What do Proud Boys stand for? 'Western chauvinism' explained

Samantha McGarry October 22, 2020
Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

What do Proud Boys stand for? What is ‘Western chauvinism’? Following recent coverage of far-right group Proud Boys, we explain what the group stands for, how it tends to behave and more about its core belief.

What do Proud Boys stand for?

When the group formed in 2016, it initially sought to distance itself from white nationalism. Proud Boys members have described themselves as ‘Western chauvinists’ or ‘Western culturalists’.

Members take pride from causing offence through being forthright in their views about what they believe Western culture is or should be. 

Photo by Isabella and Louisa Fischer on Unsplash

A key theme for members is to suggest they should be allowed to say whatever they want, including racist comments and threats of violence. Critics say free speech then becomes not only a means to express and offend, but also to harass, persecute and threaten.

What is ‘Western chauvinism’?

Proud Boys leader Gavin McInnes uses the term interchangeably with ‘Western culturalism’. Chauvinism is used as a way to mock ideas of equality and to ‘other’ the group they want to exclude.

The phrase is also used to emphasise a certain view of masculinity. The group opposes multiculturalism and views those from differing cultures and religions, especially Muslims and Jews, as enemies and targets of hate. 

Where the Proud Boys’ ideas come from

The Proud Boys’ ideas have drawn on those put forward by ‘identitarian’ groups that have emerged in Europe in recent years. The Southern Poverty Law Centre identifies identitarians as seeing Europe to be “under siege by immigration, ‘Islamisation’ and white demographic decline”.

The groups use a strategy that, rather than denigrating people of colour, focuses on “raising white racial consciousness, building community based on shared racial identity and intellectualising white supremacist ideology”.

This involves creating an identity which excludes those who are not white. Proud Boys has said it isn’t racist or part of the ‘Alt-Right’. However, the group expresses many views associated with this, promoting a whites-only society, with members advocating the use of violence. 

Photo by Skylor Powell on Unsplash

The roots of ‘Western culturalism’ put forward by Proud Boys and its members are unsettling. McInnes speaks of a “cultural war” and encourages members to believe they are victims of racial and gender equality, for which violence and intimidation is advocated as a means of gaining attention. 

Conspiracy theories form part of its focus, and the group opposes non-white immigration and inter-racial relationships, and advocates ‘stay-at-home’ roles for women. 

How extreme are Proud Boys?

The group were designated as “an extremist group with ties to white nationalism” by the FBI in 2018.

The Proud Boys had initially sought to distance themselves from white nationalism when the group formed in 2016, stating they welcomed all races as members. However, racial and religious hostility soon became one of the group’s defining features. 

The Proud Boys haven’t gone as far as some extremist groups, but there have been accusations of planning and carrying out serious acts of violence.

A 2017 video captured Indiana-based member Brien James shouting: “Black lives don’t matter”. McInnes himself has expressed intolerance towards black people, Puerto Ricans, Muslims and Jews.

McInnes also advocates a patriarchal society. He has said: “Maybe the reason I’m sexist is because women are dumb.” He has written: “Through trial and error, I learned that women want to be downright abused.”

These type of comments have attracted people from extreme far-right groups, with views commonly expressed and repeated on the internet by members.

Photo by Greta Schölderle Møller on Unsplash

How did Proud Boys come to media attention?

Proud Boys first came to mainstream attention after several members attended the white supremacist 2017 ‘Unite The Right’ march in Charlottesville.

At the event a self-confessed white supremacist, not linked to the group, killed counter-protester Heather Heyer and seriously injured 19 others. Afterwards, Proud Boys expelled member Jason Kessler, who had played a significant role in organising the event.

Since then, the group has said it does not condone violence, although McInnes has said that to become a “fourth degree” member, recruits have to “get involved in a major fight for the cause”. 

When group members increasingly became involved in violence, he later framed this as: “We don’t start fights, we finish them. Fourth degree is a consolation prize.”

After two group members assaulted counter-protesters in 2018, for which they were imprisoned for four years, McInnes said: “I cannot recommend violence enough. It’s a really effective way to solve problems.” Several incidents of aggression and violence involving the group have been recorded.

Photo by John Rudoff/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Why is Proud Boys in the news again?

The group has been in the media this week after planning a demonstration in Portland, which was banned due to non-compliance with covid-19 restrictions. 

The group’s UK limited presence

The group’s membership is mainly in the US, while its Twitter account was banned for copyright infringement. 

The group has emerged in the UK from the margins of other far-right groups. Hope Not Hate reported the group’s leader in the UK is Paul Yates, who immigrated to the UK from the US five years ago. The group held a meeting in Yorkshire last year attended by about 20 people. The group’s main activity in the UK has otherwise been said to have been limited to distributing anti-multicultural and anti-immigrant stickers. 

Hope Not Hate estimates that the influence of Proud Boys in the UK is unlikely to worsen, particularly following the dissolution of a separate Identitarian group. This seems to represent the lack of support for such groups at a time when many in the country are keen to overcome divides rather than create them.

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