Philly Clark Park stand NO Proud Boys fascists here By joepiette2 via Creative Commons

Don’t Meme the Proud Boys into Existence

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I work as an independent consultant – a trusted source of information, insight, and intel on emerging far-right threats. As a public academic, I’ve tried to help ensure accurate, responsible coverage of the Proud Boys group. But many of the nation’s journalists keep covering them in ways that give them unearned mystique. 

The Proud Boys are opportunists who are focused on maximizing their visibility. Journalists must tighten up their methods and practices to toe the line more effectively between informing the public and being unwittingly employed as de facto recruiters for this rogue group of disgruntled, self-described boys. 

Precarious masculinity narratives offer a way for men to casually endorse the group, as I described in-depth in Swiping Right: The Allure of Hyper Masculinity and Cryptofascism for Men Who Join the Proud Boys

Their radicalization process involves using hyper-masculinity, which makes them a danger to the western world, as I described in Take The Redpill, Understanding the Allure of Conspiratorial Thinking in Men Who Join the Proud Boys

Sure, the Proud Boys aren’t all white guys. But the organization’s multiracial members transcend that unifying factor by identifying with the West (which is code for ‘white culture’ to many) and what white culture really means.  

‘Ideological shields’ is a concept that Mediapart – unlike other outlets – helped publicize. 

The Proud Boys serve as a multiracial shield for many, even as they’re self-proclaimed contrarians

Samantha Kutner

A recent Newsweek article  forced me to ponder another kind of shield. The unique breed of recruitment fodder I will call homo flexus. Homo Flexus is a Live Action Role Player (LARP/LARPY) Proud Boy who talks a big game but will likely never engage in the violence they continually gesture towards.

That Newsweek title exemplifies the problem with how many media outlets discuss the group: “Proud boys Supporter Warns of ‘Civil War if Donald Trump Loses the Election.” It’s catchy, misleading, and leaves out crucial context. Journalists cannot afford to minimize the severity of the threat Proud Boys pose. Thus they must also avoid over amplifying the severity of  that threat. Like the author, I’m concerned about the sectarian violence likely to ensue in the event of Biden winning. However, this article essentially memes the group into prominence.

In the YouTube video accompanying the piece an  actor and blogger lets a Proud Boy lay bare his conspiratorial and Antisemitic underpinnings, like when he conflated the Hassidic community with the entire Jewish community. The written article doesn’t capture or interrogate the conspiratorial worldview. The article elevates the threat in its headline, which only maximizes the group’s visibility while introducing a shield of another kind: the friendly, Archie Bunker, multiracial, LARPy white supremacist (more on that here , because this is a new concept that has left many scratching their heads).

LARPing is a gaming reference that involves creating characters and acting out various fictional scenarios in real life. One example involves Proud Boys co-attending Patriot Prayer’s ”Pro Life Rally For the Innocent.” Proud Boys dressed as clowns with signs that said, “Abortion isn’t funny,” becoming living clownworld memes. 

LARPing can also refer to the aggressive performance of masculinity and patriotism the Proud Boys are known for. The LARPer is distinct from the more violent factions, i.e. the Fraternal Order of the Alt Knights, the short-lived Proud Boys paramilitary division whose violent members got reabsorbed back into the group. When you apply the lens of LARPing (or “live-action role-play”) to this unnamed Proud Boy’s statement regarding the inevitability of the civil war, you are left with aggressive posturing. 

It’s not known when someone crosses the ideological threshold from wearing the antagonistic tee-shirts & talking about the global Kabal, to plotting an assassination attempt of a rival, menacing an Islamic community, or stalking a videographer in an attempt to intimidate them into silence. Those are all things Proud Boys have done, which are detailed on the Khalifa Ihler Hate Map

Regarding their motivation and commitment to “defending the west,” the Proud Boys are not a monolith. For this reason, when journalists cover them, they must accurately assess the threat level of each member. 

Here’s a little more on LARPing to assist journalists with their decision making process: 

  • In 2016, it was common for Proud Boys to LARP their way into rallies, believing it to be some kind of game to “own the libs.”  When you LARP by design the lines  become blurry. One member I interviewed described a Proud Boy who attended Charlottesville as an incident of “LARPing too hard.” 
  • On February 19th, 2020, a Proud Boy expressed concerns that members were harming Roger Stone’s case by, again, LARPing too hard. He had to explain to the Proud Boys why they needed to stop. They were commenting on an Instagram photo of federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson with a cross hair symbol imposed on her. Somehow, they didn’t understand how that was wrong. LARPing, trolling, or being too edgy could be an accurate label of a Proud Boy that has lost touch with reality; the most extreme example being Buckey Wolfe
  • However, as the examples above highlight, the term is more commonly used as a form of post hoc distancing. The Proud Boys most  likely to engage in armed insurrection use the LARPers as cover. They rely on journalists to maintain that cover. Because as long as the spotlight is on the chem trails, George Soros, and persuadable classes, the smarter and more strategic members are able to actively plan violent rallies. 
  • Through the LARPER, journalists accidentally launder the group’s extremist ideology through accepted media lenses. They also amplify the severity of the threat Proud Boys pose. Curiously, they amplify it in the wrong direction, because they amplify the threat using the LARPer and not the more strategic members who are the very members likeliest to commit violence.

As a research fellow at The Khalifa Ihler Institute, I can assure you, there are ways to cover Proud Boys accurately and responsibly through data-driven and strategic analysis. When the nation’s journalists don’t, they help bolster this dangerous group. And that ends up hurting us all. 

Samantha received her bachelor's degree in psychology and master's in communication studies from the University of Nevada, Reno. As an independent consultant, she provides training presentations informed by her ethnographic research with Proud Boys and Antifascists. Her full bio is here.

Samantha received her bachelor's degree in psychology and master's in communication studies from the University of Nevada, Reno. As an independent consultant, she provides training presentations informed by her ethnographic research with Proud Boys and Antifascists. Her full bio is here.

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