The Proud Boys’ New Plan for Power
Mary Harris: Earlier this week, the January 6th Select Committee built this case. They pointed out a tweet that Donald Trump sent in the middle of the night on December 19th. And this tweet, the committee said it was a bad signal for organized extremists all over the country. You remember this tweet, the one that talked about a big protest in D.C. on January 6th and ended with a flourish. Be there will be wild. Here’s committee member jamie raskin.
Speaker 2: As we’ll see. Donald Trump’s 1:42 a.m.. Tweet electrified and galvanized his supporters, especially the dangerous extremists in the oath keepers, the proud boys, and other racist and white nationalist groups spoiling for a fight against the government.
Mary Harris: The committee mapped out how this one message pinged around the Internet.
Speaker 3: It felt as if a mob was being organized.
Mary Harris: And this is testimony from an anonymous source inside Twitter itself. The person’s voice has been disguised. They explain how they watched Twitter users light up at the invitation to come to DC.
Speaker 3: I very much believe Donald Trump posting this tweet on December 19 was essentially. Speaking of flag in DC on January six for his supporters to call at a rally. And you were concerned about the potential for this gathering becoming violent? Absolutely. It was very clear that individuals were ready, willing and able to take up arms.
Mary Harris: Then this enthusiasm on Twitter, it jumped to Reddit and YouTube.
Speaker 2: One post encouraged others to come with body armor, knuckles, shields, bats, pepper spray, whatever it takes. All of those were used on the sixth. The Post concluded. Join your local Proud Boys chapter as well.
Speaker 4: Not only did that December 19th tweet whip all of the far right up into a frenzy about January six specifically, but that immediately put them into a mode where they were planning for their last stand for their president, who, by the way, the proud boys and the Oath Keepers see as, you know, their boss.
Mary Harris: Andy Campbell has been thinking about the implications of that December 19th tweet for months now. He just finished writing a book on The Proud Boys. He’s come to see this group as totally enmeshed in the events of January 6th. After all, a proud boy was one of the first people to breach the Capitol, smashing a window with a stolen police shield.
Speaker 4: The proud boys didn’t just have an outsized role on the day and an outsized role in the sort of whipping up a frenzy prior to to January six. But they may have been the architects.
Mary Harris: Andy has followed along as the government builds a criminal case against the proud boys. Federal prosecutors are charging some members with seditious conspiracy. The Department of Justice has even alleged some proud boys had a document with them laying out what kind of chants to start on the day of the riot and whose congressional offices to occupy.
Speaker 4: What they were doing by releasing that information was showing other proud boys, Hey, you guys are in big trouble. And what they got from that was a number of proud boys. They’re going to testify against one another.
Mary Harris: Well, so you’re kind of laying out this picture of the Department of Justice rolling in and. Kind of rolling up this gang, the proud boys charging the leader and four other members with seditious conspiracy. Some of the most serious charges against any January six rioters. Do you think this is the end of the Proud Boys?
Speaker 4: Absolutely not. And since January 6th, we’ve only seen them ramp up their of their violent events there. They’re everywhere every single weekend, in fact, with with Trump out of office in with January six behind us. Extremist groups like The Proud Boys are completely untethered by, you know, by Trump as their leader and are instead latching on to all sorts of Republican grievances.
Mary Harris: Today on the show. Why? For groups like The Proud Boys. January 6th wasn’t the end. It was the beginning. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to What Next? Stick around.
Mary Harris: Andy Campbell has been covering the Proud Boys since their inception in 2016. He’d noticed them at Trump rallies. The proud boys stood out because they looked paramilitary and they weren’t shy.
Speaker 4: You know, these guys dressed in makeshift body armor and makeshift weaponry and wearing uniforms, showing up to Trump rallies. And these guys wanted you to know who they were. They wanted to be lionized for the acts of violence they committed. And they wanted to talk to the press. They were like, Yeah, here’s my name. Tell everyone what I did because I’m a badass.
