While it’s common for far-right groups to be organized around a charismatic leader, for example, the National Policy Institute and Richard Spencer, the Traditionalist Workers Party and Matthew Heimbach, or, in Québec, the Storm Alliance and Dave Tregget, in no case is the group and its leader more synonymous than with the Proud Boys and Gavin McInnis. It is with McInnis that any examination of the Proud Boys must begin. McInnis who was born in England and raised in Ottawa, first made his bones in Montréal as St-Laurent St. hipster in mid-1990s. Most evenings McInnis could be found hanging out in what was then Montréal’s premiere Anglophone hipster bar, Bifteck, which he could literally see from the window of his St-Dominique St. apartment. If you were to run into McInnis in those days, you wouldn’t have heard him holding forth on closed borders or the need to salvage masculinity; to the contrary, that Gavin McInnis might have been found defending some left-wing cause or telling you he was a “feminist.”
It was in this context that McInnis and two other Montréalers, Shane Smith and Saroosh Alvi, gave birth to The Voice of Montréal in 1994. It would not adopt the name Vice until 1996. If you were paying attention, the first signs of the direction McInnis would go in were already there. From the outset,Vice had a dysfunctional teenage boy aesthetic, with its mix of female nudity, “shocking” stories about rampant drug abuse and kinky sex, paeans to alternative rock stars, cheap shots at how people not as hip as the authors’ lived their pathetic lives (McInnis’s mean-spirited fashion “dos and don’ts,” essentially a collection of photos mocking the way random people on the street were dressed, was a perennial favourite), and lots and lots of really cool, if somewhat disturbing, graphics: basically a pot pourri childish pee pee caca journalism. Speaking of this period, Rupert Bottenberg, who at the time wrote for the weekly culture newspaper The Montreal Mirror, said of McInnis: “He was always a provocateur and shit disturber—in a good way—back in the day. He has a sort of clinical lack of compassion, which, if you take on the task of challenging other people’s bullshit is a good thing.”It is this “clinical lack of compassion”that would come to shape McInnis’s public persona and politics after he left Vice in 2008.
Almost immediately after leaving Vice, McInnis’spublic march to the right began in earnest. Over the next couple of years, he would work with media running the gamut of the far right. As well as his own Gavin McInnes Show on Compound Radio, McGinnis appeared on Fox News’s Red Eye, The Greg Gutfield Show, and The Sean Hannity Show, Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media, and The Alex Jones Show. At various points he also wrote for far-right online magazines and websites, including Taki’s Magazine, TruthRevolt, Death and Taxes, The Federalist, American Renaissance and VDARE.
In spite of these close relationships with far-right individuals and entities, there are still those who seem to want to believe that McInnis is just playing the part of the irreverent jokester, and when he needs to that’s exactly the card he plays. At the end of the day, however, the easiest way to discredit McInnis is just to let him talk. As far back as 2002, when he was living in the New York neighbourhood of Williamsburg, and a reporter from the New York Press asked him what he thought of his neighbours in the up and coming yuppie neighbourhood, McInnis responded, “Well, at least they’re not niggers or Puerto Ricans. At least they’re white.” Funny guy. Let’s have a little cross section of other pearls of wisdom from Gavin McInnis. In 2003, far before the current anti-immigrant / refugee movement had really picked up steam, McInnis is quoted as saying,“I love being white and I think it’s something to be proud of.I don’t want our culture diluted. We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, white, English-speaking way of life.” (He is, of course, a big supporter of Trump’s efforts to close U.S. borders to Muslims.)In 2013, bragging about his sexual exploits, McInnis wrote, “I learned they want to be downright abused. When I stopped playing nice and began totally defiling the women I slept with, the number of them willing to sleep with me went through the roof.” In 2014, he referred to transgender people as “mentally ill gays who need help,” which apparently doesn’t include “being maimed by physicians,” and as “gender niggers.” In December 2015, addressing domestic abuse, McInnis tweeted, “Every guy I’ve ever known to be involved in a ‘domestic’ was the result of some cunt trying to ruin his life.” In 2016, he referred to Jada Pinkett Smith as a “monkey actress” and to Susan Rice, who at the time was the U.S. National Security Advisor, as a “dindunuffin.” Both women are, of course, black. All of this is barely to skim the surface when it comes to McInnis seeing how far he can push the boundaries of hate.
