[Marxism] Proud Boys Founder: How He Went From Brooklyn Hipster to Far-Right
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Wed Oct 17 09:11:35 MDT 2018
NY Times, Oct. 17, 2018
Proud Boys Founder: How He Went From Brooklyn Hipster to Far-Right
By Alan Feuer
For an hour or so, he railed about socialism and political correctness
to an audience of New York establishment Republicans. As he often does,
he took ugly swipes at Ivy Leaguers, left-wing snobs and lesbians with
“geriatric crew cuts.”
Then, when his speech was over, Gavin McInnes stepped outside of the
Metropolitan Republican Club, protected by the police. Just before a
brawl broke out between his allies and a crowd of shouting protesters,
he waved a plastic sword in the air, slipped into a car and sped away.
There was an uproar this weekend when anti-fascist demonstrators clashed
with members of the far-right group Proud Boys, reprising on the streets
of New York City the kind of violent rumbles that occurred across the
country last year in places like New Orleans and Berkeley, Calif.
But at the center of the fray on Friday night was Mr. McInnes, the
founder of the Proud Boys and a former Brooklyn hipster turned far-right
With his egghead glasses, pocket-protector and heavy-drinking,
angry-nerd aesthetic, Mr. McInnes has in recent years set himself apart
from the current crop of professionally outraged right-wing pundits, not
only for being able to spout aggressive rhetoric, but also for being
willing to get physical at times.
His obsessions seem to be more cultural than political. Mr. McInnes, a
fiscal conservative and libertarian, calls himself a champion of Western
values and reserves a burning ire for the political correctness of
people on the left whom he describes as busybodies who have lost their
sense of humor.
“This movement is normal people trying to live their lives getting
attacked by mentally ill lunatics,” he said.
But his views are darker when it comes to gender roles and immigration.
Mr. McInnes admits that he may be Islamaphobic (“It’s seen as xenophobic
to be worried about Islam, but they appear to disproportionately allow
intolerance to blossom in their communities,” he said.) He also
acknowledged being something of a sexist. (“I’m an Archie Bunker
sexist,” he said. “I don’t like Gloria Steinem, but I’d take a bullet
Though he has repudiated racism and anti-Semitism in some of his
writings and speeches, he has also made statements that have openly
denigrated nonwhite cultures. Last year, he wrote of white men: “We
brought roads and infrastructure to India and they are still using them
as toilets. Our criminals built nice roads in Australia but Aboriginals
keep using them as a bed.”
His critics say rhetoric like this echoes strands of white-nationalist
philosophy, and that some of his followers have crossed the line at times.
“Their disavowals of bigotry are belied by their actions,” the Southern
Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that tracks extremist
groups, wrote in an online memo labeling the Proud Boys as a hate group.
“Rank-and-file Proud Boys and leaders regularly spout white nationalist
memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists. They are known
for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric.”
Daryle Lamont Jenkins, the founder of One People Project, an anti-racist
organization, said Mr. McInnes has been allowed to tread a fine line,
appearing as a political commentator on mainstream outlets like Fox News
while being the founder of a group involved in violent clashes.
“They’ve utilized subterfuge and lies to keep that hate group tag from
being applied to them,” Mr. Jenkins said. “Every time their members are
seen doing things they’re not supposed to be doing, like showing up at
Unite the Right, they claim that person left the Proud Boys.”
On television and on frequent speaking tours, Mr. McInnes, who is 48,
can often sound like a younger and more foul-mouthed President Trump,
bashing feminists, mocking Black Lives Matter and deriding deep-state
plotters. And like the president, he tends to publicly disavow all
violence while winkingly insisting that he — and the Proud Boys — will
never back down during a scrape.
“We don’t start fights,” he wrote in an article last year, “but we will
In an interview this week, Mr. McInnes said he gave his speech this
weekend after he called officials at the Metropolitan Republican Club
and asked for permission to appear there.
He arrived at the club’s headquarters on East 83rd Street on Friday
night with a small contingent of Proud Boys who he said were there to
“do security.” Deborah Coughlin, the president of the club, said that
she welcomed Mr. McInnes because there had been no trouble when he spoke
at the club last year. Ms. Coughlin explained that the club considered
Mr. McInnes’ political views to be on the spectrum of conservative
“civil discourse.” She also noted that during the event, his followers
were quiet and respectful.
But according to the police, skirmishes erupted as soon as the evening’s
program ended and Mr. McInnes’s supporters confronted a group of masked
left-wing protesters that had left the event and walked down Lexington
Avenue to catch them. The opposing forces came face-to-face on East 82nd
Street, yelling at each other as they met. A protester hurled a plastic
bottle at the Proud Boys, and that, the police said, was when the
punches started flying.
It was not the first time that the city’s anarchists and anti-fascists
have clashed with Mr. McInnes and the Proud Boys, who have often served
as a private fight club ready to protect him.
