Standing in a sea of Proud Boys at the Washington Monument on the evening of Dec. 11, Chairman Enrique Tarrio addressed them through a bullhorn: "To the parasites, both in Congress and in that stolen White House: You want war? You've got war!"
The crowd erupted into a throaty chant of "Fuck antifa." After Tarrio promised to "bring the pain," a woman cried out, "I got the bear mace!" A man growled, "Let's bust some commies' heads open."
It was not the only time the Proud Boys and their right-wing allies used the word "war" over the course of the weekend, as Proud Boys roamed the streets, fueled by alcohol, punching, kicking and deploying chemical spray against left-wing opponents and local residents alike.
Addressing Proud Boys from the portico of the JW Marriott hotel on the same night, Owen Shroyer, a right-wing media entertainer with InfoWars, said he was issuing a "final warning to the Deep State" if the election was not certified for Donald Trump and he was not re-inaugurated on Jan. 20.
Despite the fact that the weekend was anything but, Shroyer warned: "We will only be peaceful one more time."
Predictably, one of the street gladiators shouted from the crowd: "You want a war? You've got one!"
Since the Nov. 3 election, the Proud Boys have markedly escalated their rhetoric and violence, while emerging as the thuggish street-fighting wing of a conspiracy-fueled coalition of Trump loyalists, COVID deniers, Christian fundamentalists and virulent anticommunists. With Trump's winking endorsement when he said, "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by," the group has emerged as a hub for other violent right-wing actors seeking a permissive environment to commit assaults.
Proud Boys vandalized four African-American churches in DC on Dec. 12 by stealing and in one case burning a Black Lives Matter flag, prompting one pastor to liken the offense to "cross burnings." The group's leaders have remained unrepentant. In spite of the group's desecration of the Black church as a historical institution of resistance, anti-feminism and transphobia are more central than white supremacy to the Proud Boys' quest to make the United States a right-wing authoritarian regime through maintaining and widening certain inequalities.
Less than a week after the Dec. 12 rally, Tarrio joined four other prominent Proud Boys on a video chat. Tarrio, who is a Miami resident of Afro-Cuban descent, fumed at the news that the church attacks were being investigated as a hate crime by the Washington DC Metro police and that the incidents had received public notice from the FBI. Then he publicly took responsibility for holding a lighter to the Black Lives Matter banner stolen from Asbury United Methodist Church and setting it on fire.
"And I am damn proud that I did," he said. "So, if this puts me under some type of investigation, or somebody's gonna knock on my door, then bring it. Because I did nothing wrong."
Tarrio argued that the vandalism couldn't be a hate crime because it wasn't racially motivated.
"The truth is here that nobody went up to that sign thinking it was a racial thing," he said, while falsely asserting that Black Lives Matter as a whole is "a Marxist movement, a terrorist movement."
Members also deflected any notion that the vandalism was religiously motivated, with Joe Biggs observing, "We're all Christians." It's undoubtedly true: After a man fervently prayed for God's protection over InfoWars founder Alex Jones at the Marriott on Dec. 12, chants erupted of, "Christ is king."
While the Proud Boys base their antagonism towards Black Lives Matter on conspiratorial view that it's a front for communism, reminiscent of the Cold War-era attacks on the Civil Rights Movement, the lingua franca of a movement that welcomes men or color and even gays into its ranks is misogyny.
"The role of white supremacism and racism can be variable," Alex DiBranco, the executive director of the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism, told Raw Story. "In the coalitions that are formed, I refer to misogyny as the glue that holds these groups together when they have white men and men of color. That doesn't mean white supremacy or xenophobia isn't a big part of the motivation for white men.
"Sometimes, the movement practices tokenism; there will be people of color who they trot out in front of the camera," DiBranco continued. "I don't think it applies for the Proud Boys; their role in the leadership is too integral. The glue of misogyny is holding together the coalition. If they were successful in reasserting the dominance of cisgender men, then for the white men in the movement, the next step would be to reassert the dominance of cisgender white men."
The racial and ethnic diversity in the Proud Boys mirrors that of the Trump coalition, which includes Latinx and Asian people rooted in anticommunist and Christian conservative movements, along with Black conservatives.
Eric Ward, the executive director of the Western States Center in Portland, Ore., said the Proud Boys' racial and ethnic diversity prevents the American public from properly recognizing it as the vanguard of an authoritarian movement.
