DJ Who Are the Proud Boys? -- 5th Update
On Feb. 3, Canadian officials designated the far-right Proud Boys a terrorist organization, saying they have encouraged and planned violent activities against opponents of their ideology.
The officials also cited the "pivotal role" the group played in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The Proud Boys were key instigators of the riot, a Wall Street Journal video investigation found.
Since the attack, U.S. authorities have arrested multiple members of the group for their alleged involvement.
Among them is Ethan Nordean, 30, whose alias, Rufio Panman, is listed in the group's bylaws as a member of its first Elders Chapter. He was arrested Feb. 3, the same day that authorities announced a new indictment against the leader of the group's Honolulu chapter, Nicholas Ochs, who is accused of conspiring with a Texas man to obstruct Congress's certification of the 2020 presidential election. Mr. Ochs, who ran as a Republican for a seat in Hawaii's House of Representatives that year (he lost), filmed himself inside the Capitol and later tweeted a photo of himself and another man, cigarettes dangling from their mouths. "Hello from the Capital lol," Mr. Ochs captioned his post. That evidence was used by federal authorities to arrest him.
Mr. Nordean's attorney didn't return requests for comment. A lawyer for Mr. Ochs in D.C. declined to comment. Myles Breiner, the attorney who represented Mr. Ochs in Hawaii, said the indictment was expected.
The group's leader, Enrique Tarrio, was arrested by Washington, D.C. police two days before the attack on the Capitol, and charged in connection with unrest that followed pro-Trump protests in the nation's capital in December 2020. Mr. Tarrio has said Canada's designation of the group as a terrorist organization is unjustified.
At pro-Trump rallies in Washington, D.C., after the election, Mr. Tarrio led his group in chants of "F -- antifa!", referring to the loose network of far-left activists who have at times engaged in violence against those they view as fascist or racist.
Who are the Proud Boys?
The far-right group describes itself as a men's organization for "Western chauvinists" and has often fought with left-wing activists.
It is registered as a limited liability company in Texas. Its bylaws -- which were filed in court as part of a lawsuit filed by a civil-rights group against the entity and Mr. Tarrio -- characterize the Proud Boys as a fraternal order whose members are initiated in a multistep process that includes being punched in the arms and torso by a minimum of five members until the person being initiated recites the names of five breakfast cereals.
The Proud Boys was formed in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes. Though he has stepped down, he remains influential, researchers have said.
Jason Kessler, the primary organizer of the 2017 white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that left a woman dead and dozens injured, said he is a former Proud Boy.
People affiliated with the Proud Boys have made misogynistic comments, including support for rape, and have espoused anti-homosexual, anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views on social media, according to extremism researchers and posts reviewed by the Journal. Some members hold white supremacist and anti-Semitic views, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The Proud Boys "see themselves as the logical counterweight to antifa, which would make them the 'fa,' the fascists, and they embrace that," said Colin Clarke, a researcher at the Soufan Center, a nonpartisan group that tracks extremism.
David Kuriakose, the self-described head of the Proud Boys' New York chapter, has disputed those descriptions. He said the group doesn't see itself as a "counterweight" to antifa and isn't fascist, and that the Proud Boys don't espouse anti-Muslim, anti-transgender or misogynist views. He criticized the notion that the group is anti-immigrant and said his parents are immigrants from India.
Several Proud Boys have been convicted of violent crimes. In 2019, two members were sentenced to four years in prison for their role in a 2018 brawl following a speech by the group's founder at a New York City Republican club. The men were found guilty of attempted gang assault, attempted assault and other charges after prosecutors said they had attacked people affiliated with antifa.
How do officials and watchdogs view the group?
On Feb. 3, Canada said the Proud Boys met the legal threshold under Canadian law to be classified as a terrorist entity, saying they have encouraged and planned violent activities against people who oppose their ideology, as well as citing the "pivotal role" the group played in the pro-Trump Capitol riot. Officials said Canada is believed to be the first jurisdiction to list the group as a terrorist organization.
The Biden administration expects to make a decision on any action against the group once an ongoing review is finished, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D, Mich.), who chairs the Intelligence and Counterterrorism panel of the House Committee on Homeland Security, cautioned against following Canada's lead at this time.
"I think we have to tread carefully before we start designating American groups," Ms. Slotkin said in a press call, though she indicated she was open to looking at whether some domestic groups should be added to the terrorist watch list. She also said she would be watching how Canada's action plays out.
Has the group become more prominent?
The Proud Boys gained notoriety after then President Donald Trump told them to "stand back and stand by" in the first presidential debate last year.
Kurt Braddock, an American University professor who studies how extremist groups communicate, said he was troubled particularly by Mr. Trump's comment that the Proud Boys should "stand by."
"It suggests that should he need them, he will call on them," Mr. Braddock said at the time. "It's that kind of language that can be interpreted as a call to action by some people looking for an excuse to engage in violence."
A Journal review of thousands of messages posted by the group's members found that Proud Boys repeatedly invoked Mr. Trump's rhetoric as they built momentum toward what became a violent confrontation at the Capitol.
Mr. Trump's comments provided, in the eyes of Proud Boys members, "popular legitimacy and the sense that their actions have popular support," said Arie Perliger, a University of Massachusetts Lowell professor who recently wrote a book on right-wing extremists, "American Zealots." "Past studies, including mine, again and again, confirm the direct connection between feelings of legitimacy and empowerment and the inclination to violent activism."
Mr. Trump later said he condemned the group.
The Proud Boys were also spotlighted after Democratic voters in several battleground states in 2020 received emails made to appear as if they were written by the group. The Proud Boys denied this at the time. U.S. officials later said Iran was responsible. Iranian officials denied the accusations.
Mr. Perliger estimates the membership runs to several hundred, with multiple chapters in various locations. It isn't clear, though, "if it has an actual organizational infrastructure that can mobilize members," he said.
The group's leader, Mr. Tarrio, however, told the Journal in November 2020 that the group counts tens of thousands of members world-wide. Before Mr. Trump's comments in 2020, the Proud Boys counted about 12,000 members in the U.S. and around 22,000 world-wide, said Mr. Tarrio, who also oversees the group's South Florida chapter.
The publicity the group received during the election campaign boosted membership, he said.
Proud Boys congregate on platforms that are popular with conservative and far-right groups, amplifying their message. Those platforms include Telegram, Gab, and until recently, Parler. Some of the group's social-media channels include racist and Nazi imagery, according to Storyful.
Storyful, which authenticates social-media content, is owned by News Corp, the parent company of the Journal.
How does social media treat the Proud Boys?
Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have banned the Proud Boys, and Proud Boys members had mainly moved to social-media platforms that are favored by conservative and far-right groups. One popular platform, Parler, was forced offline by tech giants after it was viewed as dangerous in the wake of the Jan. 6. attack.
Mr. Tarrio said in a November 2020 interview that he plans to shift his group's focus away from antifa, whose adherents Proud Boys have fought with. Instead, Mr. Tarrio said he plans to focus the Proud Boys' activism on "big tech" -- companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google -- which he said were silencing conservatives.
Twitter's spokesman said, "Proud Boys are banned from Twitter for a reason. Making violent threats is one of them." Facebook, which has designated the Proud Boys as a hate group, declined to comment. Google didn't respond to a request for comment.
Write to Rachael Levy at email@example.com and Erin Ailworth at Erin.Ailworth@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 05, 2021 10:37 ET (15:37 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.