Mary Harris: Well, when you say what they wanted to be lionized for acts of violence. What do you mean? Like, what were they bragging to you about?
Speaker 4: Well, one of the proud boys faces facing seditious conspiracy charges. Ethan Nordin punched a guy unconscious in 2018 and it was caught on video. Alex Jones called it The Punch Heard around the world. Gavin McGuiness, the founder of The Proud Boys, called Ethan Nordean their their greatest achievement, The Proud Boys ever had. He was given a nickname Rufio Pan Men, a reference to the leader of the Lost Boys in the movie Hook. And now that punch in that video. Short as it is of him committing an act of political violence is in every proud boy sizzle reel on the Internet.
Speaker 5: You know who gave it to the Nazis? Why are you so.
Mary Harris: It’s funny because I feel like in the early coverage of The Proud Boys, there is a desire to see them as silly, like they would get together for drinks. And there was this kind of element of. Violence. But then they had like an oath that you would take and they were doing wacky stuff. I mean, you kind of get to it a little bit there. You say one of them got a nickname from Peter Pan. Like it was like real life shit posting. Do you know what I mean?
Speaker 4: Absolutely.
Mary Harris: Do you think that was intentional as a way to sort of confuse people?
Speaker 4: You hit the nail right on the head, the history of the formation of the proud boys. You know, they were formed on the online talk show of Gavin McGuinness, their founder, and also the co-founder of Vice Media. This guy is a just abhorrent, racist, misogynist, and he made a name for himself by sort of packaging misogyny and racism and bigotry into, you know, cool stuff for hipsters. He is he is absolutely a character of the early aughts, you know, sort of like misogyny is funny. A crew of comedians, right? Feminism is redundant. Fighting for racism. Fighting racism is redundant. There is a war on.
Speaker 3: Masculinity going on in the West.
Speaker 4: And it starts in kindergarten.
Mary Harris: Where he had a Brooklyn beard, is what I remember.
Speaker 4: Oh, yeah. He maintains the sort of hipster aesthetic he’s got the Wayfarer glasses, you know, sleeves rolled up to his elbows and suspenders. He’s constantly got this tongue in cheek attitude. But what he’s saying is, get out there, commit violence for the cause, the cause being Trump and the GOP. And, you know, he is very serious when he’s telling his audience to go out there, commit violence.
Speaker 4: So The Proud Boys, they are trained very well by Gavin McGuiness to slather everything they do in irony and and in non seriousness so that when the dust settles they can, they can say one of two things. What we were doing was, you know, defending ourselves. This is political demonstration or, you know, none of this matters. You know, the fact that we were calling for violence before the violence happened, that’s, you know, we were just joking, yadda, yadda. And it’s completely snowed over. Members of the media and the government and outgoing Homeland Security officer told The Times after January six that they thought the proud boys were just a drinking club that gets in fights from time to time. And that is exactly the line that Gavin McInnes and the Proud Boys want you to think.
Mary Harris: I think I first started thinking about former President Trump’s connections with The Proud Boys a little before the 2020 election. This is that debate Trump was in with President Biden and he was asked to condemn white nationalist groups.
Speaker 6: What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a nice surprise. That’s a proud voice. And right from my boys. Stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what.
Mary Harris: President Trump was given, like a list of groups that he could condemn. And he picked the Proud Boys and was the first time to me that I was like, Oh, there’s a connection here. It seemed like. President Trump chose them out of the list to speak to, you know.
Speaker 4: And that is a testament to two things. One, Trump really, really loves people that love him. And the proud boys have very publicly and very violently shown time and time again that they are out there for Trump. In fact, Michael Cohen said prior to January six that Trump’s.
Mary Harris: Former lawyer.
