During Tuesday night’s debate, President Donald Trump was asked to condemn the Proud Boys, a roving gang of violent neo-fascists founded in September 2016 by Gavin McInnes. Trump demurred, and instead told them to “stand back and stand by.” Reasonably, the group and other far-right extremists heard Trump’s comments as a nod of approval, and they giddily took to social media to acknowledge the president’s message.
But it wasn't the first time the violent far-right group had received support from more mainstream conservative sources -- McInnes and other Proud Boys have been promoted by Fox News and other right-wing media outlets for years.
McInnes is a co-founder of Vice magazine and one of the world’s foremost purveyors of xenophobic content. “I love being white and I think it’s something to be very proud of,” he told The New York Times in 2003. “I don’t want our culture diluted. We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, white, English-speaking way of life.”
He called Jada Pinkett Smith a “monkey actress” in 2016, and in 2017 he chatted with Alex Jones about whether women “deserve” to be assaulted if they stay out late. Also in 2017, McInnes released a video titled “10 Things I Hate About Jews” in which he regurgitated anti-Semitic stereotypes and defended Holocaust denial. In 2018, he compared female journalists to “a colostomy bag for various strangers’ semen,” and said that women reporting sexual harassment at work are “proof that women don’t belong in the workforce.” In June 2018, he mused, “I wish Trump was separating more families. I wish Trump was arresting more illegals,” and called the president “an underachiever.” And in July 2018, he cheered Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court because it meant “you’re not replacing us,” declaring, “The patriarchy is not on the way out.”
McInnes and his supporters are also extremely fond of violence.
“We will kill you. That’s the Proud Boys in a nutshell,” he said during a June 2016 episode of the now-defunct The Gavin McInnes Show. “We will kill you. We look nice. We seem soft. We have ‘boys’ in our name. But like Bill the Butcher and the Bowery Boys, we will assassinate you.”
White nationalist and Proud Boys member Jason Kessler organized the infamous August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Right-wing outlets including The Daily Caller had published Kessler’s writing prior to the event.
So how has a violent group founded by someone so bigoted and deranged managed to stay relevant in 2020? Unsurprisingly, Fox News plays a significant role in this story.
In October 2018, members of the Proud Boys beat protesters outside New York’s Metropolitan Republican Club after an event was held there featuring McInnes. McInnes reportedly exited the building with a samurai sword, and though police were on the scene, they didn’t arrest any of the Proud Boys on site. McInnes would note in the days that followed, “So I get there and there’s a mob of screaming lunatics and the cops have been there all day. Tons of cops. I have a lot of support in the NYPD and I very much appreciate that, the boys in blue.”
Ignoring the physical violence wrought by McInnes’ gang, Fox News framed the story around “left-wing vandals” and “antifa thugs.”
Fox News host Greg Gutfeld devoted a section of his 2012 book The Joy of Hate to his appreciation of McInnes, and in his 2014 book Not Cool, Gutfeld calls McInnes “one of my best friends.” McInnes made dozens of appearances on Fox News, particularly on Hannity and Red Eye, which Gutfeld hosted for some time.
In a May 2014 episode of Hannity, McInnes advocated violence against people who mock Christians. “It would just be nice to see them get their asses kicked once. Why don't we punch them in the face?” After McInnes called for society to “get back to” engaging in public violence, Hannity responded by saying, “The good old days. … Cowboys, they brawl sometimes, yes. They do.”
In June 2014, McInnes appeared on Red Eye to express his hatred for astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson after the latter discussed being racially profiled as a child. “Back then [Tyson] looked like he was in The Warriors. He had a huge afro and a cutoff shirt and New York was a war zone. Sorry, you fit the profile.”
In March 2015, McInnes appeared on Hannity to argue that gender equality puts women in danger during spring break because they won’t take precautions to avoid being assaulted. “Drill that into your daughter and say, ‘You’re weak, you’re vulnerable, you’re not a superhero, you’re in danger.’” In a Red Eye appearance that May, he made the case that women shouldn’t vote.
In a May 2015 Hannity appearance, McInnes said that “women do earn less [than men] in America because they choose to,” that “they are less ambitious,” and that maybe the gender pay gap “is God’s way, this is nature’s way of saying that women should be at home with the kids. They’re happier there.” When fellow guest Tamara Holder asked why she was sitting there next to him in the studio if she’d be happier at home as McInnes had said, he responded that it was because “you’re making a mistake. You would be much happier at home with a husband and children!”
The group as a whole has gotten its fair share of defenses on Fox News over the years.
On the September 2 episode of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Juan Williams asserted that the Proud Boys and other far-right militia groups were responsible for recent violence in Portland, Oregon. Gutfeld called it “such a lie.” During the September 8 edition of The Five, Gutfeld mocked concern over violence being carried out by the Proud Boys and other extremist groups. “Proud Boys are burning down all the businesses, Juan,” he said sarcastically.
On December 11, 2018, noted racist Ann Coulter appeared on The Ingraham Angle to defend the Proud Boys against charges of being white supremacists.
COULTER: There's this group the Proud Boys. They have defended me all over America. And by the way, they are quite multiethnic. And I don't ask what their religion is. They are attacked by being accused of being a group of white men. Like I say, that's the only thing that keeps the Democratic base together — they keep hating white men. Even though the Proud Boys are not only white men, but what are they being attacked for? For defending people like me.
During a July 2018 episode of Fox & Friends, New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz called on Democrats to condemn violence, defending the Proud Boys by saying “they don’t have any real dark beliefs.”
In May 2018, Fox host Tucker Carlson posed for a photo with Proud Boys members Johnny Robinson and Will Dominguez in a Fox green room (also in the picture was Trump confidante and prominent Proud Boys ally Roger Stone). Both Robinson and Dominguez were wearing the black and yellow Fred Perry polos that have become something of an unofficial uniform for the organization. When asked by The Wrap if he condemned the group, Carlson instead sarcastically responded, “I strongly support and endorse every personal belief of every person I take a picture with on the street, the subway or in the green room, and always have.”
In July 2017, Hannity hosted Proud Boys member Jovi Val on his radio show.
Fox has an extensive history with McInnes, and it is unwilling to admit that right-wing violence -- like the kind promoted by the Proud Boys or the Vancouver, Washington-based Patriot Prayer -- is an actual problem in this country. The network has thus insulated its audience, including the president, from the gravity of the threats posed by neo-fascist organizations.