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Explained: Who are the Proud Boys, far-right group declared a terrorist entity in Canada?

The Proud Boys grabbed headlines worldwide last year during the first presidential debate between then-President Donald Trump and his Democratic contender Biden.

Written by Rahel Philipose , Edited by Explained Desk | Vasco |
Updated: February 6, 2021 11:07:52 am
proud boys, who are proud boys, what is proud boys, donald trump proud boys, trump white supremacy, indian expressA protester carries a Proud Boys banner, symbol of a right-wing group, while other members start to unfurl a large US flag in front of the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo: Andrew Selsky, File)

Canada has announced that it will be designating the US-based far-right group ‘Proud Boys’ as a terrorist entity in an attempt to crack down on “ideologically motivated violent extremism” in the country. With this, the all-male neo-fascist group will be added to a lengthy list of international terrorist organisations, that includes ISIS, Al Qaeda and al-Shabab.

“Their violent actions and rhetoric are fuelled by white supremacy, anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and misogyny, and unfortunately, often in combination of all of the above,” Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said at a press conference. His announcement came weeks after a few Proud Boys joined the violent mob of Trump supporters that stormed the US Capitol building ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The Proud Boys grabbed headlines worldwide last year during the first presidential debate between then-President Donald Trump and his Democratic contender Biden. Trump was widely criticised for calling on the group to “stand back and stand by”, when he was asked specifically to condemn white supremacist and militia groups.

Who are the Proud Boys?

The all-male neo-fascist group was founded in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder and Canadian-British right-wing activist Gavin McInnes. According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, the Proud Boys are known for their “anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric” and have been classified as an ‘extremist group’ by the FBI.

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To be inducted into the fold, a Proud Boy must first proclaim that he is a “a Western chauvinist who refuses to apologise for creating the modern world”. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the group is also known for anti-transgender, anti-immigration and anti-Semitic views.

However, members of the group insist that they are not, in fact, racist. The group’s current leader Enrique Tarrio, an Afro-Cuban, said that the group has “longstanding regulations prohibiting racist, white supremacist or violent activity”, USA Today reported. They claim that they do not support white supremacists, and merely banded together to oppose the activities of the anti-fascist movement known as Antifa.

But members of the group are often seen at rallies carrying guns and bats and a few have even been convicted of violent crimes against left-wing groups and activists. The group is known to show up bearing arms at right-wing and liberal leaning protests across the United States.

The name of the group was inspired by a song from the musical version of the Disney film ‘Aladdin’. Members usually don a fixed uniform of red ‘Make America Great Again’ caps from Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and black and yellow polo shirts by the apparel brand Fred Perry. Incidentally, the brand withdrew the design after it came to be associated with the far-right group, CNN reported.

Proud Boys have also been associated with other far-right gatherings and protest marches that have turned violent, such as the infamous ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina in 2017. A former member of the group, named Jason Kessler, helped bring together members of groups like the Ku Klux Klan and other neo-nazi and militia groups for the event.

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They were also a regular feature at the nationwide anti-racism protests in the US sparked by the custodial killing of African American George Floyd. The Proud Boys were known to intimidate anti-racism protesters and in some places have incited violence and fighting.

Many critics have said that President Trump’s refusal to explicitly denounce the violence caused by white supremacist and militia groups during the first presidential debate further bolstered the far-right group and others like it.

Their activities are not limited to the United States. In 2017, five members of the Canadian chapter of the Proud Boys, who happened to be soldiers of the Canadian Armed Forces, disrupted an indigenous ceremony in Halifax, Nova Scota on Canada Day, the New York Times reported. While they were disciplined, they did not face any criminal charges.

What led to the group being banned in Canada?

The recent attack on the US’ Capitol Hill, in which several members of the Proud Boys participated, was not the “driving” factor, but did produce a “trove of information” that was added to the intelligence reports that formed the basis of the Canadian government’s decision, Blair said.

“And as disturbing and concerning as those images and those events were, they also provided law enforcement and our intelligence services with a trove of new information in which quite frankly, many of these groups revealed themselves,” he explained, adding that their decision drew from “evidence, intelligence and law”.

Several members of the group are presently facing legal charges and one top leader was arrested for their role in storming the US Capitol on January 6, along with a mob of angry supporters of President Donald Trump. At least five people were killed in the riot, which is widely being considered one of the worst security breaches in US history. The incident took place just as lawmakers had begun to gather for a joint session in the House of Representatives to count the electoral votes and validate Biden’s presidential win.

According to Canada, the group played a central role in the Capitol attack and its “leaders planned their participation by setting out objectives, issuing instructions and directing members during the insurrection”.

Explaining what qualified as ‘ideologically motivated violent extremism’, the Canadian government said that it included xenophobic violence, anti-authority violence, gender-driven violence and and grievance-driven violence shaped by “echo chambers of online hate”, the Washington Post reported.

Just last month, the Parliament in Canada unanimously passed a motion calling on Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s government to ban the Proud Boys and to label them a terrorist group, CNN reported. Since the attack on the Capitol, the leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh, has been pushing Trudeau to declare the Proud Boys a terror group. But officials insist that the decision was not political.

The group was added to the list along with a number of other extremist groups with links to Al Qaeda, Islamic State and Hizbul Mujahideen.

But some groups argue that banning the Proud Boys would expand the definition of terrorism to a point where free speech and the right to protest will be threatened.

What does the Canadian Government’s decision mean for the Proud Boys?

By declaring the Proud Boys a terror group, Canadian officials will not be able to automatically make any arrests. But they will be able to seize their assets and prosecute members or associates for carrying out or contributing to extremist activities, AFP reported. A crime committed by anyone associated with the group can now lead to terrorism charges under criminal law.

Even providing a terrorist group with funds would qualify as a crime. This also includes purchasing group-related clothing or paraphernalia, according to a New York Times report. Authorities will also be able to take down online posts with more ease and add the group’s members to no-fly lists.

Minister Blair said that the move would “severely restrict” the group’s ability to raise funds through crowdfunding or any other method in Canada.

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