US With Trump in the rearview mirror, Proud Boys offer muscle at rallies against vaccine mandates, masks
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After lying low for months since the Jan. 6 insurrection, members of the far-right street gang thehave been showing up at protests against mask mandates and coronavirus vaccine requirements.
In recent weeks, Proud Boys have been spotted at rallies against masks and vaccines in at least five states. From Los Angeles, California, to Columbus, Ohio, members have scrapped with counterprotestors after gathering for events branded as pro-freedom, pro-patriot or anti-COVID restrictions.
They've even appeared at school board meetings to protest the teaching of "," a controversy fanned by conservative activists and media.
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"They've been piggybacking on other people's events," said Jared Holt, a fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab. "They go where they believe the culture war is being fought, because they see themselves as potentially violent enforcers in a broader culture war."
One man's journey into the Proud Boys:
Conspiracy charges against Proud Boys:
Anti-mask protests become violent
Throughout August, members of the Proud Boys attended protests against COVID-19 restrictions in California, Oregon, Ohio, South Carolina and Kentucky. Some of those events became violent.
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On Aug. 14 in Los Angeles, a group of Proud Boys and other far-right agitators attacked counterprotesters and journalists outside City Hall. Frank Stoltze, a veteran reporter for LAist, wasby men in the crowd.
Though members of the mob weren't dressed in the Proud Boys' signature gold and black colors, local activistsseveral of the men as members of the extremist group.
from the protest show members of the crowd chanting "Uhuru," a Proud Boys slogan. Some wore orange armbands and carried orange water bottles, during the Jan. 6 insurrection to help identify one another.
A week earlier in Portland, Oregon, members of the Proud Boys attended an event supporting Sean Feucht, a conservative pastor who has railed againstand has become known for holding concerts at which the audience is encouraged not to wear masks.
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The evening ended with Proud Boyswith antifascists in downtown Portland.
In other cities, including, Kentucky, Proud Boys simply flashed white power signs and shouted the occasional slur at photographers and reporters.
Far-right 'security guards'
From its inception in 2016, it's never been quite clear what the Proud Boys stand for, what they want, or what they hope to achieve.
The group rallied around former President Donald Trump when he was in office. Chapters around the country found a niche acting as security guards at GOPand other public events, sometimes at the invitation of politicians.
The group, which haswith white supremacists, got more exposure when Trump them to "stand back and stand by" during a presidential debate in September.
At least 29 people associated with the Proud Boys are among the more than 500 arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to a USA TODAY analysis.
But without Trump to rally behind, and with their chairmanthis month after to destruction of property and weapons charges, the Proud Boys have been left rather rudderless, said Samantha Kutner, a fellow at the who has studied the group for years.
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The Proud Boys are gravitating toward public protests and causes that will get them the attention and notoriety they crave, Kutner said.
"It's part opportunistic, but it's also a reflection of the conspiratorial worldview that they're embracing and have embraced through the 'red pill' movement," Kutner said, referring to a term popular with the far right to describe when people suddenly realize white supremacists and conspiracy theorists have been correct all along.
"They're a reactionary movement," she said. "They haven't really thought things out, but they will seize opportunities where they can."
Daryle Lamont Jenkins, an activist and founder of One People's Project who has been tracking the far-right for decades, said the Proud Boys have embraced the idea that they're now a security service for any far-right group that might raise the ire of counterprotesters and antifascists.
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"The first time I ever came across the Proud Boys, they were doing security for Milo Yiannopoulos, and that was back in 2017," Jenkins said. "The far-right definitely sees them as their security."
Glomming onto new causes
The Proud Boys' support for the anti-mask and anti-vaccine movement is its latest attempt to attach itself to far-right causes, several experts said.
Kutner pointed out that in 2019, Proud Boys in Canada, where the government has officially declared the group a terrorist entity,in support of the "Yellow Vests" movement — a hodgepodge of largely far-right activists.
This year, Proud Boys have evenat school board meetings to decry the teaching of "critical race theory," or CRT, in schools. Most schools don't actually teach critical race theory, but many teachers have started incorporating historical narratives from oppressed people and cultures – which education and history scholars .
Shouting matches, arrests and fed up parents:
Like many of the movements the Proud Boys glom onto, Kutner is sure most of the men have little idea what they're actually protesting.
"CRT has become synonymous with anything the boogeyman wants, like communism for example," she said. "But if you ask the average Proud Boy, 'What is critical race theory?' everyone will give you a different answer because they don't actually know.'"
Contributing: Erin Richards, Ryan Miller
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY:
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