Stephanie Warsmith|Akron Beacon Journal
The Proud Boys call themselves Western chauvinists.
They wear black and yellow Polo-style shirts that make them easy to spot.
And, increasingly, the group is being tied to demonstrations that have turned destructive and deadly, including the storming of the U.S. Capitol last week.
With President-elect Joe Bidens inauguration next week and threats made to target Washington D.C. and state capitals, many are concerned that the Proud Boys and other radical, right-leaning groups could wreak more havoc.
Youre seeing a lot of rhetoric revolution, attacks on statehouses, Bidens inauguration, said David Licate, a University of Akron criminal justice professor who once served on an FBI team that studied violent extremists. You have to take it seriously. They (Proud Boys) are becoming more violent.
Though the Proud Boys have been gaining national notoriety, they havent drawn as much attention in the Akron area.
I have heard of this group in a national context, said Lt. Michael Miller, an Akron police spokesman. I am not aware of any local activity or chatter.
But in the past two years, there have been signs of the groups presence locally and in Ohio:
Proud Boys sent a press release to the Canton Repository, another USA TODAY Network Ohio newspaper, last month promoting food and toy donations in Canton and Lorain around the holidays.
However, the Beacon Journal was unable to find anyone involved in the group locally to talk to for this story. No one responded to a request for comment made on the Proud Boys website or an email sent to the address on the poster hung in Wooster.
We dont talk to the media, said Dan Ciammaichella, who was identified as a media spokesman for the Akron-Canton Proud Boys in the release sent to the Repository. Thank you very much.
Proud Boys is a relatively new group, kicked off in 2016.
Gavin McGinnes, co-founder of Vice Media, started the group and called it a club for men. He espoused misogynistic and anti-Islamic views, as well as racist overtones.
He claimed they were not alt-right, not white nationalist but pro-west, like a fraternity, said Licate, a 20-year UA professor.
The groups tenets, according to its website, include: minimal government, maximum freedom, anti-political correctness, anti-drug war, closed borders, anti-racial guilt, anti-racism, pro-free speech, pro-gun rights, glorifying the entrepreneurand venerating the house wife.
To become a Proud Boy, a man must declare he is a Western chauvinist who refuses to apologize for creating a modern world, according to the website. Leaders of the group define this chauvinism as patriotism or extreme nationalism.
The groups name is a nod to a song in Disneys "Aladdin" called Proud of Your Boy.
I just made it up, McGinnes said in a video on the Proud Boys website.
McGinnes said the group has gained thousands of members all over the world, including in Africa, Japan and Australia.
New Proud Boys members must be beaten up by five men until they can name five breakfast cereals, quit porn and get a tattoo, McGinnis said.
McGinnis recalled a timewhen he went to New York University to give a talk and the group's members clashed with protesters.
We beat the crap out of them, McGinnis said in the video, drawing cheers and applause from the audience.
McGinnis has now stepped away from the group and Enrique Tarrio, who is originally from Cuba, is the new leader.
Licate said the group has gotten more violent and well-armed.
New members are now asked to beat up someone they thinkis liberal or left-leaning, Licate said.
They went from a pseudo-fraternity that gets it name from an Aladdins song and has to recite cereals to becoming increasingly militant, Licate said.
Some Proud Boys members werent happy with the groups alt-light characterization and started the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights (FOAK), who are considered the groups bodyguards or strike force, Licate said.
Tarrio, the new Proud Boys leader, was arrested for burning a Black Lives Matter banner taken from a historic Black church in a December demonstration in Washington, D.C. to protest Trumps election defeat. Tarrio also faces weapons charges and wasbanned from being in the Capitol, besides going to court.
Licatesaid he would characterize Proud Boys as a hate group. He said hes not sure if they meet the definition of domestic terrorists, which refers to a group that has engaged in violence for a political or social end.
Licate said Proud Boys were at the Jan. 6 protest outside of the Capitol, but he isnt sure if they were among those who breached the building.
Proud Boys, Three Percenters and Oath Keepers were among the right-wing extremist groups captured in photos and videos at the Capitol insurrection. Five people were killed, including a police officer.
Licate said Three Percenters and Oath Keepers both have an ex-military/law enforcement base and the Oath Keepers are staunch constitutionalists. He said Proud Boys lean heavier on misogyny and racism than these other groups.
They are all anti-left and hard-core conservative, Licate said.
Closer to home, Licate said hes aware the Proud Boys have chapters in Columbus and the Akron area but hasnt heard much about their activities.
They havent really made themselves known, beyond an online presence, he said.
The Akron-Canton Proud Boys had an open-carry display on the Kent State campus in September 2019 as a counter to a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Beto ORourke. ORourke had proposed a mandatory gun buyback program during a presidential debate.
The Proud Boys display featured an array of rifles and smaller firearms, secured with metal rope and padlocks. A sign on the front asked onlookers, Which one of these should be banned?
Were out here, pretty much, just to spark conversation with people, Ron Jones, a Proud Boys member, told the Record-Courier. Were hoping people from their side will come up and talk with us a little bit and maybe bridge the gap a little bit.
The event was largely peaceful, though a Kent student was arrested for throwing a milkshake on Proud Boys members.
In early November, a Proud Boys flier was hung in the front of the Spoon Market & Deli in downtown Wooster, angering the owners of the business.
The flier said, The lies of the left are meant to dissuade, distract and demoralize, and called Proud Boys the most lied about, slandered and targeted group. Why? it asked and included a website and email addressfor the group.
Patrice Smith, co-owner of the deli, posted the flier on her Facebook page, seeking information on the cowardly person or people who posted it. Her post drew both backlash and support.
We will not compromise our integrity, ethics and responsibility, Smith wrote.
The Akron-Canton Proud Boys, in an emailed statementto the Daily-Record newspaper, said its members distributed fliers in the Wooster area Oct. 30.
"Proud Boys wanted to send a message to the voters in America that we are EVERYWHERE, so they can feel safe casting their votes through November 3rd," said the statement, signed by the group.
Flyers also were posted in Amherst Plaza in Massillon.
More: Proud Boys, counter-protesters clash
In mid-December, a 43-year-old Akron man was among 39 people arrested after a group of Proud Boys protesting Trumps election defeat clashed with anti-Trump counter-protesters in Washington D.C.
Four people were stabbed, while others were beaten and pepper-sprayed and several churches were vandalized.
These Proud Boys are avowed white nationalists and have been called to stand up against a fair and legal election, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, told the Washington Post.
The Akron man is accused of being part of a large group spotted by an officer chasing down another man, knocking him to the ground and beating him with what appeared to be long, thin batons. The officer saw the Akron man take a running start and kick the other man in the head several times while he was on the ground, according to court records.
The man who was beaten fled and didnt return to the scene.
The Akron man wore black para-military style clothing, including a helmet, vest, backpack and gloves, as well as a yellow scarf. He also had a black plastic and rubber baton that was about 4 feet long, according to court records.
Police charged the Akron man with rioting, attempted possession of a criminal weapon and assault, all misdemeanors. He pleaded not guilty in D.C. Superior Court and was released until his next court appearance.
Neither the Akron man nor his attorney could be reached for comment.
Law enforcement in the Capitol and across the country are worried that the type of violence seen in D.C. in December or at the Capitol could be repeated or escalated before and on inauguration day.
Licate said law enforcement must prepare for the worst, while weighing the right to protest with the need to protect safety and prevent destruction.
Were stuck in a holding pattern, Licatesaid. When people take the jump from word to deed, thats when law enforcement can get involved.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 330-996-3705 and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.
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