What to know about the Proud Boys, the extremist group that Trump name-checked during the first presidential debate

  • During Tuesday night's presidential debate, while refusing to condemn white supremacist groups, President Donald Trump told the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by," speaking to the majority right-wing hate group.
  • The Proud Boys, founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, is an extremist "fraternity" classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and has been associated with violent incidents in recent years.
  • Kris McGuffie, the deputy director of the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told Insider that Trump's words were "exceedingly dangerous" and "may be used as a rallying cry to incite violence." 
  • Here's what we know about the Proud Boys and their history. 
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

During Tuesday night's presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace asked President Donald Trump if he would condemn white supremacist and militia groups. The president asked for a name of a group causing right-wing violence, and former Vice President Joe Biden suggested the majority right-wing hate group the Proud Boys.

"Proud Boys, stand back and stand by," Trump said.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a nongovernmental organization that tracks extremist and hate groups, said in a tweet that Trump "owes America an apology or an explanation" for his Proud Boys remarks. 

The current leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, said in a tweet that he did not interpret Trump's comment as "a direct endorsement," and said that the group is not associated with white supremacy. "Him telling the ProudBoys to stand back and standby is what we have ALWAYS done," Tarrio said, adding that he was "extremely proud" of Trump's performance in the debate. 

But Trump's comments did exactly what extremism experts immediately feared. Within hours of the debate, people who identify with the Proud Boys on social media were incorporating the quote as a new slogan of sorts. On the messaging app Telegram, the Proud Boys account said, "Standing down and standing by sir," NBC News reported. 

Kris McGuffie, the deputy director of the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told Insider that Trump's words were "exceedingly dangerous" and "may be used as a rallying cry to incite violence." 

"Calls for overt violence and civil war have been building since President Trump began campaigning for the presidency, and we have seen the real-world results of increased calls for violence that are legitimized by politicians and other people in power," McGuffie said. 

Trump's refusal to condemn white supremacy coupled with his advisement that people "watch very carefully" appeared to be "a thinly disguised call for voter intimidation," McGuffie said. 

Here's who Trump was speaking to when he name-checked the Proud Boys.

The Proud Boys is a majority right-wing extremist group that calls themselves a 'fraternity' of 'Western chauvinists'

Gavin McInnes pumps his fist during a rally at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on April 27, 2017 in Berkeley, California.
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Proud Boys believe that western culture, particularly that of straight men, is under attack by a culture of political correctness. The group often uses social-media platforms to recruit members, though it was banned by Facebook in 2018.

The all-male, pro-Trump group was founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, the co-founder of Vice Media. McInnes himself described the organization in a 2016 op-ed as "Western chauvinists" who are against a politically-correct culture and "long for the days when 'girls were girls and men were men.'" 

The organization is described by the ADL as a "drinking club" for men to celebrate "western culture." Details of the group's activities are kept quite secret, but Samantha Kutner, an independent consultant and expert on the Proud Boys, analyzed their bylaws in a May report published by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism. 

In its Constitution and Bylaws, published in 2018, the Proud Boys organization identified itself as a "fraternity" dedicated to "the promotion of Western civilization including free speech and the right to bear arms," among other missions, including "true patriotism." 

Initiation rituals read at first like a fraternity hazing manual. To become a second-degree member, one must be "punched until he can name five breakfast cereals." Third-degree members need to get a Proud Boys tattoo, and fourth-degree members must "engage in violence on the group's behalf," Kutner wrote. 

Kutner estimated in her research that the group has 3,000 members worldwide. It's most popular in the US, but has a foothold throughout Europe.

Members of the group tend to wear black and yellow Fred Perry polo shirts, and the Proud Boys logo is an inverted version of Fred Perry's logo. In a statement on September 24, the British brand said it would no longer sell the shirts in the US or Canada "until we're satisfied that its association with the Proud Boys has ended." 

Proud Boys promote theories that align with white supremacy, according to an extremism expert

While the group's leadership has claimed to be against racism, some members "espouse white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies" and are involved with white supremacist organizations, according to the ADL. 

In an internal document obtained by government transparency non-profit Property of the People, a sheriff's office in Washington said that the FBI considered the Proud Boys an "extremist group with ties to white nationalism."

McGuffie told Insider that the group "purports to be against white supremacy, while overtly promoting the precise theories and narratives that white supremacists are known for." 

The group also uses "misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic, and anti-immigration" rhetoric, the ADL said.

Last year, McInnes sued the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a non-profit organization that tracks hate and extremism in the US, for classifying the Proud Boys as a hate group. But McInnes himself has a long history of misogyny and racism. 

Years ahead of the Proud Boys' founding, McInnes told The New York Times in a 2003 interview that he was "very proud" to be white. ''I don't want our culture diluted. We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, white, English-speaking way of life," he said. 

In 2002, McInnes repeatedly used racist and homophobic epithets in an interview with the New York Press. 

In a 2015 Fox News interview, McInnes called housewives "heroes" and said that working women are "wasting their time." He has also made several transphobic comments, including, "Buying woman parts from a hospital and calling yourself a broad trivializes what it is to be a woman." 

The group is known for holding rallies to protest left-wing groups and stoking violence

Members of the Proud Boys, a far right organization dedicated to fighting with leftists, hold a rally on September 26, 2020 in Delta Park, on the northern edge of Portland, Oregon.
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Proud Boys have become violent at far-right or alt-right rallies across the US, often counter-protesting against left-wing groups. 

The group is known for its "paramilitary arm and violent tactics," McGuffie said.

In recent months, Proud Boys members have counter-protested at Black Lives Matter protests across the country. On Saturday, 200 people attended a Proud Boys rally in Portland, Oregon, according to local CBS affiliate KOIN, one of several events they've hosted in the city. At the rally, Tarrio, the current "chairman" of the group, told KOIN that "Portland is the epicenter for all the issues we're having across the country."

On Wednesday, Portland police arrested a Proud Boys member in connection with an August incident in which firearms were aimed at protesters, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

Last fall, two Proud Boys were sentenced to four years in prison for attacking left-wing protesters after McGinnes gave a speech in Manhattan. While the organization had said the two men, Maxwell Hare and John Kinsman, were acting in self-defense, footage obtained by The New York Times revealed that Hare and Kinsman provoked what became a brawl. 

Tarrio attended the now-infamous "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, though he later said he was "against" certain aspects of the events. The white supremacist and neo-Nazi protest led to three deaths and dozens of injuries, A former Proud Boys member helped to organize the rally, the SPLC said. 

McInnes said at the time that he did not want to be associated with neo-Nazis and did not attend the event, though several other Proud Boys had been in attendance, according to the SPLC. 

Like other right-wing extremist groups, including the Boogaloo Bois, Proud Boys members "emphasize civil violence and conflict as an acceptable mechanism for political and social change," McGuffie said. 

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