Which isn’t to say McInnis never has a self-reflectively honest moment. In 2017, he said, “I’m not a fan of Islam. I think it’s fair to call me Islamophobic.” And indeed, he proves the point with statements like: “Palestinians are stupid. Muslims are stupid. And the only thing they really respect is violence and being tough”; and “Why don’t we take back Bethlehem? Why don’t we take back Northern Iraq? Why don’t we start our own Crusades? That’s what the Crusades were. They weren’t just someone picking on Muslims for no reason—they were a reaction to Muslim tyranny. We finally fought back.”
One might think that the fact that McInnis was a regular on Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media and was even known to describe himself as a Zionist would mean he would at least spare us the antisemitism that so often accompanies his range of “ideas.” One would be wrong. In what is certainly one of his his most spectacular examples of raving hatred, in 2017, after visiting Israel, McInnis titled a forty-five-minute rant on Rebel Media “Ten Things I Hate about Jews.” (It was later changed to “Ten things I Hate about Israel,” but by then the cat was out of the bag.) Are you ready? The pearls of wisdom included: “Hebrew is spit talk and whole language is clearing your throat, it’s like Gaza, they’re launching little tiny missiles from their mouth onto your shirt.” He also accused Jews of having “a whiny paranoid fear of Nazis,” which makes sense when you hear his ruminations on the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum: “I felt myself defending the super far-right Nazis just because I was sick of so much brainwashing and I felt like going, ‘Well, they never said it didn’t happen. What they’re saying is it was much less than six million and that they starved to death and weren’t gassed, that they didn’t have supplies.’” After this bit of Holocaust denial, McInnis adds, as an apparent rationalization, this little gem about the deaths of Ukranians during Joseph Stalin’s reign in the Soviet Union: “That was by Jews. That was by Marxists, left-wing commies, socialist Jews.” Oh, and there’s a reason why Germans would legitimately support the Nazis and persecute and murder Jews: “Wasn’t the Treaty of Versailles, wasn’t that disproportionately influenced by Jewish intellectuals?” For some reason, McInnis was surprised when both former KKK leader David Duke and alt-right fascist Richard Spencer tweeted their support and admiration. This wasn’t McInnis’s first foray into antisemitism. Back in 2014, when taking part in a discussion about how Jewish people have historically been pushed into generally ostracized economic pursuits, McInnis said, “Maybe they were ostracized for a good reason.”
It was with the formation of the Proud Boys in 2016 that McInnis was able to give form to all of this amorphous hatred. The official site the Proud Boys (apparently named after the song “Proud of Your Boy,” from the stage version of Disney’s Aladdin, which McInnis first heard at his daughter’s school recital) informs us that:
Proud Boys’ values center of the following tenets:
- Minimal Government
- Maximum Freedom
- Anti-Political Correctness
- Anti-Drug War
- Closed Borders
- Anti-Racial Guilt
- Pro-Free Speech (1st Amendment)
- Pro-Gun Rights (2nd Amendment)
- Glorifying the Entrepreneur
- Venerating the Housewife
- Reinstating a Spirit of Western Chauvinism
In 2013, McInnis joined the Catholic Church, saying that fatherhood had made him believe in God, becoming a member of the Catholic fraternal order the Knights of Columbus in the process. McInnis likes to frame his Proud Boys as a men’s drinking club and “a fraternal organization like the Elks Lodge, like the Shriners, like the Knights of Columbus,” in this case a fraternal order devoted to “Western chauvinism.” In a June 2017 Rebel Media clip, McInnis clarified: “The only prerequisite is that you’re a dude—born a dude—and you accept the West is the Best. Yes, we’re chauvinist. Chauvinist doesn’t mean sexist! Chauvinist means extremely patriotic.” By the way, in October 2017, the “not sexist” McInnis tweeted, “Great. Now quit slutting around and using abortion as birth control. You’re in your 30s. Get a ring on it and BREED!” And Alice Le Fae of the Proud Boys’ Girls, a group of women who are married to, dating, or otherwise support members of the Proud Boys, tells us: “We’re not feminists, but we love femininity, which has kind of been a lost thing in Western culture. Our generation and the generation underneath me was kind of raised to be a career woman, go out and do your own thing. . . . That’s something that we’re proud of is the old Western culture and being a housewife, raising families.” The “not sexist,” “feminist” even, he insists, McInnis has added, “Women should be at home with the kids, they’re happier that way.”