Speaker 4: Yes, Trump’s former lawyer said between that debate and January six, he said on an interview with CNN that Trump knew exactly who they were and that he knew exactly what he was saying when he said, stand back and stand by. He was giving them marching orders. Now, whether or not you believe that, you know, Trump was giving them marching orders or that Trump can’t put a sentence together. So, you know, he’s not really responsible for that moment. It doesn’t matter, because immediately following that statement, the proud boys started prepping for civil war.
Mary Harris: How?
Speaker 4: Across the country they were watching TV. I spoke to Enrique Tarrio.
Mary Harris: The former chairman of The Proud Boys.
Speaker 4: Yes. Yes. Who is who is now facing seditious conspiracy charges for January six. I spoke to him and he said he had never gotten so many calls for recruitment. Had never seen so much money rolling in until that moment. And immediately following for the extremists of the world, this was like, oh, my God, the proud boys are are top dogs. These guys have it.
Mary Harris: It’s funny because the. Select Committee talked about this moment this week, and they talked about it not from the perspective of the proud boys or the president or anyone else. They talked about it for the perspective of Twitter because they had someone testify from Twitter. This person was anonymous and their voice was disguised. So we don’t know their gender or who they really are. But this person told the committee that this moment, this debate moment was kind of an earthquake on the platform. And it was a moment where Twitter considered having stricter content moderation policy because they could see how engaged people got right after the president called out the proud boys directly.
Speaker 3: So just to clarify further, you were worried and others at Twitter were worried that the president might use your platform to speak directly to folks who might be incited to violence. Yeah, I believe that Twitter relished in the knowledge that they were also be pretty bright and mostly used service of the former president and enjoyed having. That sort of power within the social media ecosystem.
Speaker 4: As reporters covering this beat, we have, you know, told people time and time again that there is a direct line between Trump’s rhetoric and the violence happening out in the street, the political violence. Trump says something and points at someone and that person or that thing gets attacked. I mean, this has been happening over and over. I’m old enough to remember when, you know, Trump called a number of top Democrats and reporters, they called him the enemy of the people. And then bombs started showing up at their houses. You know, this moment at the House committee hearing showed that the platforms which were boosting Trump’s speech knew that and they were amplifying it.
Mary Harris: When we come back, why spreading hate online turns out to be pretty good preparation for building political power. Stick around.
Mary Harris: The connections the proud boys forged with Trumpworld ran deep. That was obvious when the January six Select Committee shared a video of Trump adviser Roger Stone reciting the Proud Boys fraternal creed.
Speaker 3: Via Roger Stone Wall Street Show.
Mary Harris: It’s a little hard to hear, but he’s saying, I’m a Western chauvinist and I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world. In the months since January 6th, the connections between the Proud Boys and the GOP, they’ve only gotten stronger, Andy Campbell says. It’s a little like the group has metastasized.
Speaker 4: People are always surprised to learn this, but the proud boys are embraced and supported and very close to the full gamut of GOP elites next to Trump. I mean, after January 6th. Ann Coulter writes a writes a blog titled Thank God for the Proud Boys and reveals that she’s been using them as her security for events for years. Roger Stone used them as his security for years, and by the time January six rolls around, he was in a mass text with both the leaders of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, Enrique Tarrio and Stewart Rhodes.
Mary Harris: It was called Friends of Stone. The chat.
Speaker 4: And the these guys love to to put a title card on their crimes.
Mary Harris: Was the level of organization before January six surprise surprised you?
Speaker 4: It’s interesting you ask that, because when it happened, we saw that things were going to be bad because we saw these guys getting crazy about January six prior to it happening. We saw them gathering their resources and we were concerned because this is what the proud boys do. And if they do one thing well, it’s sort of coalition build. They are very able to bring all sorts of extremist factions together under one banner. So that’s very concerning. But even I didn’t think that they were capable of being the full architects and the planners of a storming of the Capitol by thousands of people.
Mary Harris: And they were creating maps of the Capitol and pinpointing locations of police in anticipation of January 6th. Right.
