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Proud Boys
Proud Boys in Pittsboro (October 2019)Photography Anthony Crider, via Flickr

A brief history of the violent, alt-right group, the Proud Boys

The anti-immigrant, all-male organisation was referenced in the presidential debate, with Donald Trump telling them to ‘stand back and stand by’

Yesterday (September 29), in a presidential debate described by BBC News as “the political equivalent of a food fight”, Donald Trump proved, yet again, that not only is he unfit to run a country, he’s also a total piece of shit.

Widely perceived as a “hot mess” and “the worst presidential debate in living memory” by both the public and global news corporations, the night was overrun with interruptions, false claims, rants, and personal insults – largely from Trump. Joe Biden, his Democrat opponent, kept his cool, occasionally interrupting, and frequently laughing at the president’s incoherent heckling.

In one particularly frenzied moment, Biden was being interrupted so much by Trump, he had to urge, “Will you shut up, man?” Later referencing the president’s inability to STFU, he told moderator Chris Wallace – who frequently lost control of the debate – that “it’s hard to get any word in with this clown”.

The pair did find some time to address actual issues, including the coronavirus pandemic and institutional racism. However, when Trump was given the chance to renounce right-wing violence, he instead told one far-right group, called the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by”. He then pivoted to attack left-wing and anti-facist activists.

Here, following their direct address by the president of the United States, Dazed outlines who the Proud Boys are, what they stand against, and how they’ve reacted to their reference on prime time TV. For a more detailed overview of what happened during last night’s presidential debate, head to The Guardian or BBC News.


The all-male Proud Boys group has been described as an alt-right, fascist organisation, which was founded ahead of the US election in 2016 by VICE co-founder Gavin McInnes. It was reportedly started as a joke in the far-right Taki’s Magazine, with its name stemming from the song “Proud of Your Boy” from the Aladdin musical. McInnes – who was pushed out of VICE in 2008 – began distancing himself from the group in 2017, saying he’s not a part of the alt-right because his focus isn’t race, but “Western values”. OK.

As reported by news podcast The Takeaway in 2018, the group’s recruitment process focuses on white men aged between 15 and 30. The Proud Boys say they have an initiation process which, obviously, includes hazing – a process where those wanting to join are degraded and humiliated in order to prove their commitment to the group. According to The Daily Beast, one of the hazing rituals includes calling out the names of cereal brands while getting punched in the face.


Equality, basically. The group believes that white men and Western culture are under siege, and therefore engages in misogyny, homophobia, racism, and violence in order to “protect” the values held dear by the most marginalised people in history: them. The Proud Boys have described themselves as a “Western chauvinist group”, with McInnes once asserting that women and other marginalised groups have “incentive to be a victim”. The group is opposed to feminism – McInnes has reportedly called it “a cancer” – and is overtly racist, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and transphobic.

Though the group reportedly rejects white supremacy (it permits non-white male members) it has regularly participated in racist events, and the FBI has labelled it an “extremist group with ties to white nationalism” (although the agency later backtracked). The Southern Poverty Law Centre lists the Proud Boys as a hate group.


The group glorifies political violence against the left-wing, with McInnes once declaring: “I want violence, I want punching in the face. I’m disappointed in Trump supporters for not punching enough.” In 2018, when the Proud Boys’ Twitter account was shut down – McInnes’ was also removed – the group’s profile photo depicted a member punching a counter-protester.

The Proud Boys have an extensive history of street violence against left-wing activists and protesters. In recent months, the group has repeatedly turned up to oppose Black Lives Matter or Antifa demonstrations, with their presence often resulting in violence. Since 2017, the group has engaged in political fights in a number of states across the US, as well as in Canada. One notorious 2018 incident in Manhattan – in which anti-fascist activists protesting a talk by McInnes were attacked by the Proud Boys – resulted in the arrest of ten men, two of whom were sentenced to four years in prison.


Much to the dismay of Fred Perry, the Proud Boys have adopted the British label’s black and yellow polo shirt as its uniform, even going as far as appropriating the brand’s signature wreath emblem to advertise a recent rally. Fred Perry’s signature polos are associated with the skinhead movement, which originally stood against fascism, but became linked to the far-right politics of the British National Front in the 1970s. The brand has since been adopted by various right-wing movements around the world, many of which are dismally still going strong. 

On Sunday (September 27), Fred Perry announced that it will stop importing the shirt to North America and Canada, due to the style’s associations with the Proud Boys. “Fred Perry does not support and is in no way affiliated with the Proud Boys,” the label said in a statement, adding that the group’s subversion of its clothing and logo is “incredibly frustrating”. The brand confirmed that it’s working with lawyers to “pursue any unlawful use of our brand”.


Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube have all banned the Proud Boys from their platform, but as BBC News reports, the group’s chairman, Enrique Tarrio, responded to Trump’s shout out on discussion network Parler, writing: “Standing by sir… I will stand down sir!!!” The group also added the phrase “Stand Back, Stand By” to their logo. Sigh.