The fratty Proud Boys are the alt right’s weirdest new phenomenon
Excerpted from Right Richter, a weekly newsletter on right-wing media.
The first-ever Right Richter Special Report covers the phenomenon that is the Proud Boys adult “Western chauvinist” fraternity. It’s like Old School, but with uncomfortable racial and sexual subtext!
I suspect that the Proud Boys will soon get a good amount of media attention, now that antifascist protesters crashed their founder’s NYU speech last week. Unlike many alt-right developments that have scored press, the Proud Boys actually do have members who show up to real-life events.
Be warned, though: this is a mindbender. As one right-wing critic of the Proud Boys said in a video explaining their rules: “I shouldn’t know about any of this… I can’t relate to anyone in my life anymore.”
Consider the Proud Boy: An angular young white man stands in what looks like a poorly decorated frat house.
“Ready, go…Cheerio!” he says, before getting punched in the face.
A friendly beating ensues. He’s well on his way to being a Proud Boy.
(Update: The Proud Boy initiation video above went private, but here’s footage of a second-degree initiation.)
Proud Boys Origins: Where does a young man looking for fellowship turn to in a world where, according to some, masculinity is a sign of shame? To hear Vice co-founder turned neo-masculine reactionary Gavin McInnes tell it, the answer is the Proud Boys, a “pro-West fraternal organization.”
Launched last year by McInnes, the Proud Boys take their name and #POYB hashtag from “Proud of Your Boy,” a song in the Aladdin musical.
Aladdin apologizes to his mother for his rascally ways. When McInnes heard the song at a school recital, though, he thought that no one could truly be proud of a boy singing such an apologetic song. McInnes, a newly former Fox News contributor who says he quit the network because it wasn’t conservative enough, now looks to move the Proud Boys from his own fan club to something more significant.
The Life of a Proud Boy: Today the Proud Boys’ public Facebook group has thousands of fans, with several requests daily for admission to the private Facebook group.
They’re starting to make news — Proud Boys scrapped with antifascist protesters at one of McInnes’s speeches, and one account from “antifa” activists describes Proud Boys in “Make America Great Again” hats brawling with protesters at the Berkeley riots outside a Milo Yiannopoulos last week. A Proud Boy apparently got roughed up in the action.
The Proud Boys operate on tenets that McInnes has been pushing in his second career as a right-wing provocateur: unapologetically rowdy and pro-Trump, the Proud Boys operate under the credo that “the West is the best.”
The Proud Boys welcome gay and non-white members — as long as people of color who hope to be Proud Boys “recognize that white men are not the problem.” Other Proud Boy doctrines are similarly politically conservative and lame, including “glorify the entrepreneur” and “venerate the housewife.”
What a World: The Proud Boys were thrilled with Trump’s election:
Proud Boy Ethos: Being a Proud Boy seems to be mostly about getting drunk and shoving antifascists. A Politico video shot on inauguration weekend sums up what a Proud Boy meet-up is like: weird pseudo-intellectual stuff and street scuffling with leftists. McInnes reads from Pat Buchanan’s Death of the West, leads the Proud Boys on a march to the Deploraball — and licks a protester’s face along the way.
The rambunctious but socially awkward vibe is very odd-kid-in-middle-school-who-isn’t-really-a-nerd, or guy-who-got-into-a-fraternity-only-because-he’s-a-legacy. Which leads us to…
The Masturbation Thing: A recurring trope on various parts of the fix-your-life internet, whether it’s Reddit’s “nofap” page or pick-up artist forums, is the idea that abstaining from masturbating will bring about a wholesale life change.
McInnes promotes a similar idea called “#nowanks,” saying that masturbating more than once a month drains one’s interest — especially for millennials — in sex. The caveat: Proud Boys can always masturbate within a yard of a woman, with her consent.
Proud Boy Initiation: Proud Boys membership operates on three degrees. The first is just declaring yourself an “out” Proud Boy. The third is getting a Proud Boy tattoo — in a prescribed font, naturally — and keeping with the masturbation regimen.
