After a number of beers culminated in a brawl, about 20 of the more dedicated members made their way to the tattoo shop across the street where they each sat for identical tattoos bearing the group’s name. “It’s funny, there was a big fist fight,” McInnes said, describing to B+B the two combatants as a “suit” and a “young punk,” respectively. Apparently, the latter had wrongly assumed that his opponent was a square. “One of them was covered in blood at the end. I guess in a way, it showed the range of the membership.”
There may have been some bloodletting at the first Proud Boys meeting, but Gavin McInnes, the club’s founder and president, as well as Brooklyn’s very own ultra-conservative provocateur, still seemed exceedingly pleased with the results. “It was a smashing success,” he told me.
You’d be forgiven for having no idea what I’m talking about. Unless you’re an avid hate-reader of right-wing news or a patron/fan of media outlets like the ones that split McInnes’s various podcasts and online talk shows (The Rebel and Compound Media), it’s unlikely that you’d encounter much information about the Proud Boys. “It’s a men’s organization, sort of like the Odd Fellows,” McInnes explained. “It mirrors the Knights of Columbus in many ways”–another organization that he belongs to. Only in this case,the Proud Boys subscribe to an ideology of “anti racial guilt,” that, to me, seemed to evoke white pride.
Actually, McInnes wouldn’t describe it in explicit terms like “white pride” or “white supremacy.”
“Our motto is that, we’re Western Chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world,” he said matter-of-factly. “That’s really the only tenet.”
Most historians would agree that the decline of the colonial system and the start of World War I in 1914 marked the end of the modern Imperial Age, so in order to understand Western Chauvinism in the current moment, it’s better to think of it as the opposite of multiculturalism. As the Proud Boys page declares unironically, “The West is the Best.” It’s just one of many far-right, libertarian-ish tenets, including: “minimal government, maximum freedom, anti-political correctness, anti-racial guilt, pro-gun rights, anti-Drug War, closed borders, anti-masturbation, venerating entrepreneurs, venerating housewives.”
Up until last week, the Proud Boys led a relatively shrouded, binary-coded existence on the internet, and looked more like an officially sanctioned Gavin McInnes fan club than anything else, replete with all the ideological baggage that such a distinction implies. To a certain extent, it benefits the Proud Boys to appear that way. Last week, several members of the most visible Proud Boys Facebook group engaged in a back-and-forth about whether the page should be private, to prevent the “non-proud” from acquiring “ammunition.” One user advised: “If people truly want this to be more than a TGMS [The Gavin McInnes Show] fan club, people will need to think before they speak.”
Actually, this rift between rhetoric and reality, and the self-policing of language and discussion topics, is pretty hilarious coming from the Proud Boys, considering what really gets McInnes’s blood boiling. It’s “political correctness,” the issue that drops countless stray grenades for the right to scoop up and toss back. In McInnes’s view, anyway, PC culture stems from the pressure on white cis-gender men to acknowledge and regret their position of privilege.
Admittedly, in its most simplistic form, PC culture can seem like it’s gone completely bonkers lately, what with trigger warnings and such, so much so that even liberals (gasp!) are lamenting the “exhausting” nature of PC dictates. They sometimes present an easy target– see: the Oberlin kids who were up in arms about the cafeteria’s imperfect bánh mi sandwiches, among other dishes inspired by international cuisines, which they deemed guilty of cultural appropriation. (For the record, I would have killed for vaguely Vietnamese sandwiches at my school cafeteria, no matter how stale and offensive). Aside from the countless completely goofy stories out there, PC can sometimes play the role of protecting society’s most vulnerable groups from oppression, however annoying the term “micro-aggression” might be.McInnes takes PC dismissal a step further than mockery, and uses his anti-PC stance to excuse even legitimate instances of racism and sexism. He once said that PC “comes down to class” and dismissed it as nothing more than “snobbery,” or the upper classes picking on the lower classes– “I would argue that’s what the Civil War was about,” he said. “It wasn’t about slavery, it was about the North pushing the South around.” He has also written off criticism of The Bell Curve– the controversial, pseudoscientific bestseller that posits people of color are inherently intellectually inferior.
