The Proud Boys have a hard time. The self-described “Western chauvinist” drinking club has long been a haven for white supremacists, anti-Semites, and various extremists looking for a veneer of legitimacy.
But after last month’s violent uprising in the U.S. Capitol, the group is in disarray as the state chapters reject the group’s chairman and leaderspublicly and privately about which direction the Proud Boys should go.
The chairman of the Proud Boys, Henry Tarrio, who passes Enrique, was arrested days before the uprising at the Capitol and charged with two federal weapons. Three weeks later, Tarrio was released as a longtime FBI informant.a role he has now admitted. The news of the leader of the Proud Boys came when other members of the group were arrested on January 6 for their involvement in the violent uprising in the US Capitol. On February 3, Canada named the Proud Boys a domestic terrorist group.
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The tide of controversy, discord and betrayal seems to have been too great for at least three Proud Boys state chapters, who used the Telegram messaging app to denounce Tarrio and proclaim their independence from the central leadership of Proud Boy. That raises questions about the group’s future and also has experts worried about more radical factions of the Proud Boys or a newly branded gang.
“We do not recognize the assumed authority of a Proud Boy national leadership, including the chairman, elders or any subsequent governing body formed to replace it, until we choose to join those government bodies,” read you an announcement on a website associated with the Proud Boys Alabama Chapter.
The same sentiment was shared in the Telegram by the Proud Boys chapters in Indiana and Oklahoma.
“They’re radioactive now,” said Daryle Lamont Jenkins, executive director of One People’s Project, which has exposed right-wing extremists for three decades. “Every trace of seriousness is gone. You can no longer say that you have been misrepresented as extremists by the liberal media because people are looking at you now and just saying, ‘You are dirty.'”
Jared Holt, an employee of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab who studies extremism, agreed. He noted that the most popular Telegram channel used by members of the Proud Boys has recently been renamed, removing the Proud Boys nickname altogether.
“The telegram channel that drops the name, various chapters that break off from the national leadership, everything speaks for a rift that occurs among the Proud Boys,” said Holt. “This brand has become too toxic.”
Tarrio didn’t respond to comments.
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Where are the Proud Boys going?
Experts overseeing the Proud Boys agreed that the group is going through the transition that happens to most hate groups at some point.
“Extremist groups very often split, or people leave these groups when leadership behaves in a way that does not reflect the organization’s stated values,” said Brian Hughes, associate director of the Research and Innovation Laboratory on Polarization and Extremism American University. “These divisions are inevitable because exploitation, abuse and law enforcement information are simply part of the territory.”
The question now is where the members of the Proud Boys will go.
Proud Boys chapters that Tarrio have previously denounced have not completely turned away from the group. They say they will act as independent Proud Boys organizations that do not take orders from central leadership.
Different personalities in these chapters, however, represent radically different versions of how the Proud Boys brand might survive and transform into the future.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, William Brien James, the head of the breakaway Proud Boys chapter in Indiana, is a longtime violent white supremacist who co-founded a neo-Nazi drinking club in 2003. In an interview, James claimed he left the white supremacist movement 10 years ago, but Jenkins and other experts doubt his sincerity.
“I’m watching this guy very closely,” said Jenkins.
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In St. Louis, the Proud Boys’ head of capital, Michael Lasater, said his group wanted to come back to what he called the basic principles of the Proud Boys: “brotherhood and beer”.
The St. Louis Proud Boys are still figuring out where they stand against Tarrio and the central leadership, Lasater said, but they want to get away from the “political things” – rallies and street brawls with Black Lives Matter and anti-fascist activists.
Jenkins, who has watched extremist groups fragment and reformed many times over the years, expects more radical groups to emerge from the breakup of the Proud Boys. While some people will leave the movement, he predicted that the core members will keep reinventing themselves to create increasingly nuanced versions of the same basic concept.
“The critical mass will remain the same,” said Jenkins. “It’s still the same people with the same motivations and the same agenda, and that’s why we will continue to follow them.”
Wash your past white
The schism within the Proud Boys is likely not just a lack of trust in Tarrio or a desire to change the group’s direction, said Amarnath Amarasingam, associate fellow at the Global Network on Extremism and Technology. He believes it is revealed tooa sense of fear within the organization.
“January 6th was an important turning point,” said Amarasingam. “Seeing their friends being arrested was a huge shock to the system for people who just wanted to go out and get drunk and fight.”
After the crackdown on the Proud Boys, their members have a vested interest in whitewashing their past, said Jenkins.
The past few months have revealed the Proud Boys for who they really are, said Jenkins: a dangerous, largely racist, domestic hate group that disguises itself as a group of people who just get drunk, say nervous things and have fun. The concept of “Western chauvinism” is really just code – a dog whistle for other white supremacists, he said.
“You never really made a fool of anyone, but now everyone can see what we were talking about,” said Jenkins.
So if members of the Proud Boys post messages denouncing Tarrio or the direction the gang has gone, it is also likely an effort to distance themselves from an organization that is now directly targeted by law enforcement agencies and anti-fascist activists stands.
Chapter presidents can argue that they want to break free to return to their original mission as a drinking club, but extremism experts are not buying them.
Hughes said there is only one real exit strategy for proud boys who find themselves in an organization whose values they do not support: leave the movement completely, as thousands of neo-Nazis, skinheads, and various extremists have done for decades before them.
“These groups are full of power struggles, petty tyrants and snitch,” said Hughes. That said, there is always hope for people. If you look around and see that you are surrounded by these potential leaders who actually have no principles beyond their own magnification, maybe this is an opportunity for people themselves check yourself. ”