"It is a clever movement that understands the importance of visual diversity," he said. "It is more committed to its authoritarian values than its flirtation with white nationalist values. At the end of the day, the Proud Boys stand as the surviving hub of the alt-right movement."
The tension between diversity and white nationalism has recently played out in a power struggle when Kyle Chapman, also known as "Based Stickman," attempted to wrest control of the Proud Boys leadership from Tarrio. Chapman, who set up the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knight as the "tactical defense arm" of the Proud Boys in 2017, announced on the social media app Telegram in November that he would assume leadership of the Proud Boys. Chapman said the Proud Boys would no longer appoint Black people as its leaders or accept homosexuals within its ranks. He said, "We recognize that the West was built by the white race alone, and we owe nothing to any other race." Chapman's attempted power grab appears to have failed, at least for the time being.
Regardless of the diverse face of the organization, the Proud Boys' reputation as right-wing fight club and its singular position within the hardcore Trump coalition makes it an anchor for an array of far-right actors, from mainstream MAGA followers to neo-Confederates.
On Dec. 12, about 250 Proud Boys marched from Harry's Bar, a favored gathering spot, to Black Lives Matter Plaza to try to confront antifascists. Proud Boys heckled police holding a line to prevent them from getting to the antifascists, calling them "oath breakers" for not allowing them to attack their adversaries. But the irregulars who had joined the march were some of the most vociferous. "I want blood!" a man wearing a Make America Great Again hat and carrying an American flag yelled at the police. "We'll clean up antifa for you."
The march also drew a group of self-described "monument protectors" who regularly counter-protest against Black Lives Matter in Alamance County, in North Carolina. Thomas May, one of the men, was conspicuous for being one of the only people at the rally in DC who was carrying a Confederate flag. Earlier this fall, May shouted "white power" from the bed of a pickup during a Trump parade through Elon, NC that was inspired by earlier Trump convoys in Portland, Ore. Later that evening, May yelled the N-word at a Black antiracist activist in the neighboring city of Graham. Reached on his Facebook account, May declined to comment to Raw Story.
The Proud Boys' record of policing their movement against infiltration by neo-Nazis is mixed.
When a Telegram user posted images with explicit national socialist and anti-Semitic themes on a Philadelphia Proud Boys thread celebrating their violence against antifascists in DC, Richard Schwetz recorded a message calling him out. "I want to fight you, one on one, man to man," Schwetz said. "I want to show you what happens to your little fake-ass white supremacist fucking Nazi-loving hating pieces of shit. I'll show you what the Proud Boys do to those type of people. We're not down with you. We don't like you. Philadelphia Proud Boys denounce you 150 fucking percent."
But across the country at a similar rally attended by Proud Boys in Olympia, Wash., where a far-right activist discharged a firearm, on the same day, a man with a long history of showing up at far right events can be heard in a video yelling an anti-Semitic slur at antifascists.
"At the end of the day, the fact that the Proud Boys seem unwilling to draw a clear moral barrier against that bigotry it their midst signals we will continue to find white nationalists in those spaces," Ward said. "It could serve to radicalize those white nationalists to engage in violence."
Whether Proud Boys give tacit approval to white supremacists or not, their provocations against Black Lives Matter can result in police violence against people of color because of unconscious bias.
Late on the night of Dec. 12, a group of Proud Boys happened upon Stephon Shields, a local resident who is Black, near the Downtown Holiday Market in DC as he was riding by on a scooter. Mistaking him for an antifascist counter-protester, they said, "Hey fellas, we got one! You feeling froggy?"
Outnumbered 12 to one, Shields picked up a chair to defend himself. During the melee, Jon Miles, the chief security officer at the holiday market, who is also Black, came forward to assist the police and a Proud Boy stepped from behind him and sprayed mace in his face. Although an officer had witnessed the conflict unfold from across the street, the police treated Shields as the instigator and pinned him against a storefront window, while allowing the Proud Boys to leave. Shields was eventually released without charges.
"What we are seeing as a national phenomenon is the intersection between white supremacy and white nationalism, and the systemic racial bias in our institutions play out in how police engage in crowd control tactics and de-escalation," Ward said. "It's hard for me to say this, but law enforcement is increasingly part of the problem at these rallies. What I mean by that is, law enforcement, because it is struggling around the unconscious bias that exists in its structure, plays that out in the streets to significant harm to the cities they serve. Because of that unconscious bias, law enforcement sees people of color who are on the street going to and from work — or counter-protesters — as more dangerous than armed and unarmed paramilitary formations, even though individuals in these formations have targeted and killed law enforcement — like the boogaloo boys. That is the power of unconscious bias. What we see is that people who are perceived to be counter-protesters are over-policed, and these people who are in paramilitaries are under-policed."