McInnes worries that PC allowances have the cumulative impact of making all men into giant pussies. “There’s a real sort of anti-masculinization going on,” he told me. “Not with just grown men, but with little boys. There’s a real war on men going on.” In his view, this pussification has compromised America’s hegemony and contributed to its decline on the world stage.
“I think a lot of us sort of tried it, too. When we were in college we go, ‘Oh, ok— you take the reigns,’” he said, noting that he dabbled in actual feminism (he still insists that he’s a feminist). “And then realizing that not only is it not correct that men suck, but I don’t think that the people saying it really even believe it themselves. I think they want to be dominated. I think that’s why Game of Thrones is so popular, because deep down they love ‘Winter is Coming’ and men with giant swords.” (In 2013, McInnes wrote about his own sexual reeducation: “I learned they want to be downright abused. When I stopped playing nice and began totally defiling the women I slept with, the number of them willing to sleep with me went through the roof.”)
It was this disgust for PC that actually spawned the Proud Boys, at least in name. While attending his daughter’s recital, one of her classmates performed the song “Proud of Your Boy,” in which the character Aladdin apologizes to his mother for being “one rotten kid,” as well as a “louse and a loafer,” and promises to finally make her “proud of your boy.” The track didn’t make the cut for the Disney film (Aladdin’s mother “was written out for being superfluous”), but it became an integral part of the stage production.
It’s a kid’s song that’s admittedly pretty lame, but McInnes saw a sinister implication.”It’s always the little things that push you over the edge,” he explained of the song, which he interpreted to mean that Aladdin was apologizing for being a boy, when actually we should let boys be boys.
“I was sitting in the audience just thinking, if there’s one song that would make a father totally devoid of pride, it would be this ‘Proud of Your Boy,’ and we all just became obsessed with it, the way the lyrics are so fake, humble, and self-serving. It really sounds like this self-obsession you get from a lot of people these days,” he explained. “They just assume the world revolves around them. and it’s really funny, that song— we just can’t get enough of it, so we declared it the most annoying song in the world. We sing it all the time, and we sang it at the Proud Boys meet-up quite a bit.”
At its core, the group’s “Western Chauvinist” ideology is inherently hegemonic and driven, at least in part, by “anti racial guilt.” Still, if you somehow weren’t really clear on what any of these “isms” meant, you might mistake Proud Boys for a college fraternity. “This isn’t a political movement the way the alt-right is, or even libertarians,” McInnes explained. “I mean, we spend as much time discussing shoes or flip-flops as anything else.” As hard as it is to swallow, there do seem to be some completely benign social functions of Proud Boys.
According to McInnes, a lot of men are feeling the need for an organization like Proud Boys. “There are a couple thousand of these [members],” he said. The group has two Facebook pages: One is a public group with 900 “likes” and the second, a UK-based group, is set to private but appears to have 54 members. McInnes sent us a screenshot counting the members of another Proud Boys Facebook group with a “secret” privacy setting that has 1,187 members. Chapters are located all over the United States, as well as in Canada and the UK, where a guy named Jack Buckby is trying to get ProudBoy Magazine off the ground, and is raising pounds sterling through an IndieGoGo to get there. Aside from the UK and the US, there’s a chapter in Canada, and others in “Sydney, Louisiana, Midwest (Chicago and Madison), Portland, and an LA one just started,” according to McInnes. There’s even a Proud Girls chapter with just 21 members united under the banner: “We support Proud Boys.”
Their penchant for secrecy, which probably serves them well as a way to avoid the inconvenience of being labeled a hate group, also mirrors most fraternities. While some information is out in the open, a lot of what actually goes on at meetings is under wraps. When I asked McInnes to explain the precise function of Proud Boys– campaigning, perhaps? discussion? coordination? balls and other social affairs? keggers?– he switched to a baby voice. “It’s a men’s group— that’s not really for me to disclose what happens at the meeting. That’s only for members to know,” he said.
