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Despite Their Roots, The Proud Boys Shouldn’t Be The Center of Canada’s Far-Right Terrorism Discussion

Daniel Collen
Daniel Collen

Dan Collen is a freelance writer who covers fringe political movements and conspiracy theorists. Lately, he’s been writing about Canada’s growing anti-mask movement.
Find Dan on Medium and Twitter

Gavin McInnes with his sword outside of a New York City bar in October of 2018. Photograph by Carol Schaeffer.

On Monday, the House of Commons passed legislation that includes pressuring federal authorities to officially designate the Canadian Proud Boys as terrorists. Although some part of the legislation is regarded as a step forward, many worry that the mention of The Proud Boys specifically could be an empty gesture that won’t fix underlying problems.

Before it got shut down, Canadian reactionary and sole founder of the Proud Boys Gavin McInnes was one of the largest figures on Parler. His podcast series, Censored TV, is still one of the most popular names on Bitchute.

Gavin McInnes is openly racist. He’s a Holocaust denier. He pushes conspiracies disparaging interracial relationships. He’s compared Palestinians to dogs. He’s said that a “disproportionate number” of Muslims are “mentally damaged inbreds”. He promotes violence against peaceful protesters. He thinks “95% of women would be happier at home” than in the workforce.

He is, without a doubt, the worst type of person Canada has to offer to the world. So, after the Capitol Hill siege of January 6, when letters circulated calling for Canada to label the Proud Boys a terrorist organization – the most popular of which were proposed by the New Democratic Party and by North99 – they reached overwhelming support in a matter of days.

But aside from his role in radicalizing young Canadian men to the alt-right online, Gavin McInnes is not a leading figure in Canadian far-right hate. The Proud Boys themselves are not Canada’s largest far-right terror threat.

This is why progressive bloggers, writers, journalists, and anti-hate watchdogs have had mixed reactions to the wording of Monday’s House motion that included designating The Proud Boys — McInnes’ pet project — a terrorist organization in Canada. Some are calling for further discussion and an alternate approach.

Ten Things I Hate About Lazy Researching

Since their inception in 2016, The Proud Boys have acted as a sort of bridge between more casual incel and Red Pill message boards and more extreme Fascist groups. McInnes’ well-documented friendship with Joe Rogan and his notoriety as a founder of Vice gave him credibility to a mainstream audience that no other far-right hate group could reach. However, in Canadian media, his reputation hasn’t been as innocent since before the Proud Boys Inception, as many of McInnes’ controversies happened while working for Canadian far-right media outlet Rebel News.

“The Joe Rogan Experience 920. Joe Rogan, Gavin McInnes.” Screen capture of The Joe Rogan Experience Youtube Channel.

McInnes’s first public delve into Holocaust denial and open Antisemitism occurred while working for Rebel News, starting when McInnes released a Vlog titled ‘Ten Thing I Hate About Jews’. Rebel News’ owner, Ezra Levant, a Jewish man, faced criticism for not only allowing but encouraging the vlog, eventually admitting that he chose the title himself.

McInnes later changed the video title to ‘Ten Things I Hate About Israel’, maintained a firm stance of Holocaust skepticism, and continues to work with Levant today. On his Parler account, he would often post antisemitic content, including a constant invocation of “JINO”s, “Jews In Name Only”, a common trope used to defend antisemitism. He implies that Jews who don’t support Israel in the same capacity that far-right figures do are not actually Jewish. The term JINO is sometimes also used by antisemites to exclude ethnic Jews from conversations about anti-Jewish violence like Synagogue shootings.

Screen capture of McInnes’ Parler from December

McInnes also worked with Faith Goldy at Rebel News. Goldy is a prominent far-right figure in Toronto who cited a white supremacist oath as a guest on a White Supremacist YouTube channel, denied the correlation to white supremacy, and then eventually came out as a ‘nationalist’ (which she currently identifies as).

Because of all of this and more, Rebel News hasn’t been taken nearly as seriously in recent years as entertainment outlets like The Joe Rogan Experience, and in large part Canadians knew not to take McInnes’ boy’s club seriously before our Southern Neighbours did.

There Are Bigger Fasc to Fry

In their current state, the Proud Boys’ presence in Canada is far from when they were at their most active. Designating them as a terror group now is far too little action done far too late. McInnes himself hasn’t actually been getting his hands dirty since 2018 when he was very publicly filmed wielding a sword at a Proud Boys demonstration in downtown New York City. That evening, Proud Boys filmed themselves committing assault and boasted about lying to the police. McInnes has since resigned from his official post as The Proudest Boy.

The Proud Boys did (and likely still do) still have a few small chapters in Canada. But they’ve never been so emboldened as their New York counterparts. The main reason they’re a topic of constant discussion for Canadian politicians is really because of McInnes’ Canadian nativity and his ongoing relationship with Canadian news organization Rebel Media. McInnes currently lives and works in New York on a green card.

As The Canadian Anti-Hate Network pointed out in their statement on the matter, Proud Boys Canada First, a breakaway group of the Canadian Proud Boys, are actually more extreme than Canadian Proud Boys. As half of Canadian Antifascist Twitter pointed out, both Northern Order and Soldiers of Odin are generally considered to be larger terror threats in Canada. 

If the NDP and North99 – an advocacy group accused of using past petitions to gather voter data – were serious about dedicating their efforts to fighting white fascist groups by labelling them as terrorists they might have wanted to talk about designating Northern Order and Soldiers of Odin first and foremost. 

