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Did the Proud Boys’ flag change? Its meaning and symbols explained

Samantha McGarry October 1, 2020
proud boys flag change
Photo by John Rudoff/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Proud Boys shot to worldwide media attention following Donald Trump’s comment during Tuesday’s presidential debate. Did the Proud Boys’ flag change to include Trump’s “stand back and stand by” advice? What is the meaning behind the Proud Boys’ flag and its symbols?

Uniforms, flags and propaganda

The Proud Boys have sought to cultivate a unique group identity through the use of clothing, flags and other symbolic apparel. Anti-extremist organisation Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) calls this a “conscious effort to try to create an acceptable face of hate for the media” and hide the “extent of the group’s links with extremism”.

Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images

The Proud Boys have made particular use of smart casual clothing to appeal to a younger demographic, including their signature black-and-yellow Fred Perry shirts.

The Guardian describes the Proud Boys’ clothing style as the “new camouflage” of the far-right. Fred Perry recently discontinued its iconic line of polo shirts after it became associated with this and other far-right groups. 

There’s also a visible display of arms during Proud Boys demonstrations and the wearing of bullet-proof vests.

The SPLC believes the use of symbols such as flags, uniforms and – during demonstrations – bullet-proof vests, is rooted in attempts to “gain attention” and ”create a bond between members”.  

The meaning behind the Proud Boys’ flag and symbols

The Proud Boys’ flag is meant to represent the group’s main tenet of “Western culturalism”, or “Western chauvinism” as they often describe it. 

There are two notable Proud Boys flag designs. The first consists of a left-facing rooster on a weather vane with a W meant to reference the west. Below this is the phrase ‘west is the best’. The second flag design consists of a laurel wreath with the group’s initials.

Photo by John Rudoff/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The SPLC writes that the phrase “Western chauvinism” is a reference to the Proud Boys’ desire to exclude those who are “significantly different” and to “create division”.

The flag’s hidden meaning, they say, centres on the existence of a supposed “threat against western culture”, which it warns about.

The use of the cockerel may hint at another key element of the group – superiority and masculinity. Laurel wreaths, meanwhile, are rooted in ancient Roman and Greek heritage and have been used throughout history to celebrate achievement.

Research by Samantha Kutner, of the University of Nevada, into the Proud Boys’ symbols accused the group of using “precarity” – manipulating people’s sense of insecurity socially or economically – and provocation to create an “allure of hyper masculinity”. 

Kutner said the west-facing rooster implies masculinity and cultural “superiority”. The flag is often adapted to include state or city names, the American flag and, increasingly, words or pictures expressing support for Donald Trump.

Will the Proud Boys flag change to include “stand back and stand by”?

During the presidential debate on Tuesday night, controversy arose when Trump was asked whether he disavowed white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys. In response, he said: “Proud Boys – stand back and stand by.”

Trump has since sought to clarify his comments and said the group should “stand down” and let law enforcement do its work. 

Within hours of the debate, however, some people tweeted the group had created a logo that included the phrase ‘Stand Back Stand By’. 

The new Proud Boys flag allegedly bears resemblance to one used by the far-right Bulgarian Nationalist Party, which features a laurel wreath and a lion. 

The group has been identified as an extremist group of concern by the FBI, according to the Guardian.

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