I wondered what inspired McInnes to bring his Proud Boys chapter into an IRL existence. “It was very democratic,” he said. “It’s sort of like the hardcore scene in the ’80s where there wasn’t really a boss. With punk rock, you were either London or New York or you were a loser, and then when hardcore came along with the Maximum Rocknroll scene reports, it was all about your little scene.” He mentioned that Compound Media, home to The Gavin McInnes Show, makes and sells t-shirts. “But they’re not the official shirts by any means, and people have been making their own shirts and doing their own meetups and their own thing.”The first New York meeting was an open one, which meant that family members and girlfriends were welcome to attend. “The Knights of Columbus do that too,” he said. “They’ll have a Christmas thing where you bring your wife.” Just one day after our interview, group members expressed anxiety about outside eyes falling on the Proud Boys Facebook page, suggesting that the official rhetoric directed toward non-members might be different than in-group conversations. “The only reason I want to cancel this page is because of its vulnerability– proud boys are getting infiltrated,” the anonymous moderator posted. “This was meant to be a public record but now that we are getting infiltrated I don’t see this providing anything but ammunition for the non-proud.”
As with most frats, the Proud Boys have a clear hierarchy, with McInnes at the top and various degrees of allegiance. First Degree simply requires declaring yourself a Proud Boy, and already by the Second Degree things get a little bizarre, and only a “a few dozen” have joined the Third Degree ranks.
“The second degree is that you join our religion, NoWanks, and you get a beating until you can name five breakfast cereals,” McInnes explained. “And third degree is obviously still NoWanks, and a tattoo.” If anyone “taps out” or can’t name five cereals (?) they’re out of the running. Again, this sounds a lot like rushing for a fraternity, especially the part about how the Second Degree initiation “has to be filmed if Gavin McInnes or a Proud Boy rep is not present.”
But No Wanks, McInnes’s anti-masturbation campaign, goes a few steps farther, and it’s just one of the bizarre, yet completely serious invasive lifestyle directives that he’s espoused. Starting in 2015, he pledged to (pretty much) stop masturbating and started imploring other men to join him in relinquishing the habit of jerkin’ the dirty dog. As he explains in a video for Rebel Media, playing with oneself is “hurting our marriage and it’s draining our lifeforce.”
McInnes argues that pornography and masturbation are “amalgamated,” but he says he’s not against porn per se. “I don’t think it should be banned […] but Gen X guys, it’s making you weaker and stupider and lazier. And millennials, well, it’s making you not even want to pursue relationships.”
NoWanks allow for some wiggle room, though. “You can only ejaculate on your own once a month, and how you do it is up to you,” McInnes explained. “If you need to bust a nut, you need to get out there and ‘throw down bricks'”– a euphemism for hitting on girls. Interestingly, McInnes has a pretty liberal definition of “sex” as anything that involves crashing the yogurt truck “within one yard/meter of a woman with her permission.”
Amazingly, McInnes makes a connection between liberalism and masturbation, arguing that liberals’ anti-shame attitude toward masturbation has resulted in yet another failed social experiment. “With all liberal concepts, we wiped out tradition and replaced it with something worse,” he explains on his show.
Call me insane, but considering that McInnes believes in “maximum freedom,” it’s a little perplexing how a crackdown on masturbation makes sense. However, if you listen and read closely (or spend a mind-melting number of hours going through this guy’s output), a pattern starts to emerge: McInnes has a thing for dads– both playing the dad and being dad-ed. He has a dad fetish, if you will. I mean, consider the fact that the group is called Proud Boys.
“These old wives tales, could possibly be true– I think they are,” McInnes says in the NoWanks explanatory video. But what I hear is: “Hey kid, mom told me that your hands will turn wart-covered, if you don’t quit playin’ around.”
In a very dad-like effort to resist being too much of a hard-ass (i.e. fascist) and instill the values of honor, honesty, and taking pride in one’s self, McInnes ensures his fellow NoWanks adherents: “There are no checks and balances here. The reward is pride and support from your brothers and it’s completely based on the honor system. If you fail, let us know. We’ll reach down and pick you up like they do in the pit.” On the night Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, the Proud Boys Facebook moderator even made sure to check in on the boys: “Is everyone watching Daddy?”
