- The Proud Boys are more active than ever despite the J6 sedition convictions of four ex-leaders.
- The extremist group is planning anti-Pride protests and social media campaigns nationwide, watchdogs say.
- “I don’t see how we don’t end up having more violence next month,” one extremism expert warns.
Unbowed by the recent January 6 sedition convictions of four former group leaders, the Proud Boys are now more active than ever, and are busy planning disruptive protests at Pride month celebrations across the country in June, according to extremism watchdogs and their own social media.
The group is calling their counter-offensive “Proud” month, a celebration of “straight pride” and “Western values” designed to provoke violence, grow their membership, and — as one member posted recently on an internal planning channel on Telegram — “challenge this perversion of the Nuclear Family and Gender.”
“We are seeing just a singular focus on LGBTQ people,” among the Proud Boys and far-right hate groups in general, said Heidi Bierich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.
“And I don’t see how we don’t end up having more violence next month,” she warned. “It’s frankly getting a little out of control.”
Unlike the Oath Keepers, whose numbers had dwindled long before their national leader was convicted of sedition in November, the Proud Boys have seen steady growth in some 190 loosely-affiliated regional chapters since their pivotal role in the 2021 attack on the Capitol, experts say.
Last year was bad enough. There was a nationwide surge of at least 174 anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations, with the Proud Boys participating more than any other militant, far-right group, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
But this year, the Proud Boys are redoubling their anti-LGBTQ+ efforts, and are laser focused on Pride month. Patriot Front, a white nationalist group that recently demonstrated — in masks — at the US Capitol, is also expected to show an increased presence at Pride events.
“What happened last year, it was probably just a whiff of what we might see this year, after 12 months of organizing,” Bierich said.
“It’s a dangerous thing, because the Proud Boys are all about violence, and so are the Patriot Front, she said. “Not necessarily firearms, but with bats, shields, and — most usually — with their fists.”
The Proud Boys have been planning their Pride offensive on a series of Telegram channels for at least two months.
They are using the channels to share anti-trans vitriol and memes, including one joking that “LGBTQ” stands for “Let’s Go Bully The Queers,” and others mocking transgender — or “tranny” — suicide.
Members also share photos of homemade “Proud” month banners, at the ready for marching against “gay child molesters,” and “anti-straight hate.”
“We’ve got alot [sic] of work ahead of us,” one channel’s owner posted in April.
“In around 6 weeks, June will be here. We’ve gotta come at the normies full force and with something new, each day” of the month, the channel owner posted.
“We want to focus on straight love and the love of our straight lives,” the person wrote. “Family, childrens [sic] innocence, mothers, fathers and our fight to keep the nuclear family in tact.[sic]”
Another member suggested that chapters organize “Proud Boy Story Times” throughout June, to counter the family-friendly Drag Story Hours that are especially popular during Pride.
“Proud Boy Story Time” could feature members reading “American History” to kids “while wearing a perry'” the member posted, referring to the Proud Boys’ casual uniform of choice, black and yellow Fred Perry polo shirts.
“Would be cool to have a few videos to post around social media and see the response from the left,” the member’s post continued.
Other members floated plans for coordinated “Proud” month “banner drops—” the hanging of banners from bridges and overpasses, for the first weekend of June.
“Trolling,” “triggering” and “gaslighting the libs” are stated goals on these channels, along with, as some posts put it, “taking back the meaning of pride,” “taking back June,” and stopping the “sexualizing and mutilation of our nation’s children.”
There are frequent references to the hope that “Proud” month memes go viral and reach the mainstream population, or “normies.”
“We need to start advertising soon,” read another post.
“Like start getting normies involved and onboard. By mid-May we should be getting blow back from the Fag community or we aren’t doing enough. If they aren’t flipping shit, we are only tooting our own horns, ya know.”
In an apparent effort to extend their provocations to communities of color, the group has stolen the name “Juneteenth” for an event they are promoting for Saturday, June 17.
Juneteenth — which is observed on June 19 — is a day commemorating the end of slavery in the US.
The Proud Boys hope their rival “Juneteenth” will be a national day of cookouts, drinking, and, as one event advertisement put it, a celebration to help “break the chains of pride month.”
One non-specific flyer that is being shared among a variety of Proud Boys Telegram channels reads, “Juneteenth” and “Celebrate Proud Day Saturday, June 7teenth” with the tagline “#takingbackjune.”
Filling the flyer is a picture of a hand making the “OK” gesture, a common trolling image used by the right and far right.
“We don’t know specifically what folks are planning to do on that day,” said Emily Kaufman, whose research with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism focuses on the Proud Boys. “But we’re likely to see some activity from potentially multiple chapters.”
The Proud Boys’ Cape Fear chapter — near Wilmington, NC — has been among the most influential and active in disrupting Drag Story Hours and creating digital propaganda targeting the LGBTQ+ community, Kaufman said.
In a recent post on their Telegram channel, members of the Cape Fear chapter joked about a news account involving a homeless man charged with hate crimes for defecating on two LGBTQ+ flags in Manhattan.
“If they think that’s bad,” one member cracked, “wait until they see what happens next month.”
But Kaufman said watchdogs are seeing Proud Boys act out against the LGBTQ+ community across the country.
“They are organizing and recruiting around the baseless, dangerous narrative that members of the LGBTQ-plus community are grooming children,” Kaufman added. “Those narratives are motivating chapters across the board.”
The Proud Boys are leading the charge, she said.
“We see neo-Nazis, we’ve seen other white supremacist groups also participating in anti-LGBTQ-plus activity,” Kaufman said. “But the Proud Boys are really the most prolific targeters of Drag Queen Story Hours and also just LGBTQ+ events generally speaking.”
It’s just the latest culture war the Proud Boys have hitched their wagons to, said Jonathan Lewis of the George Washington
“What we have seen from the Proud Boys since January 6 is an attempt to ride the wave, the right wing narrative of the moment. Whatever the anger, the wave of resentment is focused on in that moment,” he said, including mask and vaccine mandates, critical race theory, and the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Now, the focus is libraries hosting drag queen story hours, he said, adding that the extremists want to appear as “street fighters.”
“They think they have to protect the country, protect the children, because no one else is,” he said. “It’s a paramilitary, vigilante mindset that really creates the conditions for violence.”
The ADL is working to keep people safe during pride month
Just the presence of Proud Boys at events is a recruiting tool, the ADL’s Kaufman said.
In preparation, the ADL is offering protest safety guidance through its 25 regional offices, Kaufman said.
“So if I learn, for example, that in Michigan, there’s going to be something happening, our regional office will share that guidance with the LGBTQ-plus organizations in the area and with other advocacy groups,” she said.
Kaufman said that the ADL does not recommend approaching members of the group, given its history of violence.
“We’re not trying to scare people,” she said, “just to make sure that folks are safe — to tell them, ‘Hey, the Proud Boys might come out. We have some guidance.'”
The Anti-Defamation League recommends that individuals and community groups with concerns about demonstrations involving hate and extremism contact their local ADL Regional Office at https://www.adl.org/about/regional-offices.