Getting a shot (or not!) at the third level, though, means running a true gauntlet at the second: the cereal punching. In this initiation, Proud Boys enthusiasts punch a hopeful (albeit not around the face or testicles) while he cries out the names of cereals.
You must get the crap beaten out of you by at least five guys until you can name five breakfast cereals. If you hammer out, “Chex, Cheerios, Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, and Special K” in a matter of seconds, you’re free to go. If you get flummoxed by the punches and cannot think straight, well, sorry, you’re going to get pounded.
This sounds like nonsense, but it’s real.
Proud Boy “Culture”: The Proud Boys have a uniform — a black Fred Perry polo shirt with yellow stripes. (Coincidentally or not, Fred Perry is also a popular brand for skinheads.) They have a catchphrase, “uhuru,” a slogan they cribbed from a video calling for reparations over slavery.
They also have a fan song that centers on the “Uhuru” refrain, and it’s weirdly catchy.
Proud Boy Feuds: Naturally, an alt-right, all-male movement is riven with feuds, both internal and external.
Despite how bizarre their politics can look from outside of Trump circles, the Proud Boys actually fall on the moderate side of the alt-right.
On far more extreme sites like the Daily Stormer, writers blast McInnes as a “cuck” for refusing to discuss the “JQ.” That’d be the “Jewish Question,” or the deranged idea that a Jewish conspiracy runs the world.
One video, shot in a mocking take on the Proud Boys usual throwback 1980’s style, summarizes what Nazis don’t like Proud Boys:
“We’re the Proud Boys, we don’t talk about race / I even let a black guy fuck my wife in my place. Don’t talk about Jews. Please, don’t talk about Jews. Please.”
What to Make of the Proud Boys: I think the Proud Boys are too weird to ever become more than an oddball off-shoot of the alt-right. Their name is terrible, and who wants to hand over their sexual activities to Gavin McInnes?
Still, the Proud Boys offer a bizarre, structured look into the new era of white male identity politics. It’s one that’s willing to fight, even if their looks are very bad.
Update, April 15: Since I originally wrote this in February, the Proud Boys have publicized a new, fourth degree.
The first degree is declaring yourself a Proud Boy, the second is getting the cereal beat-in, and the third is adhering to the masturbation regimen and getting a tattoo. Now the fourth degree is brawling with antifascists. Summarized here:
Fourth degree — The final step involves “a major fight for the cause,” McInnes said. “You get beat up, kick the crap out of an antifa” and possibly get arrested.
The Proud Boys’ April 15 brawl in Berkeley, Calif. with antifascists and backed up by affiliated pro-Trump groups produced plenty of opportunities for Proud Boys to earn their fourth degrees.
In one video from the fighting, a Proud Boy — naturally in a black and yellow Fred Perry shirt — is shown getting arrested while another yells “You got your fourth!”
Update, April 27: The Proud Boys now have an “official military arm,” according to the Proud Boys’ media site.
What could go wrong?
Led by Kyle Chapman, the rapidly rising alt right star dubbed “Based Stickman” after he made his name scrapping with antifa in Berkeley earlier this year, the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights (get it?) promises to focus on “street activism, preparation, defense and confrontation.”
The new internal group comes as the Proud Boys have earned new attention (and recruits) for their role in last weekend’s Berkeley fighting. They’ve also started providing security at these deliberately provocative events for the likes of Ann Coulter and conservative Canadian commentator Lauren Southern.
The “Alt Knight” group will have its own “chapters, joining requirements, vetting rules, rituals, and charter,” according to the Proud Boys. That sounds like a clear way to get away from the Proud Boys’ more outré and comical elements, including the masturbation restrictions and the cereal-centric initiations.
McInnes and his jokey nudity homoeroticism were always an awkward fit for the natural Proud Boys recruit: angry young men obsessed with traditional values and fighting “degeneracy.” Chapman, on the other hand, offers a far more appealing image of wading into battle against what they see as leftist fascism.
The Proud Boys site itself explained the new Knights group by ominously writing that “At this point the Proud Boys has grown beyond McInnes’s control.”
Questions or comments about this story? Contact me at sommerwf at gmail