The Proud Boys: Who the heck are they and do they matter?
In a recent Twitter storm, you may come across LGBTQ+ positive messages, using the hashtag #ProudBoys. If you’re wondering as to the origin of this inundation of the hashtag, here’s some context.
Who are the Proud Boys?
In a few words, it’s a right-wing group. Back in 2016, Canadian-British right-wing activist Gavin McInnes founded a far-right group with an anti-immigrant set-up & all-male membership. The name has been derived from the musical Aladdin by Disney.
Membership entails the declaration of being a “Western chauvinist who refuses to apologise for creating the modern world.” Translation: glorify Trumpian ideas, espouse libertarianism, and encourage traditional gender roles. As for a dress code, the members often don a black & yellow polo shirt, combined with the blood-red “Make America Great Again” hats.
On more than one occasion, the group & its affiliates have been violent in the street. A social media reckoning ensured that all the most popular channels, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube have banned these groups. The result was the official chapters of the Proud Boys pivoted to less popular networks like Parlel.
Why are we talking about Proud Boys now?
In the presidential debate last week, Chris Wallace asked Trump, “Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down…” To this, part of Trump’s unflinching response was, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by! But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”
His comments triggered a widespread condemnation on social media, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who tweeted, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist. People have been warning about this for a long time. They were ridiculed, called hyperbolic & radical – not bc they were wrong, but bc others couldn’t accept that our country elected a supremacist as President. This is fascism at our door.”
Donald Trump is a white supremacist.
People have been warning about this for a long time.
They were ridiculed, called hyperbolic & radical – not bc they were wrong, but bc others couldn’t accept that our country elected a supremacist as President.
This is fascism at our door. https://t.co/sahloCJt25
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 30, 2020
Push to shove
The group has remained small, not very powerful, and seemed to have gone into hibernation until Trump’s remarks gave them a push. Not only has that prompted a massive right-wing confidence boost, but also a swathe of potential new recruits to the group.
In light of the legal repercussions, McInnes publicly disassociated himself from the group, but it was a token gesture, seeing as he’s still supportive of the group’s ideas. In a video in response to the debate, he said, “I control the Proud Boys, Donald. Do not stand down, do not stand back.” Enrique Tarrio, the group’s current chairman, also posted on Parler: “Standing by sir…. I will stand down sir!!!”
Soon enough, the phrase “stand back, stand by” was made a part of the group logo. The members felt emboldened to use Trump’s encouragement and start attacking antifa, among others.
Hijack of the #ProudBoys
Star Trek actor & activist George Takei immediately made a call to action to drown out the hate that had started doing the rounds on social media. He suggested, “What if gay guys took pictures of themselves making out with each other or doing very gay things, then tagged themselves with #ProudBoys. I bet it would mess them up real bad. #ReclaimingMyShine”
Brad and I are #ProudBoys, legally married for 12 years now. And we’re proud of all of the gay folks who have stepped up to reclaim our pride in this campaign. Our community and allies answered hate with love, and what could be better than that. pic.twitter.com/GRtSH1ijQ8
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) October 4, 2020
His own contribution was an adorable photo with his husband captioned, “Brad and I are #ProudBoys, legally married for 12 years now. And we’re proud of all of the gay folks who have stepped up to reclaim our pride in this campaign. Our community and allies answered hate with love, and what could be better than that.”
The result? Twitter users flooded the #ProudBoys hashtag on social media with images of LGBTQI+ pride, drowning out the disturbing posts made by neo-Nazis & white supremacists who had found immense boost with Trump’s statements.