eighth anniversary of the assassination of Inejiro Asanuma, leader of the Japan Socialist Party, by the ultranationalist Otoya Yamaguchi, on live television in 1960—an “inspiring moment,” McInnes wrote on Instagram, which he re-enacted with his employee (and fellow Proud Boy) Ryan Katsu Rivera. “Never let evil take root,” McInnes later told his audience. Outside, anti-fascist and anti-racist demonstrators gathered to protest McInnes’s appearance. (Earlier in the day, the Metropolitan Republican Club had been vandalized.) According to Bedford + Bowery, as guests began to leave, a score of Proud Boys hung back and prepared for the coming brawl.“One Proud Boy cracked his knuckles behind me,” reporter Carol Schaeffer wrote.“‘I’m ready to swing right,’ he said. ‘Nobody better fuck with us tonight.’”
The Proud Boys have become a militant wing of the Republican Party.
Scuffles and beatings followed, as they do wherever the Proud Boys go: a dozen members of the proto-fascist gang stomped demonstrators who’d been caught in the open, apparently with impunity.“Do you feel brave now, faggot?” one yelled, according to Sandi Bachom and Shay Horse, a documentary filmmaker and photojournalist who witnessed the attack. Bachom’s footage shows one assailant screaming “Faggot!” as he kicks someone curled up on the ground; other video obtained by Gothamist includes a Proud Boy bragging,“Dude, I had one of their fucking heads, and I was just fucking smashing it in the pavement!” “That son of a bitch!” he continues.“He was a fucking foreigner.” One of his friends yelled the Proud Boys slogan: “Fuck around, find out!” In an email to the Huffington Post, McInnes celebrated his compatriots, writing that one of their victims “stole a Proud Boys MAGA hat and was immediately tuned up.” Echoing his acolyte’s words, he added:“Fuck around and find out.”
Throughout all of this, the NYPD declined to arrest a single one of the violent reactionaries roaming the city’s streets; they did find time, however, to arrest three anti-racist protesters. “I have a lot of support in the NYPD and I very much appreciate that, the boys in blue,” McInnes claimed in a podcast released over the weekend. (On Monday, chair of the New York City Council’s Public Safety Committee Donovan Richards described the NYPD’s response, and specifically that of the Strategic Response Unit tasked with keeping the peace, as “inept, incompetent, and derelict in their duties.”) The police have since released photographs of three persons of interest—all of whom were immediately doxxed and identified as Proud Boy affiliates by antifascists—and announced that they intend to arrest twelve people altogether, including nine Proud Boys.
New York Republicans, meanwhile, are doubling down on their decision to welcome McInnes into the fold.“We want to foster civil discussion, but never endorse violence,” Metropolitan Club officials said in a statement on Sunday night. “Gavin’s talk on Friday night, while at times was politically incorrect and a bit edgy, was certainly not inciting violence.” It bears repeating: McInnes was invited to the state party’s headquarters in New York City to celebrate the televised murder of an ideological enemy.
For all the scorn heaped on the Proud Boys by the leading lights of the white nationalist movement, they appear to be doing what people like Andrew Anglin, Richard Spencer, and Matthew Heimbach could not: creeping closer to formal, state power in the form of a political alliance with the GOP. They receive sympathetic media coverage from Fox News while actively recruiting new members not only from the alt-right, but from racist skinhead scenes across the country. A violently reactionary subculture that, left to its own devices, had in recent years remained relatively self-contained, racist skinheads (“boneheads” to leftist skins) under the leadership of charismatic demagogues like McInnes on the East Coast and Joey Gibson of Patriot Prayer on the West Coast are now spilling into the streets of America’s most liberal urban centers.
They now make their proto-fascist appeal in the language of patriotic individualism: pro-America, pro-capitalism, and pro-Trump.
The Proud Boys have been courting members of New York City’s skinhead scene for a long time; McInnes himself has a white power tattoo associated with the neo-Nazi punk band Skrewdriver, whose merch he has been photographed wearing, and it’s no accident that the Proud Boys chosen uniform features black and yellow Fred Perry shirts—a favored skinhead brand. At least three of those who participated in Friday’s gang assault in New York are affiliated with racist skinhead crews, long known to local anti-fascist and anti-racist organizers: Dennis Davila and Joe Bola are members of the 211 Bootboys, a far-right skinhead gang based mostly in New York City, while Irvin “Irv” Antillon is a member of Battalion 49, a predominantly Latino neo-Nazi skinhead gang. Early last year, McInnes defended 211 after some of its members attacked two brothers on the Lower East Side when they noticed an antifa sticker on one of their phones. In August 2017, Antillon was photographed wearing body armor—and Proud Boy insignia—at Charlottesville’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally.
Bound together by violent misogyny and ultranationalism, these groups stand for nothing resembling a conventional political program or platform—but that does not mean they are apolitical. Pragmatically sidestepping the question of race, they now make their proto-fascist appeal in the language of patriotic individualism: pro-America, pro-capitalism, and pro-Trump. (Its effectiveness should not be understated: for years, antifascists in New York City’s soccer supporter scene have been working to alienate Antillon, a frequent attendee of New York City Football Club matches at Yankee Stadium, from friends and fellow fans who don’t have Nazi tattoos—with little success.) Around the country, the Proud Boys have replicated this strategy, appealing primarily to people’s class interests—as small business owners, for example, or as the children of families who fled socialist revolutions—as well as traditionalist gender politics, temporarily deferring the white nationalist project in the interest of swelling their ranks. As it happens, this is the strategy that has also allowed them entry into the Republican mainstream.
Shocked and horrified by Friday night’s violence, Democratic politicians in New York have called for investigations and arrests, demanding that the NYPD prosecute those who committed these assaults and provide a full account of the officers’ lackadaisical response in the moment. But the Proud Boys did not come from nowhere: had there been two, three, even four times as many cops patrolling the Upper East Side on Friday night, they would not have simply evaporated. They did not grow like weeds from cracks in the concrete, insufficiently tended to by watchful police. They are the product of a system in crisis, a global economy careening towards another meltdown and a failing democracy teetering on the edge of total delegitimation. The Proud Boys and their ilk shore up the power of a ruling class increasingly hostile to any form of social upheaval, any threat to its hegemony.
Little wonder, then, that after the beatings on Friday they unveiled a new war cry, celebrating another figure who dominated his victims with impunity before retreating to the warm embrace of the GOP: “I like beer!”