This sad little boys’ club, which McInnis insists allows men emasculated by modern culture to regain their manhood, has grown, according to a number of sources ranging from McInnis himself to the Southern Poverty Law Center, to between 3,000 and 6,000 members, making it certainly one of the largest, if not the largest, alt-right organization in North America. In the spirit of the “fraternal orders” that McInnis so admires, the Proud Boys have four degrees of membership. This is where McInnis, who has referred to himself as a “class clown,” appears to be more of a “village idiot.” First-degree membership is simple enough: declare “I am a Western chauvinist who refuses to apologize for creating the modern world”and you’re in. With second degree membership, shit starts to get weird. The aspiring second-degree member is beaten by at least five fellow members until he has named five breakfast cereals—yep, say Corn Flakes, Cheerios, Cap’n Crunch, Special K, and Cocoa Puffs and the pain will stop, and presumably the bros will buy you a beer. This particular initiation ritual has to be taped if neither McInnis or a trusted Proud Boy representative is there to see it. But that’s only half the story. The second-degree prospect also has to abjure from masturbation, which McInnis explained in a 2015 Rebel Media video is “hurting our marriage and it’s draining our life force” and along with pornography is making men “weaker and stupider and lazier.” McInnis isn’t a harsh master, though, he benevolently allows that “You can only ejaculate on your own once a month, and how you do it is up to you.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that a lot of second-degree members are breaking the rules. To become a third-degree member, you have to get a Proud Boys tattoo, making you and the other kids bffs, I suppose. McInnis added a fourth degree of membership in 2017, when the Proud Boys began clashing with antifascists at far-right public events. It is reserved for any member who has “endured a major conflict related to the cause.”
Speaking of violence, as with everything else in the world, McInnis has a position on it, and in the spirit of consistency, it’s a stupid position: “I cannot recommend violence enough. It’s a really effective way to solve problems.” On Rebel Media he gushes about the Proud Boys numerous clashes with antifascists: “We’re the only ones fighting these guys, and it’s fun. When they go low, go lower. Mace ’em back, throw bricks at their head. Let’s destroy them. We’ve been doing it for a while now and I gotta say, it’s really invigorating.” In a fit of macho posturing on InfoWars, McInnis describes his own clash with an antifascist outside of the DeploraBall in Washington, DC, in January 2017: “My fist went into his mouth. I felt his tongue. . . . I felt so much moisture in there. I think I went right down his esophagus.” Wild exaggeration as anyone who has seen the video of the actual minor fisticuffs would know. That’s not to say that Proud Boys violence should not be taken seriously. The organization was involved in a number of high profile violent clashes in early 2017. In February 2017, eleven people were arrested in clashes between Proud Boys and left-wing protesters at a New York University, where McInnis was speaking, and a journalist from DNAInfo was injured. In March, prominent Proud Boy Kyle Chapman (aka Based Stickman) was arrested after being caught on video beating a counter-protester over the head with a wooden dowel at a Trump Rally in Berkeley, California. In April, the Liberty Revival Alliance organized a “Patriot’s Day” rally in Berkeley. Proud Boys were in attendance, acting as security for far-right vlogger Lauren Southern,and were involved in violence that led to twenty arrests and eleven injuries.
It was following this April incident that the McInnis decided to institutionalize the Proud Boys’ violence, creating what he called a paramilitary wing, the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights. (Ironically enough, given this choice of name, McInnis is fond of bristling at the suggestion that his organization is part of the alt-right—and that’s not even to address the reverberations of the KKK in this chosen assignation.) Not surprisingly, the FOAK is led by Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman, whose proclivity for violence predates his alt-right concerns. When he was arrested in 2008 after illegally selling guns to a police informer through a tattoo parlour in San Diego, his third felony arrest, having already served time for armed robbery and grand theft, the search of his home produced body armor, a pistol, throwing knives, brass knuckles, and a large amount of ammunition. The website set up by the FOAK prominently promotes for sale the sort of defensive and offensive gear Chapman is fond of using at demos, including wooden doweling of the sort he used to beat a protestor in March,at $19.25 a stick.
It’s tempting to write off McInnis and Proud Boys as the buffoons they clearly are, but that would be to overlook their increasing reach and their obvious willingness, even desire, to mete out violence against all those who stand in the way of their dystopic fantasy of a return to an imaginary world where white Judaeo-Christian men strode tall and everyone else knew their place.
Structure and Mode of Operation
The Proud Boys’ structure is fairly straight forward. Gavin McInnis is in charge of everything, and Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman controls the logistics of beating people up.
Some of Their Greatest Hits
The Proud Boys have popped up in Canada from time to time doing security at far-right events, but their explosion into mainstream consciousness came on July 1, 2017, when five members, dressed in the Proud Boys unofficial uniform—a black Fred Perry polo shirt with yellow piping—disrupted a native protest ceremony being held at the statue of Lieutenant General Edward Cornwallis in Halifax. A native leader named Chief Grizzly Mamma was cutting her hair as part of a mourning ritual, when five Proud Boys carrying the Red Ensign flag, the flag used by Canada before the introduction of the maple leaf flag in 1965, arrived and began heckling. The Red Ensign is seen by many as the Canadian equivalent of the Confederate flag, celebrating a period of genocide. And, in fact, when those gathered for the ceremony reminded the Proud Boys that they were on Mi’kmaq land, one of them was caught on tape responding,“This is a British colony. You’re recognizing the heritage, and so are we,” another voice adding “this was Mi’kmaq territory—it is now Canada.”Having disrupted the ceremony and asserted their Western chauvinist prerogative, the five Proud Boys did what Proud Boys do; they went drinking, with four of them seen giving the white power salute later that evening in a Halifax bar.
When it ended up that these particular five Proud Boys—Braidyn Pollitt, Eric Maurice, Grant Gauchier, and brothers John and Dave Eldridge—were all member of the Canadian military, General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, released a statement saying, “The members involved will be removed from training and duties while we conduct an investigation and review the circumstances,” threatening “severe consequences, including release from the forces.” When it ended up that four of the five were members of the navy, Rear Admiral John Newton, Commander of the Maritime Fleet of the Royal Canadian Navy, pronounced himself “personally horrified” and described the Proud Boys as “clearly a white supremacist group.” Nonetheless, when the investigation was concluded, Newton announced that four of the Proud Boys had returned to active duty, while one had chosen to leave the military.
Never one to miss the opportunity to offend someone—almost anyone—McInnis himself waded into this fray. Interviewed on CBC by Hannah Thibodeau, who drew to his attention to a scalping proclamation passed by Cornwallis and his military council in 1749, which offered “ten Guineas for every Indian Micmac taken, or killed, to be paid upon producing such savage taken or his scalp,” and asked, “Given Cornwallis issued a bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaq people, can you see why the Indigenous people were protesting?” McInnis replied, “Can you see why Cornwallis issued a bounty on Mi’kmaqs?” He also challenged the characterization of Nova Scotia as unceded Mi’kmaq land, rhetorically fulminating, “So, you’re telling these servicemen, who are willing to die for the flag, that their country doesn’t exist.” The response to McInnis’s dig came from no other than Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, who said, “All Nova Scotians believe we are on traditional Mi’kmaq territory.” All of this becomes sadly ironic when you consider that McInnis never tires of arguing that he couldn’t possibly be a racist because his wife and children are registered members of the Ho-Chunk nation—oh, and one of his closest friends, another former Montréal nineties hipster, Derrick Beckles, is black and happily officiated over a faux KKK rally at McInnis’s 2005 stag party, a slice a watermelon in hand. Where would you even start?
Known Members and Sympathizers
We’re waiting for you boys…