Facebook has recently banned several prominent figures the platform considers to be extremists such as Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos and Louis Farrakhan, as part of an effort to curb hate speech.
Another group banned from Facebook is the Proud Boys.
The Proud Boys have been called racist, extremists and have been accused of having ties to white nationalists.
“The Proud Boys is a men’s fraternal organization,” Central Valley Proud Boys member Gabriel Silva said.
The group considers itself a club.
“We’re basically a men’s drinking club,” Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio told FOX40 via Skype.
It was founded in 2016, at the height of the presidential election. Members wear black and yellow polo shirts and “Make America Great Again” hats.
They meet monthly at bars across the country and believe there are ways to, in their words, “save America,” including giving every American a gun and legalizing drugs.
According to the group’s website, they accept all races, religions and sexual orientations. They just don’t accept women into group.
The Proud Boys believe women should focus on their families, not careers. They say housewives are “venerated.”
“Housewives have a very tough job,” Tarrio said. “When they have kids, they gotta raise your family. They basically raise you or me.”
They say at the heart of everything they do is the belief that “the West is the best.” They call themselves “western chauvinists” and believe the ways of the Western world are superior.
“The West is the best and if you are an extreme patriot, that means you’re going to defend the Constitution of the United States,” Tarrio told FOX40.
The group’s former leader and founder Gavin McInnes called himself “Islamaphobic” and once said the Muslim world was filled with “shoeless, toothless, inbred men.”
The Sacramento chapter of the Council for American Islamic Relations issued a statement to FOX40 about the Proud Boys when asked for comment:
“The Proud Boys are a clear example of the rise of radical right-wing white supremacy in the U.S. that has been emboldened by the Trump administration’s platform of hate and bigotry. They are a hate organization that uses anti-Muslim and white supremacist rhetoric to incite their followers amid our current divisive political climate.”
Tarrio, the group’s current leader, says the group is against radical Islam.
“We’re not afraid of Islam,” he said. “We’re not, I think the term’s xenophobic. We just feel like Islamic extremism, it doesn’t mend well with American constitutional values.”
The initiation process includes several steps, including declaring yourself a Proud Boy, getting a tattoo and going through what’s called a “cereal beating,” in which newcomers are punched until they can name five breakfast cereals. Engaging in political rallies or protests is also a requirement.
The Proud Boys have been spotted in cities New York, Charlottesville, Berkeley and Sacramento, fighting against members of groups like the anti-fascist movement Antifa.
Silva, who lives in the Sacramento area, says he joined the Proud Boys after attending a rally in Berkeley. He says he watched members of the Proud Boys defend and protect people voicing their opinions as right and left-wing groups clashed.
“We started defending them and the police weren’t doing their job, like what we had in Berkeley,” he said. “They just stepped back and the two sides went at it. You know, and this happened in Oregon and other places.”
But because of McInnes’ stated beliefs on Islam and Muslim cultures, and some members appearing alongside neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups at rallies, the Proud Boys have been labeled by many as a far-right group with ties to white supremacy.
“I don’t think it’s an unfair statement. I think it’s a blatantly false statement,” Tarrio said.
Silva claims “any white supremacy or anything like that” is unwelcome.
But the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group, disagrees, labeling the Proud Boys as a hate group:
“The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Proud Boys as a hate group because of its frequent denigration of Muslims and Islam, misogynistic rhetoric and its role as a ‘gateway’ group to other extremist groups, but violence itself is not a requirement for being listed as a hate group. While the founder of the Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes, claims to reject white nationalism, he espouses many of the central tenants of this ideology. Members of the Proud Boys appeared alongside other hate groups at rallies like Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and in October 2018, members of the Proud Boys appeared in a group with far-right skinheads attacking counter-protesters in New York City.”
“The Southern Poverty Law Center has no basis for that designation,” Silva says.
But since then, the Proud Boys and many of its members have been banned from several social media platforms.
“I woke up one day and I’m like, ‘Let me check my Twitter. Oh, I’m banned. OK, let me check my Facebook, I’m banned. Let me check my Instagram, I’m banned,'” Tarrio said.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, also considers the Proud Boys a hate group:
“Our team continues to study trends in organized hate and hate speech and works with partners to better understand hate organizations as they evolve. We ban these organizations and individuals from our platforms and also remove all praise and support when we become aware of it. We will continue to review content, Pages, and people that violate our policies, take action against hate speech and hate organizations to help keep our community safe.”
Twitter says the group was “promoting terrorism” and sent FOX40 its rules on violent extremist groups:
You may not make specific threats of violence or wish for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people. This includes, but is not limited to, threatening or promoting terrorism. You also may not affiliate with organizations that – whether by their own statements or activity both on and off the platform – use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes.
We consider violent extremist groups to be those which meet all of the below criteria: —identify through their stated purpose, publications, or actions, as an extremist group; —have engaged in, or currently engage in, violence (and/or the promotion of violence) as a means to further their cause; or —target civilians in their acts (and/or promotion) of violence.
Both firms said the Proud Boys violated their terms and policies.
“Speech can indeed make people do very violent and horrible things,” McGeorge School of Law professor Leslie Jacobs said.
McGeorge School of Law professor Leslie Jacobs says social media platforms have the legal right to ban anyone.
“The websites are privately owned and privately operated so the Constitution doesn’t limit what they do,” Jacobs said.
The FBI says it doesn’t investigate groups like the Proud Boys because of their ideologies but rather individuals who commit federal crimes:
“The FBI can never initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of First Amendment rights. Our focus is not on membership in particular groups but on individuals who commit violence and criminal activity that constitutes a federal crime or poses a threat to national security. When it comes to domestic terrorism, our investigations focus solely on criminal activity of individuals—regardless of group membership—which appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce the civilian population or influence the policy of the government by intimidation or coercion. The FBI does not and will not police ideology.”
Tarrio argues that there’s no reason for his group to be silenced on social media.
“We should have a voice because there’s not an extremist bones in our body,” Tarrio said. “It’s happening to the right now, but what if it starts happening to the left? The outrage would go through the roof. And that’s what I’m outraged about, that they are not taking a stance on this.”
McInnes is suing the SLPC for defamation, claiming the Proud Boys’ designation as a hate group is false and has damaged his character.