Speaker 4: And a year after January six, we learned through evidence that, yeah, Enrique had a plan in his hands to storm various buildings on January six. And that was absolutely wild to me and the proud boys. You know, I think in the world’s eyes have begun to show themselves as not a bumbling, sort of drunken fraternity, but an actual terrorist group. Their leadership has been jailed time and time again over the years for various assault crimes. And every time their chapters continue to work as normal, they were built to have some sense of autonomy. They can, you know, throw events on their own accord, and they do.
Mary Harris: Sounds like cells.
Speaker 4: Absolutely. And these cells are very easy to put together and very easy to deny their existence because, you know, all it takes to to join one of them is to, you know, join their telegram group and or Facebook group. Right.
Mary Harris: Can you explain a little bit the ways that the proud boys have begun making themselves essential to the mainstream GOP? I’ve read a little bit about what the Proud Boys are doing in Florida in particular, which I find interesting because it’s not. Traditional running for office. Like here I am running for Congress. Instead, it’s pulling the levers of power from inside the local Republican Party. Can you explain?
Speaker 4: Miami is one of the seats of power for the proud boys in general, because that’s it’s where Enrique and Tarrio is from and it’s where he met at a party. Roger Stone. So Miami was a natural place for the proud boys to sort of insert themselves into real politics, not by being, you know, security for politicians, but by being politicians themselves. And so they have a number of people who have taken seats at the Republican Party of Miami Dade County.
Mary Harris: Well, they’re in the executive committee. Right. So they get to make the party platform and decide, like, what do we believe here?
Speaker 4: And they already have Republicans on that committee were questioned about it. You know, they say, hey, we’ve got a lot of characters here. This is an American, you know, this is an American thing. We have a big tent, kinds of different voices. Right. Big tent. And and that speaks to how the Republican Party today, they are big tent. And it’s the reason why I see, you know, at events today sort of what should be regular conservative political events like MAGA rallies. You’ll see a neo-Nazi standing by a woman who could be your aunt and they’re protesting together.
Mary Harris: You said this interesting thing, which is that no matter what happens now. The proud boys have a legacy at this moment because they’ve created a playbook. I wonder if you see evidence of that out there of other people looking to them and saying, oh, they did something interesting here.
Speaker 4: Absolutely. You have members of other extremist groups using the Proud Boys playbook by, you know, showing up to different civic events, committing violence, and then declaring that they are, you know, doing this under the auspices of constitutionally protected demonstration.
Speaker 4: And we know that this works because a lot of people forget that the organizer of Unite the Right, Jason Kessler, is a member of The Proud Boys. But you don’t often think of the Proud Boys when you think of Unite the Right, despite many members being there. And that’s because they were able to sort of lower their involvement after the fact and sort of present themselves to the GOP, not as Nazis, but as a political force. You know, the Proud Boys playbook shows how you can go from bumbling street gang to a legitimate political force by gaining these relationships within politics and by positioning yourself as something other than, you know, an extremist gang.
Mary Harris: Andy Campbell, I’m really grateful for your time. Thanks so much for joining me.
Speaker 4: Thank you so much for having me. This is a great conversation and, you know, so important going forward into this election season. I’m really, really worried about it.
Mary Harris: Andy Campbell is a senior editor at HuffPost. He’s also the author of an upcoming book, We Are Proud Boys, and that’s the show. What next is produced by Mary Wilson, Alina Schwartz, Madeline Ducharme and Carmel Delshad. We’re getting a ton of support right now from Anna Phillips, Anna Rubanova and Jared Downing. We are led by Joanne Levine and Alicia montgomery. And I’m Mary Harris. You tracked me down on Twitter. I see my dog and my plants. I’m at Mary’s desk. Thanks for listening. I’m going to hand things off to Lizzie O’Leary right now. She’s the host of What Next? TBD and I will be back in your feed on Monday.