The perception that law enforcement is taking sides, already entrenched in Black, brown and indigenous communities "is a recipe for disaster for democracy," Ward said.
The post-election period has marked a shift in the Proud Boys' stance on violence. Prior to the election, Proud Boys typically said they only resorted to violence as a defensive measure, but in the past two months they've largely dropped any pretense that they're not actively seeking confrontation. On Dec. 12, large groups of Proud Boys made repeated forays from Harry's Bar to Black Lives Matter Plaza, hoping to fight antifascists. When police turned them away, they returned to Harry's Bar. Proud Boy Jeremy Bertino posted an invitation on his Parler account daring their left-wing adversaries to "come get some" at Harry's. (Less than an hour later, Bertino was stabbed by a DC resident named Phillip Johnson, who pulled a knife to defend himself after being surrounded by Proud Boys, and shoved and punched. Three other Proud Boys were also stabbed. One of them, Corey Nielsen, faces a simple assault charge for his part in the altercation.)
The Proud Boys' increasing proclivity towards violence is matched by a rising militancy among Trump's high-profile supporters, as the president's legal and political options for remaining in office dwindle. Lin Wood, the Atlanta attorney known for representing Richard Jewell — the security guard accused in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996 — advised his followers on Twitter on Dec. 14: "Make sure you have plenty of water, food, flashlights & batteries, candles, radio, 2nd Amendment supplies, & a plan to meet with leaders of your communities." He added, "Remember, we only have 1 president at a time. Our leader is Donald Trump, not Biden."
Biggs, the Proud Boy on the recent video conference with Tarrio, made a similar pronouncement before the first major Proud Boys gathering in DC, which took place on Nov. 14. Predicting a second civil war on his blog, he advised followers: "Buy ammo, clean your guns, get storable food and water. Be prepared! Things are about to get bad before they get better."
Ward said he expects to see continued violence as the Jan. 20 inauguration approaches.
"My sense is it will primarily still revolve around rallies, particularly while the election is being contested," he said. "Quite frankly, the anti-mask and anti-vaccer components of the authoritarian right will bloom and thrive during this moment. We are starting to see an increase in stories about groups engaging in more coordinated planning."
During the Dec. 12 rally, Robert Piccirillo, a Proud Boy based in West Palm Beach, Fla., exulted, "Everybody is so fucking hyped, they are ready for fucking murder, and they're going to get 'em. We're going to get some murders right now — fuck yeah!"
The Proud Boys apparently do not see publicity about their advocacy for violence as a liability.
Bertino, who wears a patch with the letters "RWDS" — an acronym for "right-wing death squad" — told left-wing adversaries in Raleigh, NC in late November: "We will exterminate you." Far from being chastened after the threat was publicized, Bertino signaled his approval by re-sharing a video of his outburst from an antifascist Twitter account on his Parler account.
Journalists, with the exception of pro-Trump outlets like Epoch Times, One America News and NewsMax, are not exempt from threats of violence.
"Make sure you guys get those crooked fake news activists as well," one Parler user posted on thread on Bertino's page. "They deserve a good beating. Then they'll be imprisoned."
"#Journalists are #traitors to the #republic and #partoftherebelalliance — #hangthemall," wrote another.
In the same thread, another user wrote: "Pepper spray? Fuck that shit. It's time to start killing and not stop until they are all gone! Even when they start to run. Bullets always run faster!"
Ward recalled when Trump supporters drove pickup trucks into downtown Portland and shot people with paintball guns who were perceived to be Black Lives Matter protesters or "antifa."
"I think there's a danger in seeing it as we're going to own the libs," Ward said. "We could see it another way: We're in a dry run. They were conditioning folks to point guns and pull the triggers. I find that akin to a paramilitary training in the streets of Portland."
While Proud Boys invective against Black Lives Matter, "antifa," the incoming Biden administration and journalists has become ever more hysterical, their public-facing media gaslights public concern by sporadically signaling racial and religious inclusion.
