Internecine warfare is a natural state for right-wing extremists; they are, after all, uniformly paranoid, suspicious, confrontational, and narcissistic (not to mention deeply unpleasant) people. The proto-fascist street-brawling Proud Boys have never been an exception, as observers in Portland well know from the days when they and members of their far-right colleagues in Patriot Prayer were threatening to kill each other.
Their latest internal dustup, however—in which an early cofounder of the group dubiously claims to have fired their current national leader while embracing an explicitly racist approach—is more revealing than most. Although the claims are mostly toothless grandstanding, the episode lays bare how the Proud Boys’ disavowals of white nationalism are really just a risible burlesque.
Kyle Chapman, a Bay Area commercial diver who gained national notoriety in 2017 as “Based Stickman” after he brought homemade weapons and armor to an alt-right protest in Berkeley, California, created an uproar within the ranks of Proud Boys by announcing this weekend that he intended to “resume” the group’s leadership reins because their current chairman, Enrique Tarrio of Florida, had disgraced himself and the group.
Chapman posted the notification on the right-wing platform Parler, fueled apparently by an incident in which Tarrio claimed to have stopped a stabbing of Proud Boys in Washington, D.C., though video did not bear out his claims:
Due to the recent failure of Proud Boy Chairman Enrique Tarrio to conduct himself with honor and courage on the battlefield, it has been decided that I Kyle Chapman reassume my post as President of Proud Boys effective immediately. We will no longer cuck to the left by appointing token negroes as our leaders. We will no longer allow homosexuals or other ‘undesirables’ into our ranks. We will confront the Zionist criminals who wish to destroy our civilization.
Though they were designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 2018, the Proud Boys have been adamant that they are not a white nationalist or racist organization. Their favorite piece of evidence to bolster this claim is to trot out Tarrio, an African-Cuban man who became the group’s chairman after founder Gavin McInnes resigned in November 2018 and was replaced by a national board with Tarrio at its head.
Tarrio himself likes to tell reporters that the Proud Boys have "longstanding regulations prohibiting racist, white supremacist or violent activity," and "I denounce white supremacy. I denounce anti-Semitism. I denounce racism. I denounce fascism. I denounce communism and any other -ism that is prejudice towards people because of their race, religion, culture, tone of skin." He denies that the Proud Boys are white supremacists by saying: "I'm pretty brown, I'm Cuban. There's nothing white supremacist about me."
McInnes has sued the SPLC over the hate group designation and claimed that “we are not an extremist group and we do not have ties with white nationalists,” the latter of whom, he told The Guardian, “don’t exist.” However, the reality is that the ethos that McInnes describes as being the core of the Proud Boys—what he calls “Western chauvinism”—is just a public relations-friendly reformulation of the “white genocide” myth that animates modern white nationalism.
"I love being white and I think it's something to be very proud of. 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,” McInnes has said. Kyle Chapman, his onetime cohort, fully agrees to this day—and then some.
Chapman first made a name for himself at a “March 4 Trump” in Berkeley on March 4, 2017, by coming to the event prepared for battle with homemade implements: a shield adorned with an American flag, football-style padding and a helmet, and a long wooden sign post he wielded like a baseball bat. A video of Chapman breaking the post over the head of an antifascist protester that day went viral and gave birth to his nickname. Chapman was charged with multiple counts of felony assault, which he eventually plea-bargained down to a single charge and five years’ probation.
His next big moment, however, was also the Proud Boys’ inaugural event: the April 15, 2017, “free speech” rally they dubbed “the Next Battle of Berkeley” and which proved to be a seminal moment for white nationalist groups such as Identity Evropa and the Rise Above Movement, the leaders of which were all present.
McInnes was so impressed that he promptly anointed Chapman a leader of the Proud Boys and placed him in charge of organizing what he considered the group’s “tactical defensive arm,” dubbed the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights (FOAK). Chapman described FOAK as a “fraternal organization,” a Proud Boys affiliate chapter, “with its own bylaws, constitution, rituals and vetting processes.”
However, over the ensuing months and years, nothing ever came of the FOAK project, mainly because Chapman wound up facing multiple charges arising from a variety of violent incidents: for hitting a Texas man over the head with a barstool, for fighting a person in Berkeley while filming a promotional video, for operating a vehicle off-road.
After McInnes left the Proud Boys, Chapman mostly became an afterthought. He largely disappeared from the alt-right protest scene, skipping out on such major Proud Boys gatherings as their August 2019 march in Portland. His only notable involvement was with the white nationalists who organized Boston “Straight Pride Parade” in June 2019, lending his name and image to promoting the event.
However, even in his time as a leader of the Proud Boys, he made pronouncements that belied the group’s disavowals of white nationalism, such as his speech at a July 2017 gathering in Sacramento:
I am not afraid to speak out about the atrocities that whites and people of European descent face not only here in this country but in Western nations across the world. The war against whites, and Europeans and Western society is very real and it’s time we all started talking about it and stopped worrying about political correctness and optics.
Over time, his public references to such white nationalist tropes as “white genocide” and expressions of simple bigotry (including against feminists and women) became even more pronounced. And in his Nov. 9 Proud Boys “coup” announcement, the mask came off entirely.
Chapman announced that the organization would embrace its underlying white nationalist ethos by rebranding itself as the “Proud Goys”—a reference to the alt-right belief that Jews secretly control the world’s politics and media in order to oppress non-Jewish “goyim.” He added, “The coup is complete,” and then launched into a nakedly racist rant:
We will no longer cuck to the left by anointing token negros as our leaders. We will no longer allow homosexuals or other “undesirables” into our ranks. We recognize that the West was built by the White Race alone and we owe nothing to any other race. Proud Goy members will pay homage to the White men who gave their lives to build our civilization: White men who provided their intellect inventing the modern world, spreading enlightenment, and providing the framework for lesser civilizations to thrive. ... We will boldly address the issues of White Genocide, the failures of multiculturalism, and the right for White men and women to have their own countries where White interests are written into law and part of the body politic. We will no longer stand by as Whites are murdered in the streets because of the color of their skin. …
Tarrio responded sharply on Parler, saying he had earned the group’s chairmanship and calling Chapman a “grifter.” Chapman retorted: “All you do is grift. Nobody respects you anymore n----r. Go back to diverting medical supplies with the rest of the slimy Cubans in Miami”—a reference to Tarrio’s own previous conviction, 15 years ago, for participating in a scheme to sell stolen medical equipment, for which he spent 16 months in federal prison.
The coup, such as it was, seems so far to have been restricted strictly to Chapman and a few of his cohorts. Tarrio told Kelly Weill of The Daily Beast he thought Chapman was drunk or kidding. “He hasn’t been part of the organization in probably two years,” Tarrio said. “Obviously he still probably has friends.
“I’ve never had an issue with Kyle,” he added. “I think he went on a drunken rant that night, and he thought it was funny to put the things he did on his channel, then he said it was a joke. Which regardless of whether it was a joke or not, I think it was stupid.”
Chapman, as Weill reports, later denied that it was a joke, and moreover was joined in the call to depose Tarrio by another openly white supremacist Proud Boy, Jovi Val.
These incidents exposing the Proud Boys’ bigoted and hateful white underbelly aren’t merely accidental. It’s who they really are, and always have been.