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Who are the Proud Boys? A group no stranger to controversy and violence

Members of the Proud Boys cheer on stage as they and other right-wing demonstrators rally Sept. 26 in Portland, Ore.
Members of the Proud Boys cheer on stage as they and other right-wing demonstrators rally Sept. 26 in Portland, Ore.John Locher/Associated Press

The Proud Boys mentioned by President Trump during Tuesday night’s debate were launched in 2016 as a self-described “pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world; aka Western Chauvinists.”

But to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, the group created by alt-right activist Gavin McInnes is a hate group that uses violence to push an ideological agenda considered “misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigration” as well as “white supremacist and anti-Semitic” as the ADL wrote in its summary of the group.

According to the SPLC, the Proud Boys are one of at least 15 hate groups functioning in Massachusetts.


Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, tweeted about the group Tuesday night.

“This is not a joke and it’s not ‘out there,’” Everett tweeted. “Proud Boys have been here in Boston. Yet again the man with the national platform to either quell or encourage violence, chose the [latter]. Trump is encouraging white nationalists.”

During the monthslong protests against police violence in Portland, Ore., Proud Boys members have allegedly attacked protesters with paintball guns and one of its alleged members was arrested last month for twice shooting in the direction of Black Lives Matter marchers, according to the SPLC.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown recently declared a state of emergency in advance of a Proud Boys-sponsored rally in Portland that was expected to draw thousands, but only drew several hundred and was completed without violence.

A former Proud Boys member, whom McInnes later ejected from the group, organized the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., that included hundreds of neo-Nazis marching with burning torches on the campus of the University of Virginia, and led to the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer, who was run over by a car driven by a white supremacist.


McInnes, who in 2018 said he was formally ending his association with the group, wrote one year earlier that he did not support inciting violence, but did approve of self-defense.

"We don’t start fights, we finish them,'' he wrote. "The media calls us violent because we dare to hit back after being attacked.''

Following the violence connected to the 2017 white supremacists rally, Trump said there “some very fine people on both sides” and refused to directly condemn alt-right hate groups who attended.

During the Tuesday night debate, Trump refused to denounce white supremacists and specifically urged the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”

“Somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left,'' Trump said.

The connection between the Proud Boys and Trump is a strong one. On its website, Proud Boys Magazine, the online store includes a large picture of Trump against the backdrop of an American flag and the following quote: “Never, ever, ever give up. You can change and move around, but NEVER, ever give up!”

The store sells the red Trump “Make American Great Again” baseball hats along with clothing in the group’s black and gold colors, posters, banners, and accessories.

Shortly after the debate, the group began selling a T-shirt with Trump’s words, “Stand Back, Stand By.”

The Proud Boys have been banned from both Twitter and Facebook and now primarily communicate with each other through more obscure social media channels, the New York Times reported. At one point, the group had an estimated 20,000 followers on social media platforms.


The group, who are known has an international reach, according to the ADL, with chapters in Britain, Norway, and Australia.

Members historically have worn black and gold Fred Perry twin-tipped shirts. But the British-based clothing company last week said it won’t sell the shirts in the US and Canada because the style has become so closely associated with the Proud Boys.

“Fred Perry does not support and is in no way affiliated with the Proud Boys,'' the company wrote in its Sept. 24 posting. “It is incredibly frustrating that this group has appropriated our Black/Yellow/Yellow twin tipped shirt and subverted our Laurel Wreath to their own ends ... We will not sell it there or in Canada again until we’re satisfied that its association with the Proud Boys has ended.”

(Travis Andersen of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.)

John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.