Video: During a heated interview with Enrique Tarrio, the Cuban minority who leads the pro-free-speech, pro-liberty fraternity known as the Proud Boys, a CNN “journalist” accused him of terrorizing “people of color” (August 2019)
New Mexico – Bryce George joined a group called the Proud Boys around the time Donald Trump became president.
He said he was drawn to its commitment to “freedom, family and moving forward as a beautiful nation.”
“The Proud Boys are for any man that loves freedom,” he said in a text, “no matter where he comes from.”
“We are good people,” George, 42, said in a separate phone interview. “We are upstanding members of the community who like to drink beer and smoke some pot and tell fart jokes.”
But the Southern Poverty Law Center, a national civil rights organization that has long tracked extremism in the South and nationwide, has labeled the Proud Boys organization a hate group because of its anti-Muslim and misogynistic beliefs, said Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the law center, based in Montgomery, Ala.
Proud Boys members have appeared at extremist gatherings across the country alongside other hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, according to the law center.
And members of the Proud Boys in other states have repeatedly been involved in violent incidents. Two members each were sentenced to four years in prison after being convicted of attempted gang assault and other charges related to a 2018 brawl in New York City following a speech by the group’s founder at the Metropolitan Republican Club, according to news accounts.
In August, Proud Boys used pepper spray to disperse counterprotesters during a melee in Kalamazoo, Mich., according to the Detroit News. A Washington Post article about a rally in Portland, Ore., carried the headline: “Portland police stand by as Proud Boys and far-right militias flash guns and brawl with antifa counterprotesters.”
George said the group has over two dozen members in New Mexico, though he wouldn’t say how many are in the Santa Fe area. He said many members of the group are wary of talking to the media.
He disputes the hate group label.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center,” he said, “is not an authority on good and evil.
“You can say [Proud Boys] is a hate group, or you can say the Democratic Party is a hate group. … It’s dangerous to just make a blanket statement like that,” George said. “There is no truth to anything the Southern Poverty Law Center says.”
Last fall, the Proud Boys staged a flag-waving event in downtown Albuquerque that drew more than 100 counterprotesters. A member of the group reportedly pointed a gun at a counterprotester during a confrontation after the rally, according to news accounts. George, who attended the event, said the individual drew his weapon in self-defense.
In the past year, after being publicly linked to the group by a website and on Twitter, George said he has received death threats, lost friends and been kicked out of other groups because of his affiliation with the Proud Boys.
“It’s frustrating,” George said in a recent interview. “I’m not the monster they want to claim I am.”
George, a Santa Fe power tools dealer who said his family has owned and operated Santa Fe Power Equipment for more than 50 years, was asked by a national power equipment distributor to sign a statement saying he does not speak for the company and the company does not share his political beliefs.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center website, it places a hate group designation on an organization when its beliefs or practices attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their “immutable” characteristics such as race, religion, ethnicity or gender identity.
Miller said the Proud Boys have been placed by the law center in the category of a “general” hate group, which it uses “for groups that have overlapping ideologies or are more difficult to pin down.”
In researching the Proud Boys, Miller said she spent a lot of time looking at what members were posting online and saying in their podcasts to get an idea what kind of ideology drives the group. The law center, she added, classifies the group as a whole and not individual chapters.
Miller said group has members worldwide, adding the flag-waving event in Albuquerque prompted the center to indicate the Proud Boys were active in New Mexico.
A new map reflecting hate group activity in New Mexico and elsewhere will be released in early 2021, Miller said.
The Proud Boys were established in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes. Members believe in minimal government and are pro-speech, pro-gun rights and anti-political correctness, according to the group’s website.
To become a member, one must be “a Western chauvinist who refuses to apologize for creating the modern world,” the site states.
The law center has gathered a collection of quotes highlighting McInnes’ tendency to denigrate women and Muslims.
In 2017, McInnes said on his podcast: “Maybe the reason I’m sexist is because women are dumb. No, I’m just kidding, ladies. But you do tend to not thrive in certain areas — like writing.”
The group’s leader also has said on his podcast that a disproportionate number of Muslims are “mentally damaged inbreds” and told NBC in an interview, “I’m not a fan of Islam. I think it’s fair to call me Islamophobic.”
