Tuesday night’s debate was full of strange moments, but the most bizarre of all may have come when Chris Wallace pressured Trump to condemn ‘white supremacists and militia groups’. When the President asked for an actual name, Joe Biden interrupted to announce the surprise debate appearance of Gavin McInnes’s all-male club, the Proud Boys.
While highly online individuals likely reacted much as McInnes did, Cockburn suspects the far more common reaction among the masses was, ‘who the hell are the Proud Boys?’
The Biden campaign and the press badly want Gavin McInnes’s expanded group of drinking buddies to be a household name, representing the horrifying specter of right-wing violence that is supposedly looming over America. Why this obsessive push to vilify such an obscure group? That is no mystery. For four months, rioters have torched and terrorized dozens of American cities. These were instigated and perpetrated by partisans of the left, while Democratic politicians made insane declarations about the need to abolish or defund the police. Belatedly, the Democrats have realized that burning cities and trashing civilization itself are a poor case for leadership. So, the effort is underway to rewrite four months of politically-motivated rioting as politically-agnostic ‘violence’.
In addition, the never-ending hunt for ‘racism’ in American life suffers from a lack of clear villains. The Ku Klux Klan is moribund and irrelevant, and all the high-profile hate crimes seem to be hoaxes. Progressives will feel far more reassured about this crusade if they can find some actual white supremacist terrorists, and the Proud Boys have been chosen as their target.
But the truth is that the Proud Boys are quite short on the evil so many want to foist on them, so this effort has a very desperate try-hard feeling to it.
In a post-debate writeup, NBC News said that the four-year-old group is ‘considered a violent…hate group’ by the Anti-Defamation League, which is NBC’s roundabout way of admitting that no memorable examples of Proud Boy atrocities come to mind. The group’s Wikipedia page has a Pravda-like quality to it: the site’s editors are frantic to mark the Proud Boys as supremely wicked, but instead they look supreme silly with subsections about the group ‘taunting soccer fans’ and having a ‘connection with Roger Stone’.
Nobody has to engage in these contortions for antifa, despite Biden’s claim that the group is just an ‘idea’, like democracy or disestablishing the Church of England. Concocting a list of antifa actions is easy: in Minneapolis, they burned down a police station. In Portland, months of rioting have included a siege of a federal courthouse and the murder of a pro-Trump activist. (Biden fans will point to the teenage, right-wing killer in Wisconsin, but he was not affiliated with any well-known group). Those with a longer memory will recall the antifa associate who was killed while apparently trying to blow up an ICE facility in Washington. And, of course, antifa radicals are behind the most high-profile attacks on statues and monuments across the country.
The ‘white supremacist’ angle on the Proud Boys is even weaker than the violence one. Not only do the Proud Boys openly reject white supremacy or white nationalism, but simply looking at the group quickly reveals they are substantially less white than antifa. Besides McInnes himself, the most famous member of the group is likely Tusitala ‘Tiny’ Toese, a gigantic Polynesian man.
In 2018, the Daily Beast profiled Enrique Tarrio, the Afro-Cuban head of the Proud Boys Miami chapter. The piece’s headline blared that ‘Young Men of Color are Joining White-Supremacist Groups’. Somehow Arun Gupta wrote, and the Beast published, that bit of analysis without pausing even a moment to reflect on how ridiculous they being. They aren’t alone; NPR’s ‘The Takeaway’ podcast brought on a law professor and a Southern Poverty Law Center associate to discuss the ‘rise of multiracial white supremacy.’.
Cockburn tries very hard to be a sophisticated intellect, but this trend is beyond him. If a group has a multiracial membership and explicitly rejects white supremacy, then perhaps the most reasonable explanation is that they are not, in fact, white supremacists? And if a group’s most violent actions are difficult to distinguish from a large bar fight, then perhaps it’s a bit silly for them to be targeted by the same press outlets that label riots as ‘fiery but mostly peaceful’.