The Daddy obsession makes sense, though– McInnes’s entire ideological framework for Proud Boys is essentially based on paternalism. One oft-recited Proud Boys tenet is: “We venerate the housewife.” On its own, it implies a very different credo than venerating all women no matter their occupation and fertility status. And McInnes’s own words have confirmed his belief that women are better off pregnant and/or in the kitchen plotting their next insemination.
He explained his theory at a Huff Po Live discussion in 2013, citing overwhelming support from science. “Women are forced to pretend to be men. They’re feigning this toughness […] Study after study has shown that feminism has made women less happy. They’re not happy in the work force, for the most part,” he said. “By enforcing that as the norm you’re pulling all these women away from what they naturally want to do. It’s making them miserable. They don’t like that.” As with a lot of McInnes’s stats, they have some basis in reality, but fail to tell the whole story.
As Vice moved closer to traditional media companies like Viacom and HBO, seemingly to increase its commercial virility across a larger mainstream audience, it appeared as if McInnes had left Vice for a morally upstanding reason after all. Sort of. He hadn’t sold out to earnestness and the capitalist bigwigs. But for Vice, selling out also meant becoming somewhat of a legitimate news source at least partially dedicated to actual journalism.
For a while, Street Carnage looked a whole lot like Vice at its punkest, a return to the raw, party-animal attitude that made Vice appealing in the first place– after all, McInnes was the brilliant mind behind the “Dos and Don’ts” column, often an uncorrupted kid’s first introduction to Vice, and an unshakable guilty pleasure of grownup readers. But the mood starts to become toxic when everything is written in the voice of “Dos and Don’ts.” Not to mention alienating– if you don’t buy into relentless machismo, relentless dick-sizing can take its toll.For a long time, people dismissed it as “ironic racism” whenever McInnes made a, uh, slip of the tongue during his Fox News appearances or used racially charged language in his writing. While some weren’t so keen on giving him the benefit of the doubt, still others just found it easier to dismiss “hipster racism” as a whole.
The split with Vice seemed like a decisive one, but the feud continued. In 2009, Gawker discovered that Vice had a non-compete policy for Street Carnage, and was known to call off working relationships with photographers and writers who were involved with McInnes. Likewise, there were stories of industry people calling off projects with McInnes to save their own reputation. And after McInnes made a guest appearance on Red Eye in which he dressed up in all plaid and delivered a sexist diatribe in a Scottish accent, Salon suggested that he might have mental health problems. “The dude’s gone a little nutty, even for Fox News,” one blogger argued. Even if the appearance was an attempt at satire, it wasn’t aimed at the powerful.
Then, in 2012, McInnes was compelled to take a leave of absence from his position as Chief Creative Officer at Rooster, the ad agency “for people who hate ads” that he’d founded two years prior. Just prior, McInnes had published a piece, “Transphobia Is Perfectly Natural,” that caused an intense uproar, especially from gay publications. The Advocate said it might be “the most transphobic article ever.”
Even when his leanings seemed undeniably intolerant, people were reluctant to call his intolerant views anything but ironic. Adweek gave him the benefit of the doubt: “Though, due to the tone of his work, some are unsure if it is meant to be taken seriously.” Never mind that when you access the article on Thought Catalog, you’re greeted with a warning: “The article you are trying to read has been reported by the community as hateful or abusive content,” and let’s just say the site isn’t exactly known for its diverse viewpoints. Years later, McInnes’s article was still having an impact, and was part of the reason why many writers asked for the articles to be removed from the site retroactively.
Now, Street Carnage is a shadow of its former self, and is essentially McInnes’s personal blog, with brief blog posts written by just a few contributors, but mostly McInnes, and listicles that are mostly driven by the comments section. Even the “Street Boners” column, rolled back and reborn as “Instaboner,” feels like it was amassed by some basement-bound internet troll rather than actual pavement pounding or lived experience.
