"Luxury employed a million of the poor and odious pride a million more." Those are the words from a Mandeville poem that Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes had tattooed on his right arm.
The quotation describes two themes - vice and pride - at the root of every good downfall story. And McInnes, whose group was recently categorized by the FBI as "an extremist group with ties to white nationalism," appears to have followed the same script - falling into a hubristic trap of his own making.
McInnes disassociated himself last week from the Proud Boys, an anti-left fraternal fight club self-described as "Western chauvinists" that he founded in 2016.
That exit was apparently on legal advice that his resignation could assist seven group members who face sentencing over their participation in a street brawl in New York in October. At that brawl McInnes appeared brandishing a sword.
In his November 20 goodbye video, McInnes explained that his leaving would help convince a jury that no official gang-like structure exists within the Proud Boys. As early as June 2017, he had expressed consternation that he might be the subject of a RICO charge (relating to membership of an ongoing criminal organization), so he had flagged this move well in advance, and the FBI determination tipped his hand.
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McInnes now insists that he never led the group. Yet his abandonment has thrown the group into disarray, as leaders scramble to claim the title of chairman.
McInnes himself has publicly described the group as a "gang," and its official structure resembles the Knights of Columbus, the world's largest Catholic fraternal service organization, from which he once allegedly faced demotion due to his bizarre focus on Jews.
Throughout 2017, the Proud Boys earned a reputation as irony-laden counter-cultural conservatives but also toughs fighting anti-fascists, alongside Nazi fighters like the Rise Above Movement at the Berkeley riots and elsewhere. In early 2017, McInnes hosted far-right cranks MikeCernovich and "Baked Alaska" for an episode on his show called "Alt-Right and Alt-Light: Unite!"
Even when committed to discretion, the Proud Boys worked to draw the mainstream toward a united far right.
McInnes denies the Proud Boys’ connections to white nationalism in part by denying the very existence of white nationalism today - an unlikely claim, given that one of the early Proud Boy leaders was Indiana’s Brien James, a former Klansman and Hammerskin who founded the notorious fascist skinhead group, Vinlanders Social Club.
Known for their use of YouTube to spread fight videos, much of the Vinlanders’ allure came from cloaking fascist beliefs in the language of the "heritage"” of "Western civilization," while using the idea of a "social club" in a fashion similar to McInnes’s "fraternal order."
As well, the Proud Boys produced the “official Miltary [sic] Arm of the Proud Boys" called the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, a name strikingly similar to the Fraternal White Knights of the KKK.
Headed up by Kyle Chapman and self-described "American fascist," Augustus Sol Invictus, the group was keen to realize proto-fascist fantasies of becoming an anti-left paramilitary group before dissolving, amid Chapman’s prosecution for assault with a leaded stick.
Some suggested McInnes started losing control over the group’s direction and purpose (and membership) during the lead up to 2017's infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Acting overtly as the group’s ringleader and spokesperson, McInnes distanced himself and the group from Unite the Right, while inviting the rally's organizer, Jason Kessler, on his show to promote it. McInnes actually opposed "disavowing" the rally and its organizer - until a participant, self-described neo-Nazi, James Alex Fields, murdered antifascist Heather Heyer and injured others in a car attack.
In the months prior to Unite the Right, McInnes flashed onscreen books by his erstwhile guest, former KKK head David Duke on "Jewish Supremacism," and by Kevin MacDonald - a psychologist notorious for his theories of Jewish manipulation and control, popular among Holocaust deniers, white supremacists and anti-Semites - before announcing he wanted to go to visit Israel.
During that trip, he published "10 things I hate about the Jews," whose original title was, in McInnes'own words, "10 things I hate about the goddamn mutherfucking Jews," criticized Jews' "whiny paranoid fear of Nazis," and alleged Jewish responsibility for the Holodomor - the death by starvation of millions of Ukrainians under Stalin.
"I think it was ten million Ukrainians who were killed. That was by Jews. That was by Marxist, Stalinist, left-wing, commie, socialist Jews," (a position he later disclaimed, but not before David Duke gave him the thumbs up.
As 2018 progressed, McInnes’s Proud Boys staged violent brawls in the Pacific Northwest, attracting a number of fascists and sexual predators. Since the Proud Boys sought to maintain a discrete distance from open fascists, Brien James’s newly minted, white supremacist American Guard appears to have become a spillway for those who acted excessively racist for the Proud Boys.
In October, the Proud Boys fought alongside the American Guard in Providence, Rhode Island, another example of direct collaboration. By McInnes’s appearance in NYC’s Republican Club a few days later, which saw a local Latino Nazi skinhead crew joining with Proud Boys in a gang beating of antifascists, the Proud Boys’ paper-thin denials had already become self-satire.
After McInnes’s move away, a leading member of American Guard, former "Alt Knights" leader, and speaker at Unite the Right, Augustus Sol Invictus, immediately attempted to grab the reins of the Proud Boys. Ironically, the Proud Boys’ lawyer, J. L. Van Dyke, who has a propensity for making racist death threats online and faced arrest for making a false report to police in a Dallas suburb months ago, has also jumped at the opportunity.
It would seem the purportedly powerless post McInnes has forfeited is actually quite important.
And that may be where the story of Gavin McInnes leaves off - for now. He promotes the racist Bell Curve and racial pseudo-science and embraces the far-right conspiracy theory of "white genocide." He has associated with white nationalist Jared Taylor since at least 2004, the year after he wrote for the far-right American Conservative, and got his job at Taki’s Mag with the help of Richard Spencer five years later.
For the last two years, he has helped organize anti-left street violence with the help and support of Trump consigliere, Roger Stone, and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has hosted McInness several times on his show. McInnes may have fallen into temporary purgatory but one thing is assured: he will not disappear. And neither will the Proud Boys.
The man who once proclaimed, "the days of the West are numbered and I will be the impetus that destroys it," only to become a self-promoting champion of the West, has made a living by being a political and social chameleon - from riffing on how he made his money at Vice by "recognizing cool" to allying with hardcore anti-Semites.
The attraction of McInnes and the Proud Boys has consistently been their attempt to dress far-right views in a hip new uniform. That counter-cultural impetus will continue to attract the racists but also the merely gullible, pulling the two together in a movement to that contributes to a resurgent American fascism.
Alexander Reid Ross is a Lecturer in Geography at Portland State University. He is the author of Against the Fascist Creep (AK Press, 2017). Twitter: @areidross