Proud Boys supporters on the Make America Great Again march in December 2020 in Washington DC (Picture: Geoff Livingston on Flickr)

The Proud Boys, the fascist militia that rallied behind Donald Trump, are in crisis.

Last week a court sentenced its leader Enrique Tarrio to 22 years in prison for his part in organising the attack on the Capitol in Washington on 6 January 2021.

Three other leading members of the outfit, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl, had already been sentenced to 18 years, 17 years and 15 years respectively.

They also had taken part in a ­violent but failed attempt to ­overthrow the result of the presidential election and to keep Trump in power.

The prisoners will be hoping he is back in the White House soon and can deliver them a pardon.

The Proud Boys were set up by the far right racist Gavin McInnes in September 2016.

He set it up as an all-male force to confront Trump’s opponents. The Proud Boys were intent on driving anti-racist, feminist and gay protest off the streets.

They have been described as “Hipster Brownshirts” after Adolf Hitler’s thugs. McInnes made clear, “‘I want violence”.

Fascism requires more than elections, although it uses elections. It needs a street army—and the Proud Boys were one of the ­potential challengers for that role.

They stood alongside the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, Patriot Prayer, Boogaloo Bois and others.

They saw themselves as the proud defenders of Western civilisation and of male privilege and were fiercely misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic, anti‑immigrant, antisemitic and championed authoritarianism.

Among the merchandise they sold were shirts proclaiming “Pinochet Did Nothing Wrong” in celebration of Chile’s dictator, and “Kill Your Local Paedophile” along with right wing death squad patches.

As far as they were concerned, the United States was under attack from a liberal communist conspiracy that was out to enslave the country. They were Trump’s foot soldiers in the fight to prevent this.

The cops routinely allowed them to parade armed with riot shields and clubs, sometimes with handguns and even automatic weapons, beating protesters up while the police stood by.

While the organisation probably never had more than 5,000 members, they were able to make an impact when they mobilised.

In September 2020, during a presidential election debate, Trump himself told them to stand down but also to “stand by”. The Proud Boys then produced a range of “Stand By” merchandise.

The man who acted as their go‑between with Trump was his close confidante and adviser, Roger Stone.

After the 2020 presidential ­election, they rallied to Trump’s fakery that he had actually won and that the election had been stolen for Joe Biden.

On 6 January, they confidently expected that while they were storming the Capitol, Trump would declare the election result void, in effect seizing power.

They hoped that they would play a vital role in helping put down the opposition. In fact, Trump used them. Both he and Roger Stone promised to be with them at the Capitol, but this didn’t happen.

Trump used them and then left them hung out to dry. Not Proud but rather Stupid Boys. 

John Newsinger is the author of Chosen By God: Donald Trump, The Christian Right and American Capitalism. Available at Bookmarks Bookshop.

 

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