Who Are the 'Proud Boys'? Trump Told Far-Right Extremists to 'Stand by' Before Denouncing Them

On Thursday night, Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity he condemns "all white supremacists, I condemn the Proud Boys"

Proud Boys
Members of the Proud Boys face off against anti-Trump protesters outside a rally where President Trump officially launched his re-election campaign on June 18, 2019. Photo: Gerardo Mora/Getty

Among the many head-shaking moments from Tuesday night's presidential debate was Donald Trump's refusal to denounce white supremacists and his referencing of a far-right fringe group associated with violence.

After Trump was asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace to clearly disavow white supremacist groups, Trump demurred. When Democratic opponent Joe Biden suggested he renounce the Proud Boys, who describe themselves on their website as a "Western chauvinist" fraternal group and who have endorsed violence, Trump said, "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by."

Trump has hesitated to denounce white supremacists in the past, and his statement during the debate was interpreted by the extremist group as an order to be on call.

After the president's comment, the group — which is designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center — immediately celebrated.

“YES SIR, PROUD BOYS STANDING BY,” the group posted to its Parler account, a conservative social media app.

An hour later, the group posted its black-and-yellow logo with the words “STAND BY” plastered around its crest.

first presidential debate
Donald Trump at Tuesday's debate. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Critics immediately condemned Trump’s message to the group, which identifies as a nationalist “men’s club” and has been associated with violence at rallies and protests, including sometimes violent clashes with Black Lives Matter protesters this summer in Portland and Seattle.

After the debate, a spokesperson from the Trump campaign pointed to the president's assertion, made during a Wednesday press briefing, that he "doesn't know" who the Proud Boys are.

On Thursday night, Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity he condemns "all white supremacists, I condemn the Proud Boys."

(Hours later, the president said he and First Lady Melania Trump had contracted the novel coronavirus and he was subsequently hospitalized, upending the campaign.)

Who Are the Proud Boys?

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The group describes itself as “The World’s Greatest Fraternal Organization” and denies critical descriptions of it as a white supremacist-adjacent order, arguing that it does, in fact, allow non-white members. (Although, most often, white men often make up the majority of the group in the U.S.)

Separately, the group has been involved with violent clashes with Black Lives Matter protesters in recent years and promotes itself as believing in “anti-racial guilt” and “reinstating a spirit of western chauvinism," which the group's founder, Gavin McInnes, has explained should be interpreted as believing in nationalism, according to a video on its website.

The Anti-Defamation League estimates the group has upwards of several hundred members, while the group’s website claims it has chapters across the globe — from Japan to Australia to Britain, and in countries on every continent, except Antarctica.

In the U.S., there are Proud Boys chapters in at least 44 states, the group maintains.

Representatives from the Proud Boys did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

What Do They Believe?

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McInnes, 50, has described himself as “Islamophobic” and has made racist, sexist and transphobic comments on a number of occasions — often relying on a comedic delivery to smooth over what civil rights groups say is plainly hate speech.

The Anti-Defamation League says Proud Boys members are “misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic.”

“Some members espouse white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies and/or engage with white supremacist groups,” the anti-hate organization says.

The group’s core beliefs, or “tenets,” include support for closed borders, anti-political correctness and firm gender roles, according to its website.

McInnes, a co-founder of Vice Media before the New York Times reports he left in 2008 over "creative differences," has long been accused of spouting hate speech.

''I love being white and I think it's something to be very proud of,'' he told the Times back in 2003. ''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.''

In recent years, the Proud Boys founder has been described by the paper as a “far-right provocateur” who uses “aggressive rhetoric."

Both he and the Proud Boys group have been banned from using major social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Incidents of Violence

Proud Boys

Some of the group’s members, who often don black and yellow Fred Perry polos, have been arrested and charged for their role in violent clashes. (The clothing brand discontinued selling the polos last week, according to Business Insider, citing the group adopting them as pseudo-uniforms.)

The Times described them in a recent report as embracing street fighting with other groups, including in Portland, detailing one encounter in which “ the Proud Boys joined a group of right-wing demonstrators who rushed across a street and began attacking people who had set up a leftist counterprotest … [and] a large man in a bulletproof vest knocked a much smaller counterprotester to the ground.”

According to the Times, the group over time embraced physical confrontations as a key tactic. “By reputation, the Proud Boys are a far-right group of brawlers where punches are part of membership initiation,” the paper wrote.

In 2017, an infamous and deadly “Unite the Right” rally was organized in part by a former member of the Proud Boys, Jason Kessler, according to NBC News.

That gathering of white supremacists resulted in the death of one anti-racism protester, Heather Heyer, who was murdered after a self-identifying white nationalist drove into a crowd of demonstrators with his car. (Kessler was “disavowed” from the group following the incident, according to Forbes.)

A violent brawl outside the Metropolitan Republican Club in 2018 resulted in four of the group’s members being sentenced to four years in prison, NBC News reported.

Last Tuesday night, in a video of McInnes posted to the group’s conservative social media page, the founder laughed while celebrating Trump’s comment at the debate, which another Proud Boy member is heard calling a “general’s command.”

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