The site’s decline is understandable since McInnes has shifted his focus toward The Gavin McInnes Show and is fully embracing his career as a political pundit. With his quick wit, ability to recall stats on command, and bully’s predisposition to laying down the law with numbers-backed, macho zings and brutal comebacks, McInnes was born to play the part. His output is undeniably entertaining. Even scum-of-the-earth “Cultural Marxists,” or liberal arts college grads (McInnes himself has a BA in English lit, which he says left him “brainwashed”) might enjoy his rundown of “14 different kinds of conservatives.” And McInnes has mastered a linguistic dance that keeps him within the bounds of at least Fox News material. The careful side-step plays out as McInnes avoiding explicit racism, refuting old-hat terms for racist white dudes (“white nationalist,” for example), and describing his viewpoints in negative terms instead of affirmative ones. As an example, McInnes says that Proud Boys comes down to a very simple belief: “White guys are cool,” he said, before backtracking. “Let me rephrase that– white guys are not un-cool, white guys don’t have anything to be ashamed of.”
Of course, none of this prevents him from praising radical-right figures like Peter Brimelow, Richard Bertrand Spencer, and Jared Taylor (all three of whom made the cut for Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Extremist Files”), and literally puckering up to Milo Yiannopoulos, a tech editor at conservative news outlet Breitbart who was recently banned from Twitter for life for a relentless series of abusive, racist tweets directed at comic/actress Leslie Jones. (The Times described him as “one of the most egregious and consistent offenders of [Twitter’s] terms of service.”)
This ideological dodgeball was on full display when I asked McInnes about something I’d noticed on the Proud Boys site, that the rules make room for “Black Proud Boys” and “Gay Proud Boys” as well as “Proud Boys’ Girls” (that last one is in the possessive form only, mind you). Not surprisingly, these non-white members must adhere to some strict and rather awkward requirements. Proud Boys of color “are Western Chauvinists and recognize that white men are not the problem,” and “they don’t whine about racism or blame it for their problems.” Queer Proud Boys are subjected to the same, but they’re exempt from NoWanks.
I told McInnes that I was surprised the group allowed for non-white and non-straight members. He responded by telling me he thought my question was an “insulting” one. “I think you [reporters] have been brainwashed into thinking that the KKK lurks around every corner– every time you find a white dude who is unashamed of itself, you just assume it’s a white power organization,” he said. “And I don’t want to hear about the fucking KKK anymore– it’s like Bob Marley’s album Legend, I’ve heard enough for one lifetime, I’m good now for life.”
So why on earth would anyone want to join Proud Boys and acknowledge these things? “I think part of that is that we’re very pro-dad and black dudes know more than most how important dads are. And black people aren’t big on shame— that’s a white thing. There’s something about white men, especially, where they just want to capitulate and apologize.”[Update: That’s one thing that really seems to make the Proud Boys see red. An oft-repeated line appearing on the Facebook group, on the Proud Boys t-shirts, and almost everywhere else a Proud Boy can be found, is “Uhuru,” which at first might read like a opaque inside joke. On Facebook, the admin of the Proud Boys public group explains, “This is how it all started,” and provides a link to a YouTube video posted by a well-known queer black activist, Gazi Kodzo. In the video (shot vertical, in his trademark style) Kodzo approaches a series of white people and speaks with them about reparations. Whenever his interviewees say things like, “all white people owe reparations,” Kodzo declares, “Uhuru!”
After initial publication of this piece, which said that the Proud Boys subscribe to an ideology of white pride, McInnes strongly objected to the term and forwarded us an email from Taleeb Starkes, who explained: “I’m a Proud Boy, specifically, a black Proud Boy who is unapologetically proud of my ethnicity as all Proud Boys are.” Starkes, who is the author of the 2013 book The Un-Civil War: Blacks Vs Niggers: Confronting the Subculture Within the African-American Community, which was marketed as a “race-realist endeavor,” went on to insist that “racial pride isn’t the adhesive that bonds Proud Boys, which is why you labeling us as a white pride/supremacy organization is categorically and demonstrably false. Our adoration for the west and commitment to its advancement is the glue, not ethnicity. The only type of pride that accurately describes our organization is western pride.” We also heard from other Proud Boys, whose comments are at the bottom of this post.]
