U.S.-based male-only white nationalist organization the Proud Boys have been described by the Southern Poverty Law Centre as an “alt-right fight club.’’ They believe that white, Western men are being marginalised by leftists, feminists, immigrants, and so on, and the group glorifies and participates in violence, such as the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The group was temporarily classified as an extremist organization with ties to white nationalism in 2018.
American Countering Violent Extremism researchers like Samantha Kutner, a fellow at the Khalifa Ihler Institute, have suggested revisiting this classification while being mindful of its implications in regard to critical voices against fascism.
Canada officially designated the Proud Boys as a terrorist group on Feb. 3, and the U.S. Justice Department is prosecuting Proud Boys members for their role in the Capitol riots. Nevertheless, Turkish state-run television channel TRT carried an exclusive interview with the Proud Boys’ leader Enrique Tarrio on the day after the riots. Tarrio was banned from entering Washington D.C. after being arrested on Jan. 5, and so did not take part in the riots himself.
TRT’s promotion of the Proud Boys was part of what Turkish journalist Amberin Zaman described as a wave of schadenfreude from Turkish government supporters, who tend to feel that the United States is an enemy of both Muslims and Turks, and thus that the storming of the capitol was a just humiliation which they deserved.
Of course, this might open the pro-government Turkish media up to accusations of hypocrisy. They regularly criticise Western governments for their support of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish military forces in control of much of northern Syria and an ideological offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who are a designated terrorist organisation in Turkey and much of the West.
In supporting the Proud Boys, isn’t Turkey’s pro-government media doing something similar? No, because the PKK and the Proud Boys are different, of course.
Daily Sabah columnist Yahya Bostan earlier this month argued that the Proud Boys are not nearly as bad as the PKK, because when he researched them, he could not “find anything on ideologically motivated murders, bombings, intimidation or any attempt to terrorize the general population.’’
“Nor was there any reference to hundreds of armed members storming towns, killing people or attacking U.S. troops. There was no record of the U.S. military suffering losses due to the Proud Boys either,” he said.
Incidents of far right terrorism including those involving the Proud Boys can be found in numerous places with a little effort, including on the Khalifa Ihler Institute’s global Hate Map, and on this specific map of just Proud Boys incidents.
This in itself seeks to play down the severity of the Proud Boys’ activity. One of their former members, Jason Kessler, organised the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in which one counter protester was murdered.
It is also incredibly hypocritical for Turkish state media to promote an Islamophobic group like the Proud Boys to an international audience, given how much that media complains about Islamophobia in the West.
In 2017, acting on conspiratorial anti-Muslim press content, the Proud Boys descended on the town of Islamberg, New York, which was set up by black Muslims who left New York in the 1980s. Their “Ride Along Caravan’’ was purely intended to intimidate around 20 Muslim families in a small village.
Zaman also pointed out that Turkey’s state broadcaster was happy to give a platform to a racist, misogynist and Islamophobic group, but never offers the same platform to democratically elected members of Turkey’s third largest party, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
The TRT interview with Tarrio casts doubt on the idea that the Proud Boys are as bad as people say, because how can they be racist when Tarrio, an Afro-Cuban, is their leader? Tarrio obviously tried hard during his leadership to detoxify the Proud Boys by presenting himself as opposed to racism and misogyny, but it is clear that many of the group’s members still espouse white supremacist, misogynist and homophobic beliefs.
Kutner, who has studied the group, says that they operate as a “radicalisation vector,’’ a gateway form of extremism that leads onto more explicit white nationalism.
“As a radicalization vector, Proud Boys recruiters prey on men who are disenfranchised and humiliated in their personal lives; people searching for a sense of belonging and someone to blame. Once they experience the camaraderie and brotherhood, the group acts as a funnel where people can try on radicalization before fully committing to their extremism,” Kutner has said.
Tarrio attempts in his interview with TRT to suggest that the bigotry demonstrated by Proud Boys members is just playful banter, a kind of frat boy hazing system, which is meted out to all members.
So it’s not actual racism when Proud Boys are racist, you see, it’s all a funny joke. TRT news simply accepts these assertions from Tarrio at face value.
Following the Capitol riots and revelations that Tarrio had been a long-time FBI informant, the group could be in the process of splintering, with a number of local chapters denouncing Tarrio.
“They’re radioactive now,” he said, “any air of respectability is gone. They can no longer say that they were being misrepresented by the liberal media as extremists, because people are now looking at them and just saying, ‘You’re dirty.'”
This does not mean that what the Proud Boys represent is going away any time soon. Splintering into a less centralised organisation could actually make the group more dangerous if certain elements of the organization decide to take their violent activities further.
“In person, Enrique doesn’t seem like the image the media has portrayed of him,” TRT news informed its viewers. “Some of his views seem progressive, even antifascist.”
This seems like a pretty simplistic assessment, which looks to support the Proud Boys simply because they have been dismissed by the “mainstream media.’’
Perhaps nobody knows who the real Tarrio, who has a past as an informer for U.S. federal and local law enforcement, is or what he really believes in.