In February 2017, the Proud Boys were present when anti-fascists swarmed
their leader as he showed up at New York University to speak to the
College Republicans there. Mr. McInnes claimed that he was doused with
pepper spray during the brawl that unfolded on the Greenwich Village
campus. Eleven people were eventually arrested.
Born in England and raised in Canada, Mr. McInnes has been a
controversial figure in the news media for nearly 20 years. In 1994,
after emerging from the punk-rock music scene, he co-founded Vice, the
Montreal-based hipster magazine that later moved to Brooklyn and
delighted audiences from the start with its graphic articles on subjects
such as drug-abusing models and decomposing pigeons.
While working for the magazine, he moved to Brooklyn, taking up
residence in a Williamsburg apartment. He now resides in the suburbs.
After leaving Vice in 2008 because of creative differences with his
partners, Mr. McInnes went on to write a series of books, like “How to
Piss in Public,” and articles for right-wing websites, like Taki’s
Magazine and VDARE.
Even in his earliest work, Mr. McInnes often took an adolescent pleasure
in offending liberals, women, “beta male culture” and transgender
people, writing in a voice inflected with a crass, contrarian bigotry
that left him just enough room to declare it all a joke.
In 2016, Mr. McInnes founded the first official chapter of the Proud
Boys in New York after, he said, he realized that fans of his former
television program, “The Gavin McInnes Show,” liked to spend time in his
studio, drinking beer with him and telling private jokes.
He has described the group, which has since spread to dozens of cities
and to countries, like Australia and Japan, as an ordinary men’s club,
like the Shriners or the Elks. It serves as a sort of safe space for him
and what he calls his fellow “Western chauvinists.”
In its guise as a fraternal organization, the Proud Boys get together in
New York and other cities once a month at beery meet-ups that can draw
as many as a few hundred participants. Women are not allowed at the
group’s formal gatherings (though they are permitted at the “warm up”
sessions, Mr. McInnes has written). As a character-building exercise,
the Proud Boys forbid both masturbation and the watching of pornography.
The group’s initiation rituals include reciting the names of five
breakfast cereals while being slugged by other members.
The monthly meet-ups are largely “social events where people have fun
and laugh and drink and share stories about their kids and businesses
and stuff like that,” said Pawl Bazile, the editor of Proud Boy
magazine. “It’s a celebration of the West, of America and of freedom and
But in the last two years, members of the group have also had a second
preoccupation, taking part in a string of violent street fights with
their anti-fascist rivals in cities like Berkeley, Los Angeles and
Sometimes accompanied by skinheads, neo-Nazis, modern-day Confederates
and outfits like the Oath Keepers, an association of law-enforcement
officers and military veterans, the Proud Boys have scuffled with the
left at May Day rallies, so-called free-speech protests and at marches
in support of President Trump.
While the Proud Boys accept minority members, they have at times joined
forces with overtly racist organizations. Jason Kessler, who once
attended Proud Boy meetings in Virginia, organized the violent rallies
in Charlottesville, Va., last year that attracted neo-Nazi groups.
One former Proud Boy, Rich Black, was among the planners of two violent
rallies in Berkeley in 2017 that were attended by white supremacist groups.
Mr. McInnes did not go to Charlottesville and explicitly forbade the
Proud Boys from attending. “To be clear, all white
nationalists/anti-Semites are banned from Proud Boys even if they never
bring up said topics,” he wrote in an article shortly after the violence
And yet, among those who attended his event on Friday night were a few
alleged members of a local skinhead group, the 211 Boot Boys, and the
founder of a record label called United Riot that releases albums from
local skinhead punk bands. United Riot organized a fund-raiser last year
for Andrew Kuklis, a Long Island member of the 211 Boot Boys who was
arrested in January 2017 on firearms charges.
In a text message on Monday, Mr. McInnes denied he had connections with
the 211 Boot Boys, saying, “I don’t represent them and I have no idea
who they all are and what they stand for.”
He also said on Monday on his show “Get Off My Lawn,” on the CRTV
streaming network, that he could not understand why the Proud Boys had
been blamed for the rioting last week when Antifa had started the
conflict, placing threatening phone calls to the Metropolitan Republican
Club and vandalizing its property.
“Article after article has this narrative where they took a fight that
happened for maybe five seconds, and they ignored the previous three
days of extremist, leftist violence,” he said.
Mr. McInnes’s confusion did little to win over Republicans like William
F. B. O’Reilly, who was president of the club from 1998 to 2002.
“The Republican brand doesn’t need this,” Mr. O’Reilly said of Mr.
McInnes and the Proud Boys. “It’s already got enough problems.”
He added, “There was no reason to invite that ilk to the Silk Stocking
district in New York.”
Ali Winston, Shane Goldmacher and Ashley Southall contributed reporting.
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