Mainstream media are still figuring out how to handle the neo-fascist Proud Boys street gang, with the group and its allies now celebrating President Donald Trump’s call at Tuesday night’s debate for them to “stand back and stand by.” And with a segment from correspondent Elle Reeve on Wednesday morning’s edition of CNN’s New Day, the cable network was not off to a good start.
“But unlike a lot of groups that arose during the Trump era, like the alt-right, they're not explicitly white supremacists,” Reeve said. “They say they want to support Western civilization, but they're not out there posting swastikas. But that said, a group doesn't have to be neo-Nazi to be dangerous.”
In fact, the Proud Boys is a far-right organization with links to white supremacist movements, including the violent “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. And as with other media reports on the Proud Boys and allied organizations that simply parrot their claims of “patriotism,” Reeve’s segment gave an extended mouthpiece to the group — especially by reporting from an actual Proud Boys rally in Portland, Oregon, and interviewing its leader and members — even if CNN had intended for the piece to be critical.
And in the next hour, CNN correspondent Sara Sidner said: “Look, we should be really clear that the Proud Boys do not consider themselves a white supremacist group —tThey have members from many different ethnicities. That doesn't mean that they have not wreaked havoc. They're more like a political fight club, if you will, than a white supremacist group, and have distanced themselves.”
CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota later added: “This is really helpful, Sara, because I thought the ADL had designated them a white supremacist group, but you’re saying they're more just like a fight club?”
In fact, the Anti-Defamation League’s blog post on Trump’s comments last night says: “Additionally, Some Proud Boys members espouse white supremacist and antisemitic ideologies and/or engage with white supremacist groups.”
By presenting the group as a solution to the loneliness of men who feel targeted by what one called a “mainstream societal attack,” [the reporter] inadvertently validated their grievances while failing to give her audience the full picture of what the boys stand for.
While McInnes has attempted to disassociate from that crowd, a member of the Proud Boys, Jason Kessler, was behind the “Unite the Right” rally held in August. Kessler described Heather Heyer, the counter-protester who died after a rally participant rammed a car into a crowd, as a “fat, disgusting Communist.” On This American Life, NPR producer Zoe Chace reported that a Proud Boys Facebook page was ripe with racial slurs. The Hill’s Will Sommer tweeted a photo that seems to be from one of the groups’ pages showing an armed group of Proud Boys in the aftermath of the Harvey hurricane in Houston, TX, declaring themselves to be “the anti looting patrol.” The idea that there was widespread looting after Harvey was a false, racist narrative that right-wing media and fake Twitter accounts spread widely. Sommer also pointed out that Proud Boy Kyle Chapman, founder of FOAK and known on the internet as Based Stickman, has tweeted white supremacist tropes on occasion. As documented by SPLC, Chapman “rose to fame on a wave of enthusiasm from the Alt-Right after a video of him breaking a wooden stick over the head of an antifascist protester at a ‘March 4 Trump’ rally in Berkeley, California, last March went viral.”
Relatedly, NBC News reporter Ben Collins points out today that a Proud Boys group is sharing a meme of the Kenosha shooter.
Media Matters president Angelo Carusone explained in 2018 how the Proud Boys serve as a gateway between the men's rights movement and white nationalists: