The Proud Boys, a so-called “Western chauvinist” group founded by VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, is in fact classified by the FBI as an “extremist group with ties to white nationalism,” according to a report from a Washington state sheriff. This comes amid claims by the group that it is not a white nationalist organization with ties to the alt-right, and suggests the federal government may now take white domestic terrorism more seriously.
The report — a memo from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, which was published by the watchdog group Property of the People — focused on an investigation of Erin Willey, a probationary deputy sheriff who was terminated due to her affiliation with the Proud Boys. Specifically, Wiley manufactured and sold “Proud Boy Girls” apparel — representative of a group believed to be an affiliate of Proud Boys — which she wore in a selfie photo that led to her termination from the department.
The memo noted the FBI has warned local law enforcement agencies that the Proud Boys were actively recruiting members in the Pacific Northwest and involved in the precipitation of violence at political rallies in Seattle and Portland, as well as Charlottesville, Va. “The Proud Boy’s communicate their beliefs through YouTube videos, social media websites, closed online forums, personal blogs and at political type rallies,” said the memo. “Proud Boy’s members have been documented as having called for the closure of all prisons, the issuing of firearms to everyone, the legalization of all drugs, the deportation of all illegal immigrants and the shutdown of the government.”
The Proud Boys, a Republican Party-affiliated band of neo-Nazi street brawlers and Trump supporters, recently assaulted protesters in New York City. The attack took place after the Proud Boys’ leader and founder spoke at a Metropolitan Republican Club event in Manhattan. Initially, the NYPD made no arrests following the October incident before subsequently arresting five members of the group, with the intent to arrest nine and open a criminal investigation into the Proud Boys. The reluctance by police to arrest members of the group provided evidence that law enforcement does not take the threat of white right=wing extremists seriously.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the Proud Boys as a hate group, one which seeks mainstream acceptance by denying its white nationalism while also espousing white nationalist philosophy, including Islamophobia, anti-Black sentiment, and an anti-Semitism that even their fellow neo-fascists characterize as “Hitler was right. Gas the Jews.” If the FBI now takes white nationalist extremism seriously, it is only after years of looking the other way and turning a blind eye to homegrown domestic terror. Further, the Trump administration defunded Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), an Obama-era program to fight against the radicalization of domestic residents, a program that conservatives wanted to focus on Muslims.
White supremacists have accounted for 83 percent of the extremist murders over the past decade, and these domestic terrorist groups have infiltrated US law enforcement and have killed the most police officers in past decades. Yet, the FBI has investigated Black political activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and others advocating against police violence, and labeled so-called “Black Identity Extremists (BIEs),” even falsely arresting and attempting to prosecute a Black man as a BIE. This after the bureau issued a report in which it invented the term and manufactured a fictitious Black movement from whole cloth. An overwhelmingly white bureau with a white male culture, the FBI has exhibited hostility towards Black and Muslim communities, which is reminiscent of J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO surveillance, infiltration, disruption and neutralization of civil rights leadership and organizations, and the Black Power movement.
Meanwhile, a new report confirms what many have already known concerning the threat of white domestic terrorism and the misplaced priorities of the federal government. With deadly acts of violence committed by right-wing extremists and white supremacists across the United States, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have de-prioritized attacking their source.
According to FBI veterans, the federal government under Trump is ignoring the growing national terrorist threat coming from white supremacists. As the Daily Beast reported, DHS held a conference call days after the Oct. 27 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre with more than two dozen former government agents. The topic of the call was not white supremacist murders, but rather migrants from Central America, leaving the call participants baffled.
“In the world of homeland security, the common practice is to focus on those threats that present the greatest risk,” John Cohen, a Rutgers professor and former DHS counterterrorism official, told the Daily Beast. “So it’s disconcerting that in a call with national law enforcement and homeland security experts, the focus would be on the caravan versus the increasing number of mass casualty attacks the country’s experiencing, including by white extremists.”
DHS — which has gutted an interagency task force designed to prevent radicalization, homegrown or otherwise — believes domestic right-wing extremism is part of the FBI’s purview. Since coming into her position as DHS secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen has rarely mentioned white supremacist terror, but has often mentioned al-Qaida, ISIS and similar Islamic terrorist groups. However, according to FBI experts, the bureau has mixed priorities, and white supremacists, who have become empowered in the age of Trump, may not be one of them. This as a DHS-led interagency office designed to prevent racial violence attacks has been understaffed.
Several former DHS officials cited a political firestorm in Congress after an intelligence analyst, Daryl Johnson, published a 2009 assessment warning of growing far-right violence. Those ex-officials considered Johnson’s assessment methodologically over-broad. But afterward, “DHS read the lesson more broadly than that,” said Margo Schlanger, who used to run DHS’s civil rights office. “They seemed to draw the conclusion that we had better not talk about right-wing extremism.” Further, while the Obama administration sounded the alarm on right-wing extremism, it caved in to political pressure from conservative Republicans, subsequently downplayed the threat of white supremacist terrorism and withdrew funding to tackle such domestic extremist groups.
For the past two decades, after ignoring far-right extremism and failing to take it seriously, chickens have come home to roost for law enforcement while a “virulent movement has grown and metastasized” through “willful indifference” — reflecting the Justice Department’s “blind spot” on domestic terrorism and hate crimes — as the New York Times Magazine reported. On the local, state and federal level, law enforcement have not maintained intelligence reports on white supremacist terrorists and right-wing extremist groups. The revelation that the FBI has awakened to groups such as the Proud Boys comes at a time when PayPal, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have decided to ban the group and its founder. The Proud Boys also encountered problems following their November 17 rally in Philadelphia, when taxi and Uber drivers, after being made aware by anti-racist protesters, refused to give rides to the white nationalists. The group may increase its ranks with a planned visit to Australia, even as it faces efforts to deny McInnes a visa to enter that nation.
Today, neo-Nazis are using social networking to secretly organize and train a paramilitary force, and prepare for a “race war” against Blacks and Jews. At a time when white nationalism is mainstreamed, and white supremacist violence is on the rise, if law enforcement forces fail to act, the problem of far-right domestic terrorism will remain as such for the foreseeable future.
“Fighting solves everything,” McInnes said. “We need more violence from the Trump people. Trump supporters: choke a motherf*cker. Choke a bitch. Choke a tranny. Get your fingers around the windpipe.”