Piccirillo, an entrepreneur who sells T-shirts and promotes the Proud Boys through a podcast, recently published a light-hearted video in which he attempted to recruit a Montreal man who was raised in the Muslim faith to the organization. The man, identified only as "Zu," expressed enthusiasm for Alex Jones as an alternative to "the media perspective," and for Trump, admiring him for "bringing some spiciness to the process."
After attempting to recruit "Zu," Piccirillo acknowledged that Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes "has some crazy opinions about Muslims." Zu, who said he is no longer a practicing Muslim, professed to not be bothered by McInnes' views.
In a past interview, McInnes has readily owned up to being Islamophobe. At various times, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, McInness has called Islam "rape culture." He has said that "Muslims have a problem with inbreeding," and that "a disproportionate number of Muslims are… mentally damaged inbreds." And he has called the Koran "a hate book" that promotes "mass murder."
The Proud Boys' hatred towards women was on full display during the Dec. 12 rally in DC.
Ford Fischer, a videographer who frequently films tense street confrontations, captured an argument between Proud Boys and a woman who was a fellow Trump supporter. The woman was defending the police after the Proud Boys disparaged them for not allowing them to attack antifascists.
"Emotional women should not be in the movement," a man dressed in a Santa hat said.
"Misogyny is based," another man said through a bullhorn, meaning that hatred of women is righteous. "Get on board or leave."
When the woman tried to make her case in support of the police, the man with the bullhorn baited her by introducing a different subject: "Legal immigration — how do you feel?" Then he lectured her that if people are allowed to legally immigrate to the United States, "they will subject you to being a minority."
As the argument escalated, the man said, "It is women like you who have ruined this country." And as police escorted the woman and her friends away, the man said, "Goodbye, feminists. No room in the right for feminists."
DiBranco, the executive director of the Institute for Research on Male Supremacist, said it's not surprising that a group like the Proud Boys that emphasizes anti-feminist over white nationalist ideology would be at the forefront of Trump's efforts to overturn the election.
"Trump has been sympathetic to the white supremacist movement," she said, "but misogyny is really the core of his brand.
"He comes from this much more virulent culture of objectifying women, with a history of sexual harassment and sexual assault," DiBranco added.
One way misogyny manifests among Proud Boys is as a weapon against left-wing opponents. During a campaign of harassment against North Carolina antifascist Lindsay Ayling, Bertino trolled her in a Parler post with the hashtag #antifawhore, and then followed suit after his recent hospitalization by distributing an image of her online that was Photoshopped to make it appear that she was performing fellatio. And around the time of Thanksgiving, North Carolina Proud Boys filmed themselves hanging a banner reading "Kamala 'Heels Up' Harris." The phrase "Heels Up Harris" emerged soon after Harris was announced as Biden's running mate as part of a false and malicious smear insinuating that she slept her way to the top because the future California attorney general and US senator briefly dated then-California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown in the mid-1990s.
While overtly racist formations like the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and the white power movement in the 1980s encouraged women's auxiliaries, the Proud Boys as an anti-feminist group is doing the opposite.
"Part of the process of viewing women and feminism as enemies is related to their recruitment of men of color, and decreasing the involvement of women," DiBranco said.
As if on cue, the Proud Boys official Telegram account circulated a tile on Dec. 18 that addressed women, telling them there is no place in the organization for them, either as "Proud Boys' Girls" or "Proud Girls."
"Want to support us?" the edict read. "Get married, have babies, and take care of your family."
Jason Blazakis, a former counterterrorism official in the Obama administration who now directs the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism in Monterey, Calif., said the Proud Boys' "escalating rhetoric is of great concern," especially when considered in the context of Trump's refusal to accept the results of the election.
"Tarrio is trying to maintain his leadership role in the group," Blazakis told Raw Story. "He is being challenged by the more overt white supremacist wing. When a leader is threatened like that, they could react any number of ways. One of which, of course, is by pushing the group to more violent methods. Tarrio, himself seems to be flaunting laws — as exemplified by his destruction of property at a Black church.
"We should expect more violence from the group," Blazakis concluded. "That said, I doubt they can inspire any widespread acts of violence that are beyond the means of law enforcement to counter."
Standing alongside Tarrio and pardoned Trump advisor Roger Stone at the Marriott portico in DC on Dec. 11, the InfoWars personality Owen Shroyer bellowed, "We will be back in January for the re-inauguration of Donald Trump. And then, if Donald J. Trump is not re-inaugurated, we will take this country back.
"This is the final warning to the Deep State," Shroyer continued. "If they do not comply with we the people, we will take this country back by force."