The Proud Boys: The gay-friendly pro-Trump fight club which wants to ban women

Initiations, tattoos and a ban on women - Who are the Proud Boys?

Gavin McInnes is the founder of the Proud Boys

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

They like Trump but they hate intolerance. They're cool with drugs but they abhor masturbation. They love fighting each other but they're totally against inflicting violence upon anyone else.

Welcome to the strange world of the Proud Boys, a new American social movement which has been widely characterised as alt-right but is really far more amorphous. In fact, pinning down the group's core ideology is like trying to nail jelly to the wall.

The first unusual thing to note about the Proud Boys is that the founder is in fact Canadian, not American. Before creating the Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes helped to create Vice Media and is now a political commentator with an internet talk programme. It is thought that McInnes has enticed thousands of members in the group, with various different branches.

On the Proud Boys website, the founders claim "a good 98% of us love Trump" although this is "not a requirement of membership." Indeed, it's clear the group get royally annoyed whenever anyone tars them with the alt-right brush. McInnes has written a letter on the group's website to reject such suggestions, claiming that his movement is simply "a men’s club that meets about once a month to drink beer".

 "We have attended rallies where we felt our friends were in danger," McInnes says, "but that’s not what we’re about." He and his fellow leaders have expressly forbidden members from attending alt-right events, and urged them to boot out any white nationalists or anti-Semites they come across.

However McInnes is proud to admit he and his fellow members are anti-feminists; in fact their stance borders on outright misogyny. They proudly self-identify as "Western chauvinists" and women are expressly forbidden from entering. In fact, women can't even be in the room when the Proud Boys are holding one of their meets.

Is this stance borne of bitterness, sexual frustration, or even repressed homosexual longing? Not according to McInnes, who couches the no-women policy as something more benign: he says he yearns for the good ol' days when real American men could bond in social clubs, before "feminism in the 1980s" put a stop to it.

Rather more opaquely, McInnes explains that the group has a series of rituals, and these have to be formed in an "environment that is men-only. There is no exception to this rule. If a woman is present when the readings are happening, that club is no longer affiliated with the Proud Boys."

This might bring to mind the sort of sordid, repressed debauchery seen in rugby drinking games, and there is certainly a weird initiation ceremony - although apparently there is nothing depraved involved.

In fact it's a form of fight club, in which beats are inflicted on the new recruit as they shout out five cereal names. Reason? Well apparently it all stems from a fart joke.

There is clearly an undercurrent of violence associated with the group. On the website, the Proud Boys claim "we don't start fights but we finish them" and, to gain higher status in the group, members are reportedly asked to take part in a major brawl with an alt-leftist. McInnes and his fellow elders happily espouse the benefits of violence as a way to relieve pent-up tension.

Yet McInnes insists the Proud Boys' aims are strictly peaceful and any violence reported in the media has been borne of self-defence.

There is also a strict stance against masturbation: indeed, those who wish to progress through the ranks must abstain from pleasuring themselves for a month. The reason, you ask? Well McInnes has been quoted as saying that masturbation made him feel better and claimed that pornography has a detrimental effect on marriages. There is also an atavistic vision of American life at play here, a belief in traditional family values which, members believe, are perverted by porn.

One might infer from all this that the group is simply a hard-line religious sect, a Christian cult recast in a dingy neon beer-light. There is certainly something cultish about McInnes, who signs off messages with the words "peace be upon me."

But the Proud Boys advocate the legalisation of drugs, and say racial and sexual minorities are welcome to join; members are free to pursue relationships with trans women if they so wish. The group's mantra, 'Uhuru!', is apparently adopted from a video by a gay black activist about slavery reparations

So it's all a bit of a mish-mash really. Not religious or reactionary, but bizarrely nihilistic. While most of today's inicipient right-wing movements are characterised by their slavish, monochrome dogmatism, the Proud Boys' view of life is a patchwork quilt. They dislike the alt-left, but they don't want to take refuge with the alt-right. Even the group's uniform, a white Fred Perry shirt polo shirt with yellow stripes, is hard to pigeon-hole on one side or the other.

It's all a bit discombombulating, a woozy carousel of beliefs and values. It's all a bit, well, Vice.

As time goes on we may here more about the Proud Boys, or we may not. They may emerge as hard-line Trumpistas or drift towards the opposition ranks. They may become synonymous with Charlottesville-style violence or remain a benign enigma, a source of confusion rather than anger. Whatever direction they take, it's sure to be weird.