Andy Campbell has produced a clever, well-written and brilliantly reported book about another disgusting progeny of the most dangerous union of our time, the horror couple responsible for so many of the burgeoning threats to American democracy: Donald Trump and the Internet.
The subject is the Proud Boys, racist, beer-addicted and violence-addicted street fighters who have become best friends with many of Trump’s warmest supporters, from Ann Coulter to Roger Stone.
Coulter and Stone have both bragged about using these modern brown shirts as bodyguards. Stone even had himself filmed for a video in which he took the Proud Boys oath: “I’m a western chauvinist. I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”
Coulter credited the group for saving her life when “2,000 antifa,” left-wing protesters, tried to stop a speech at UC Berkeley. If she hadn’t invited 20 Proud Boys, she said, “Maybe she wouldn’t have come on campus at all.”
The Proud Boys are “muscled, tattooed brutes,” Coulter cooed.
As Campbell puts it, the Proud Boys have “proven that you can make it as a fascist gang of hooligans in this country as long as you make the right friends”.
The organization’s father is Gavin McInnes, 52, a child of Scots who moved to Canada. In Montreal, McInnes founded Pervert magazine in the early 1990s, which was renamed Vice in 1999 along with two others. He moved the magazine to New York a few years later, leaving in 2008.
In the spring of 2016, he declared his main priority on his own talk show: “I want violence. I want a slap in the face. I’m disappointed in Trump supporters for not hitting enough.”
Not long after, he announced that he had made a mess of his audience. He called them the Proud Boys.
McInnes’ alliance with the GOP heated up after he was invited to speak at the New York State Republican Party headquarters in October 2018.
Members were undeterred when their intended guest on Instagram announced that he was planning an “inspirational moment…the political assassination of Inejiro Asanuma, the former leader of the Japanese Socialist Party, who was killed during a live-TV debate when a far-right ultranationalist ran up the stage and shoved a sword between his ribs.”
He then photoshopped an image of himself “with the eyes and clothes of the Japanese killer”.
Republicans loved it. On Facebook they responded: “This godfather of the Hipster movement has attacked and exposed the Deep State Socialists and stood up for Western values. Join us for an unforgettable evening with one of Liberty’s Loudest Voices.”
After his speech, McInnes left the club with his sword. But Proud Boys “and their skinhead friends” attacked a handful of anti-fascist protesters after one knocked a MAGA hat off one of their heads.
“They turned it into a thump,” recalled a Huffington Post reporter. “These were three people on the floor and people just kicked them out of the shit.”
The two most violent attackers were each sentenced to four years in prison. The judge did not hesitate to draw the correct parallel with 1930s Germany. Mark Dwyer, of the New York State Supreme Court, said he knew what happened then, “when political brawls were allowed to go on in the streets without any sort of control by the criminal justice system. We don’t want that to happen in New York.”
Either way, the New York brawl became another opportunity for the Republican establishment to normalize fascist behavior. Immediately after the attack, Fox News quoted Ed Cox, the president of the Republican state (and son-in-law of Richard Nixon) who “called on Democrats to stop inciting these attacks.”
As Campbell writes, the event at the Republican club was “a jumping-off point for the GOP toward what would eventually become a full embrace of domestic extremist violence.”
Kelly Weill, a reporter who covers domestic extremism, explained that the Proud Boys “really embody the political violence that the GOP only needs a little bit of a proxy for. They can’t do it in person, so they have the Proud Boys.”
lIt was only two years before the Proud Boys were given an official, nationally televised presidential imprimatur, after Joe Biden suggested during a 2020 debate that they were one of the groups Trump should have charged long ago. Trump said, “Proud guys, stand back and stand by it.”
Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, a former FBI informant and convicted felon who had become the chairman of the Proud Boys, described the effect of Trump’s statement.
“We were mentioned and my life hasn’t been the same since,” Tarrio told Campbell. “My phone started blowing up. I had 10 fucking news trucks at my house the next morning. I haven’t slept for two days.”
Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen, who turned on his former boss after pleading guilty to charges of tax evasion and lying to Congress, was sure the president made his statement on purpose.
“If you look at who the Proud Boys really are,” Cohen said, “they’re an army. This is Trump’s military…and if he loses, he’ll use them to try to hold onto power.”
Which of course happened. Proud Boys were among the most active players when Trump urged the crowd in front of him to march to the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Thirteen months after the deadly attack, Republican endorsement of fascist violence became official: The Republican National Committee unanimously passed a resolution commemorating the attack on the Capitol as nothing more than “legitimate political discourse.”
Campbell’s book provides an invaluable account of how the Grand Old Party reached exactly that disgraceful destiny.