The FBI has reneged on labeling the Proud Boys an “extremist” group, contradicting recent law enforcement documents suggesting the agency had planned to stick the group with the designation.
On Dec. 5, Oregon’s top FBI official announced the agency would not go that route and never intended to after briefing the Clark County Sheriff’s Department in Vancouver, Wa., about regional threats posed by the right-wing group, OregonLive reported. Agent Renn Cannon said the FBI didn’t mean to designate the entire Proud Boys group as extremists, but rather “tried to characterize the potential threat from individuals within that group.’’
The about-face comes just weeks after documents released by the sheriff’s department announcing the designation.
“The FBI categorizes the Proud Boys as an extremist group with ties to white nationalism,” it read. “Some Proud Boys members have contributed to the recent escalation of violence at political rallies held on college campuses, and it cities like Charlottesville, Va., Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wa.”
Cannon briefly acknowledged the confusion the memo caused.
“I can see where Clark County representatives came to that conclusion. That was not our intention,” he said. “That’s not what we do. We will not open a case if someone belongs to antifa or even the Proud Boys. There has to be a credible allegation or a threat of violence before someone opens a case.”
Launched by VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys took hold during the 2016 presidential election and pegged itself as a “western chauvinist” group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group is known for espousing anti-immigrant and misogynistic views but has vehemently denied being part of the racist “alt-right.” Instead, they claim they are simply a fraternal group “spreading an ‘anti-political correctness’ and an ‘anti-white guilt’ agenda.”
That didn’t seem to be the case in October when eight Proud Boys members were arrested and charged after attacking a group of protesters in New York City. McInnes, who has since distanced himself from the organization, helped several of the Proud Boys involved in the scuffle to surrender to the NYPD, HuffPost reported.
“I’m told by my legal team and law enforcement that this gesture could help alleviate their sentencing,” McInnes said at the time. “Fine. At the very least, this will show jurors they are not dealing with a gang and there is no head of operations.”
The founder’s YouTube account was also recently suspended after complaints about copyright violations for old videos featured on his page.