For his part, George defends what he believes are the more positive aspects of the group, adamantly rejecting any links to hate.
“There is no hate in the Proud Boys,” he said. “I’ve actually personally removed people from the organization because they were spouting hate ideology. That’s not what we are about.
“We do charity. We have food drives,” he added. “We have homeless outreach. Nobody ever talks about that.”
George insisted the group does not go looking for fights, as is often portrayed by the media. When the Proud Boys have been involved in violence, they acted in self-defense, he said.
“We aren’t going out to hurt anybody, we just don’t,” he said. “We will defend ourselves, but we aren’t coordinating any destruction of anyone or anybody. That’s antifa, that’s Black Lives Matter, that’s all these other groups.”
National reports, however, tell a different story. Despite members’ oft-repeated claims that Proud Boys only resort to violence in self-defense, chat logs leaked to HuffPost revealed that in private “these extremists have discussed injuring and even killing their adversaries, plotting tactics and optics for months in order to assert a claim of self-defense should they face charges.”
“Can I say every single Proud Boy is a decent person? No,” George said. “You can’t say that about any group of people, but I can only speak to the experience I’ve had.”
The Proud Boys’ presence has clearly attracted the attention of their critics. In July, an Albuquerque group that identifies itself as anti-fascist created a virtual deck of “PokeFash” cards — modeled after the Pokémon card game — and posted the deck on its Twitter account.
The person behind the abq161 Antifascist Action account declined to be identified or interviewed for this story.
George said he knows who created the “ridiculous” deck, and questioned the motives behind the cards.
“It’s meant to cause harm to someone they don’t even know or understand at all,” he said. “Tossing out accusations and names is obviously irresponsible and dangerous. … The problem is this cancel culture business: ‘Let’s all just go down and boycott this person or cause them trouble because someone told me I don’t agree with them.’ “
The cards identified other members of the Proud Boys, including Ejay Clinton, who grew up in Los Alamos but now lives in Albuquerque.
Clinton, 28, says he became involved in the group two years ago after meeting a fellow member at the gym.
When he attended his first meeting, “I dressed the part as much as I could,” he said in a recent interview. “I don’t want to say I put on my right-wing outfit, but my country outfit, I guess. I tried to put on an act. … I thought it was gonna be like a fight club where you are going to be in some barn.”
When he got to the meeting, Clinton said, “I saw political frat boys talking about how much they love their country.
“It’s literally a bunch of people getting together to talk about politics,” he said.
Clinton said members of the group share the conservative values he learned growing up in a military family, and he felt a kinship among them he hadn’t felt since moving to New Mexico from South Carolina.
It wasn’t until the flag-waving event in Albuquerque that he realized how others view the group.
Clinton talked about the rally on an episode of his podcast, Factions of Freedom. He said the counterprotesters were full of anger and wanted to engage him and the Proud Boys in their rage.
“I kind of looked at them like a wounded beast,” he told his listeners. “I felt sad for these people … because they are under a spirit of delusions. People didn’t know what they were protesting against. … This was not a protest against the government or the system. It was against people, against ideologies.”
After the rally, Clinton said a counterprotester began shouting at him and another Proud Boy. When the counterprotester began beating their vehicle, one of the Proud Boys brandished a gun.
Clinton was captured on video — decked out in military gear — trying to calm down the counterprotester, telling him to “think about the optics,” a phrase that is printed on his PokeFash card.
Clinton, who is Black, said he’s “absolutely not a white supremacist.” But he used what some would consider hate speech in his podcast, referring to the counterprotesters at the rally as “junkies and trannies.”
On the podcast Crush the Opposition, George also used hot-button language as he spoke with apparent sarcasm about how “courageous” it is for transgender people to begin living as another gender and complained about having to use gender-neutral pronouns.
“Hate speech is a rocky area,” George said when asked about the podcast. “I think I should be able to make jokes … to have a good time and be able to talk freely about the things I enjoy.”
Clinton said it’s “interesting” the Proud Boys have been labeled a hate group. He said he doesn’t know how or why it got the label.
“In today’s polarized society, where you have a lot of finger-pointing on both sides going on, it’s very hard to figure out where the truth is,” Clinton said.
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