Simple ignorance might explain the lack of commotion, or perhaps McInnes’s deep roots in North Brooklyn and the artsy party scene have given him a sort of immunity, a badge of “hipster racism” people can flash whenever they simply don’t want to argue about Gavin McInnes.
After all, Thought Catalog once dubbed McInnes “the godfather of hipsterdom.” It wasn’t far off– he was a close friend of Ryan McGinley and an integral part of the downtown party scene of the early aughts, and for a time he was a regular figure at Lit Lounge, the notoriously raucous bar and honorary clubhouse for a throng of artists, skaters, famous faces, and weirdos alike. In fact, McInnes’s memoir, The Death Of Cool, includes a chapter of the same name, in which he recounts the 2009 death of another good friend, Dash Snow. McInnes’s party reputation precedes him (he has openly talked about trying crack, for example), and in some circles this reads as being cool.
And while McInnes writes that his party life sorta, kinda came to an end when he became a dad (he met his wife, Emily Jendrisak, at the original incarnation of Max Fish in 2000), he still has plenty of bar-fight stories and black-out regrets. But, pretty much, McInnes seems to be leading a much calmer life now– looking back, in a 2012 interview, he said: “Fatherhood makes punk rock, fights, and doing coke in the basement of Lit seem like a fun but tiny joke.” And last year, he told The L that Nitehawk was one of his favorite hangouts and likened the process of gentrification to his own life. “The Williamsburg metamorphosis from junkie to Disney has been fascinating to watch. The purists may hate it but I’m lucky in that it’s perfectly mirrored my own life. Brooklyn is the American dream.”
But does all this hipster cred give McInnes a shield from criticism at the local level?
Obviously, the internet is naturally given to extremism which occasionally crosses over into IRL before quickly residing back to its dark, basement-dwelling, Red-Hot-Cheetos-stained existence. And all of this might have seemed like fairly fringe-dwelling stuff until Trump won the most votes ever in a primary contest while managing at the same time to score the most votes against him, making him the Party’s most divisive candidate ever. Despite Trump’s all-encompassing hatred that includes racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia, he’s captured the popular imagination and gained a lot of unlikely followers. Now, Western Chauvinism and the ideas of Gavin McInnes seem a little more mainstream, or have at least gained some sort of legitimacy.
McInnes told me that he believes Trump will win the election. “I really feel like political correctness and the far left, they are done. I think 2015 was their last year, 2015 was when they were getting their safe rooms with the puppies and feel-good recovery stations.” In his view, things haven’t completely changed, yet, but he’s convinced we’re headed that way. “Now, obviously, cops getting shot implies that we still have a long way to go,” he said. “The tides have turned, and that’s one of the reasons why Trump is so popular too– he’s a patriarch.”
In fact, McInnes acknowledges that Trump has opened a sort of floodgate for backlash against political correctness. “They want to tell you what to say, but they don’t have anything better to replace it. They’re just telling you what to say,” he explained. “And Trump was the first to say, ‘No, I’m not playing that game,’ and that’s sort of what the Proud Boys do— we’re not ashamed actually of ourselves. We’re doing a great job.”
Watching the Republican National Convention at an uptown Republican club really drove this home– as people cheered wildly when Trump discounted PC culture, it was clearer than ever that the candidate has created an environment in which PC critique is not only welcome, but even a little trendy. Unfortunately many people seem to be confusing good old fashioned not-being-racist with political correctness.
Still, McInnes insists that the Proud Boys are not just about discussing serious matters, such as how America can go about regaining its reputation for world dominance and convincing women that they don’t have to “pretend to be men” anymore and would be much happier barefoot and pregnant, stirring a pot of tomato soup for eight other diapered-up Jrs than they would CEO’ing some fancy company. “The politics are Trump,” McInnes said. “But hair and clothes and getting laid are just as important.”
Correction: This article has been updated to include the membership numbers for another Proud Boys Facebook group with “secret” privacy settings, making the group unsearchable to anyone except for “current and former members.” The original version of this article also characterized Proud Boys as a white pride organization when, more precisely, it describes itself as “anti racial guilt.”