Gavin McInnes, a Canadian-American co-founder of Vice Media, established the Proud Boys in 2016 after leaving Vice due to conflicts but then distanced himself from the group early the following year. Since 2018 Enrique Tarrio has served as leader of the Proud Boys, which aims to radicalize men—particularly white men—and desensitize them to violence. The Southern Poverty Law Center designates the organization as a hate group with misogynist and anti-Muslim views that promotes white nationalism. The entry point is the idea that western civilization and ways are superior to all others.
In 2017, Proud Boy Kyle Chapman formed the group’s paramilitary arm, the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights. That year the group also played a key role in the riots that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia in conjunction with the white supremacist Unite the Right rally that led to the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer. Proud Boys members have frequently been involved in violence in the Pacific Northwest, and have discussed with other right-wing groups how and when to use violence against leftists in the Northeast. The group has also provided security for Republican political candidates and has collaborated with the conservative group Patriot Prayer.
After the September 2020 presidential debate where Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” members participated in 79 pro-Trump rallies across the U.S. Trump’s ally and adviser Roger Stone is known to have befriended Tarrio prior to the 2020 election. On Dec. 12, 2020, members of the Proud Boys were filmed in Washington ripping down and burning Black Lives Matter banners at several historically Black churches, prompting the police to investigate the incidents as hate crimes.
Given the group’s role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Canadian government has designated the Proud Boys as a terrorist organization.
January 6, 2021
- On Dec. 20, the day after Trump tweeted that a Jan. 6 protest “will be wild,” the Proud Boys created a so-called Ministry of Self-Defense for “national rally planning.” Through an encrypted chat group, members began recruiting others and fundraising for protective gear.
- On Dec. 29, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio told members not to wear their traditional black and yellow colors on Jan. 6, but rather to wear all black so that they appeared to be antifa members.
- On Dec. 30, Tarrio received a plan called “1776 Returns,” which called for occupying buildings within the Capitol complex and elsewhere.
- On Jan. 3, members of the chat group discussed the best ways to attack the Capitol.
- On Jan. 4, Tarrio was arrested for destroying property in relation to the banner burnings the previous month. Police said they found two high-capacity magazines in his possession when they arrested him.
- After his release from jail on Jan. 5, Tarrio met with Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes in a parking garage.
- On Jan. 5, the Proud Boys created a new chat group called Boots on the Ground. Ethan Nordean (aka Rufio Panman) and Joseph Biggs stepped in to replace Tarrio, but maintained contact with him.
- Police recovered a Chinese-made Bao Feng radio from Nordean’s home, which they allege the Proud Boys used on Jan. 6 to try to evade authorities as they were communicating with each.
- On the morning of the attack on Congress, Proud Boys members cased the Capitol, according to testimony from documentary filmmaker Nick Quested. They observed the fortifications at the complex and the number of police on location.
- While Trump was speaking at the Ellipse, the Proud Boys positioned themselves in front of an entrance to the Capitol that was less well protected by security guards. Standing near the front of the crowd, Nordean allegedly provoked the officers.
- At the gathering on the Peace Circle at the northwest end of the Capitol grounds, Ryan Samsel spoke with a Proud Boy and became the first person to enter the grounds by overturning the bicycle barricade obstructing access to the Capitol.
- Proud Boy Dominic “Spazzo” Pezzola was one of the first people to breach the Capitol. He used a police riot shield to smash a window, allowing other rioters to enter the building.
- The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charged members of the Proud Boys with seditious conspiracy following their Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
- In fall 2022, several members of the Proud Boys pleaded guilty to the charges brought by the DOJ.