Not Convinced a Gender Perspective Matters to Today’s Political Activism? Meet the Proud Boys (and their “Girls”)

By Sarah Kenny, Senior Program Assistant, WIIS Global

August 1, 2019

 

During the summer of 2017, violent activists associated with the “Proud Boys” twice terrorized the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. This organization’s second visit to my college town took place in conjunction with neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and far-right activists from across the United States who assembled for the infamous “Unite the Right” rally. This past Independence Day weekend, the Proud Boys once again assembled— this time, in my present hometown of Washington, DC. While the Proud Boys were vastly outnumbered by counter-racist activists, their quest for political violence did not escape the news cycle.

To date, little research exists on women’s engagement with the Proud Boys. July’s demonstration led me to wonder just how this knowledge gap stands to exist when the organization’s very moniker— let alone activities— are so explicitly gendered? My research on women in the broader US alt-right movement informs my assessment that systematic ignorance of this demographic presents a significant blind spot in counter-extremism intelligence analysis and pursuant prosecutorial efforts. Women actors in the Proud Boys and its contemporaries— violent agents and online advocates alike— should not be underestimated.

Proud Boys Incidents 2016-2019

If you Google “The Proud Boys,” you will encounter a garish, elementary looking website welcoming you to “the world’s greatest fraternal organization.” Here, you can find Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes’ plan for “How to Save America,” including but not limited to the following objectives: end welfare, close the borders, and venerate the housewife. How can a prospective member find Proud Boys affiliates? Established chapters dot nations as diverse as Finland, Japan, Australia, and North America; new chapters are allegedly coming soon to the African and South American continents.

The Proud Boys website defend an ideological distinction from alt-right activists; unlike their white identarian counterparts, these “alt-lite” adherents do not explicitly advocate for a white ethnostate.[1] Titular distinctions aside, the Proud Boys present a serious international security threat. From New York City brawls to Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rallies, members routinely carry out violent extremist activities predicated on a dangerous cocktail of xenophobic, nationalist, and misogynist ideologies.

The Proud Boys’ strategic provocations and incendiary rhetoric have earned them a hate group designation from the Southern Poverty Law Center. In December 2018, the FBI classed the Proud Boys as an “extremist group with ties to white nationalism.” Yet shortly thereafter, the agency backtracked on this designation, shifting their classification from the organization at large to individual actors who are affiliated with the group.

Proud Boys members root their advocacy in an uncompromising gendered world order. The construct of gender dovetails with that of race in their theoretical construction of proper power hierarchies in a supreme, transnational, and threatened Western civilization. Although Proud Boys chapters claim to welcome—rather than discriminate against— members of all races, religions, and sexual preferences, they self-identify as “Western chauvinists” who lament that “being proud of Western culture today is like being a crippled, black, lesbian communist in 1953.” Here, support for the nation is positioned in direct contrast to the alleged plights of disability, ethnic heterogeneity, womanhood, sexual diversity, and broad governmental authority. For a more explicit explanation of who is and who isn’t Proud Boys material, keep scrolling through the group’s “About” page: “this group is and will always be MEN ONLY (born with a penis if that wasn’t clear enough for you leftists)!”

The Proud Boys don’t just talk the talk of misogyny; they walk the walk, too. Look no farther than the Proud Boys who disrupted a 2019 Women’s March in Orlando, Florida, displaying “Feminism is Cancer” signs and brazen grins. Proud Boys confront individual critics in addition to collective foes, both online and in person. Caroline Orr, a reporter on the rise of hate, showcases the nature of the Proud Boys’ violent political threats in the following tweet.

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In addition to the threat made to her own physical safety, Carolines references threats made to white supremacy researcher and Twitter figure “Gwen Synder is uncivil.” Gwen documents the doxing efforts that Proud Boys activists undertook to harm her and her loved ones.[2] Furthermore, her Tweet illuminates her experience of empty promise of police protection from far-right violent extremists’ threats. Gwen’s account of law enforcement’s sympathy for right-wing activists is consistent with a controversial series of police/Proud Boy interactions during July’s rally in DC.

As Proud Boys were marching through the streets of Washington, a police officer was documented fist-bumping a Proud Boy; another joined in with a Proud Boy cheer of “I like beer!” Such displays of allyship between far-right activists and law enforcement officers send a signal to counter racist protestors and concerned community members: the Proud Boys mission is supported by the bearers of state-sanctioned force.

Women interested in white nationalist activism should not fear! The Proud Boys visionaries carved out a special place for them as agents, not just subordinates, within their sacred fraternal order: “If you are (and were born) a woman and you would like to be involved, there is a girls group. They call themselves Proud Boys’ Girls and they’re our second-biggest demographic.”

Proud Boys leaders recognize that the concept of women actors creates cognitive dissonance in the minds of many prospective members. Attempting to assure both women and men of the group's gender-inclusivity, the Proud Boys site explains, “it may seem counterintuitive that a men-only group would have such a big female following, but nobody wants men to be men more than the women who depend on them... Wives, girlfriends and single girls are all welcome.” Proud Boys supporter Anne Coulter went so far as to defend the Proud Boys on a Fox News panel discussing the Women’s March, commending them for protecting “people like [her].” Indeed, a non-negligible segment of the world population supports a gendered world order that stands in stark contrast to the values of modern feminism.

We should not be fooled by the Proud Boys’ name; this organization is recruiting women foot soldiers as well as men to advance a gendered order for Western civilization. Such a worldview is gaining traction in the global political arena and threatens the core tenets of pluralism and equality upon which modern democracies aim to stand.

[1] According to Al Jazeera’s report on far-right political activism, “the alt-light promotes a hardline version of American nationalism and often eschews the openly racist and white supremacist politics advocated by the alt-right”

[2] Merriam Webster defines “dox” as follows: “to publicly identify or publish private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge”

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