Since both cited the Proud Boys instead, one might guess that the real goal was to score political points by demonizing a hate group that’s more of a household name, not to mention one that’s really much easier to combat in its current state. The Proud Boys are less likely to carry out terror attacks than several other white fascist groups active in Canada. This is true regardless of whether or not Canada declares them a terrorist organization. The only difference is who people might credit for their potential silence.

Why It Might Not be Overly Effective

By the time of the Ku Klux Klan’s great resurgence in the 1980s, the Klan has already learned how to deal with terrorism charges in the public’s eye. They diversified. Local chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, often with specific geocentric names, had already emerged during the second birth of The Klan in the 1920s and the strategy wasn’t going to stop working any time soon. The division allowed David Duke, with his chic late-night show public image, to publicly distance himself from any terror attacks local chapters committed with ease. Today, the Anti-Defamation League estimates there are “35 to 40 groups that make up the organized Klan movement in the United States”.

There are, at the very most, three digits worth of very active Canadian Proud Boys’ members. The smaller the numbers of any group, the easier it is to rename, re-brand, and get right back to doing the same thing they were doing before. The evidence so far suggests that they’ve already started, with one report saying they officially disbanded Manitoba’s large chapter. Leaked correspondence shows otherwise.

Although the heat of the controversy has already pushed most into hiding, a designation as a terror organization could still force members to further lay low for months before joining another hate group. Hopefully, some might even join one that lets them masturbate freely so that they can let out some of their pent-out anger without resorting to sedition, as The Proud Boys have pretty strict rules for that.

Getting members of hate groups to limit their activity is not nothing. But it’s also not a long-term solution.

What should be hailed as the crowning achievement from Monday’s vote is the parallel call to federal authorities to “use all available tools to address the proliferation of white supremacists and hate groups”. Our elected politicians acknowledging the terror threat of white supremacists is a terrific step forward.

Possible Downsides

The reason that short-term solutions should be carefully considered before we jump to them is that we, as Canadians, need to avoid falling into the trap of convincing ourselves that the work is done.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some benefits. For one thing, Canadian voters deserve to know where their representatives stand on the issue of Neo-fascist groups operating in Canada. But, what we definitely don’t deserve are politicians abusing the situation in the United States for their political gain.

But choosing to name The Proud Boys specifically is somehow arguably both lazy and extreme at the same time. On one hand, The Proud Boys’ inactivity in Canada makes it an almost empty gesture. On the other, quickly rushing a conversation about the difference between a hate group and a terrorist organization (a distinction seldom made by governments) can set a dangerous precedent, allowing for vastly different organizations to be fast-tracked for the same treatment in the future. 

Prominent Republicans in the United States once campaigned to designate “Antifa” as a terrorist organization. Unlike The Proud Boys, there is no organization called Antifa to even be labelled as such. Because the term was so broadly used to describe activism against fascists, it would have set the expectation that terrorism could be nothing but a catchy name for a large movement and an occasional logo. Thankfully, few serious and prominent officials in the US government entertained the idea, and it was instead largely championed by Canadian porn aficionado and American seditionist Ted Cruz.

Some Canadian experts have made great cases for healthy caution in the debate. Amarnath Amarasingam, a Queen’s University assistant professor who researches terrorism, told Vice News that although there would be benefits to the labelling, they were uncertain about what Vice referred to as “not sure if categorizing all violent dissent as terrorism”.

John Clarke, a journalist and a former organizer with The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty also argued against a blanket ban of The Canadian Proud boys for Canadian Dimension, citing his experiences being branded a terrorist for protesting against homelessness.

Alternative Solutions

Addressing “the proliferation of white supremacists and hate groups” on a federal level is a great start. With Canada being no stranger to far-right fueled terror attacks, it shouldn’t have taken this long for legislation like this to be passable. But, it’s certainly better late than never. 

Acknowledging terror threats is one part of combating white fascism and far-right hate groups in Canada. There are other policy changes that can help

Earn back the public’s trust in the RCMP.

In 2013, it was reported to the RCMP that Gabriel Wortman possessed a cache of illegal firearms and had assaulted his partner. Despite Wortman’s ban from possessing firearms due to a prior conviction, the RCMP never even interviewed him following the complaint from his neighbour. When Wortman eventually carried out the largest mass killing spree in Canadian history in April of 2020, RCMP failed to use the same emergency warning system used for Amber Alerts to warn potential victims.

In October, The RCMP gave embarrassingly soft treatment to domestic terrorists targeting Mi’kmaq lobster fisheries, with bystanders saying that some officers “just stood there” while fires were lit. 

News from Nova Scotia last year severely impacted the public’s already waning faith in the RCMP to take terror threats seriously. They need to build it back.

Educating the public.

Our federal government has the means to better educate the public about the dangers of extremist hate groups. Public education campaigns have worked for fighting the dangers of smoking, why not the dangers of flirting with fascism and racist conspiracies? Canada is rife with multimedia companies facing a shortage of clientele in the wake of last year’s recession, and the cause is worth a little spending.

Investing in mental health. 

The Proud Boys sold itself as a “fraternal order” to young men across the continent. The rules about masturbating, the excessive firearms and boys club mentality is, and always was, an appeal to depression, anxiety, anger management issues, and a lack of social fulfillment. The more we reduce our country’s supply of anxiety, the less proud our boys will be.

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