The Proud Boys continued to deploy their post-Jan. 6 strategy—that is, focusing their organizing around local right-wing protests and attaching their neofascist presence by providing “security”—this week by showing up to anti-vaccination marches in New York City and Los Angeles. They also turned up at a local school board meeting in a suburban Illinois village to intimidate officials over LGBTQ-friendly books in their school library.
Their presence, as always, was intended to send a message of intimidation. But in the wake of Friday’s verdict of acquittal for Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse, after which exultant Proud Boys fantasized online about “stacking bodies like cordwood,” the silence with which they were mostly met this weekend felt particularly ominous.
The march in New York, which called itself the Worldwide Freedom Rally, attracted several hundred marchers, with a large contingent of Proud Boys in their black-and-gold garb and carrying various anti-vaccine and pro-Trump banners. Some of them could be seen flashing the white-nationalist “OK” symbol. At one point, a contingent of Proud Boys stopped to pose for photos in front of Donald Trump’s hotel in Manhattan.
Another video showed Proud Boys entering New York subways through an unlocked emergency exit, thereby evading fares. A Proud Boys group from Miami boasted afterward on Twitter that the exit door had been held open for them by New York Police Department officers: “It’s a good thing that the New York City Police open the door for us, so we don’t have to pay the subway tolls,” he said, adding “not only do we live rent-free in antifas head we also ride free in New York City subways courtesy of the blue.”
The march in Los Angeles also was an anti-vaccine-mandate protest, though the Proud Boys’ presence, while noticeable, was not as dominant. Among them were at least one Jan. 6 insurrectionist and a videographer who was present among the rioters that day.
Marchers carried Gadsden “Don’t Tread On Me” flags, “Fuck Biden” banners, and other so-called Patriot Movement and Proud Boys symbols, along with signs with slogans like “No Vaxx” and “No Jabs 4 Jobs,” as well as others demanding “End Child Porn” and “Stop Human Trafficking,” both references to QAnon conspiracy theories. One, an apparent reference to Rittenhouse, read “Support Our Heroes.”
These local COVID-denialist rallies are only one of the multiple ways that Proud Boys are insinuating themselves, following the same blueprint. Others have been showing up increasingly to school board meetings to intimidate local officials discussing racial education, LGBTQ-friendly library offerings, and vaccine mandates and masking measures.
In the Illinois village of Downers Grove last week, a group of Proud Boys showed up to a school board meeting at which a discussion over whether the book Gender Queer, a graphic novel exploring the world of a nonbinary teenager, should be permitted to remain on the shelves of the high-school library. The roughly 10 Proud Boys in attendance heckled students who defended the book, holding up signs reading “No Porn.”
Among them were Edgar “Remy Del Toro” Delatorre, who was present at the Jan. 6 insurrection, and Proud Boy Brian Kraemer, who was charged in 2020 after police said he “brandished a hunting knife and held it in a threatening manner” at a march in Joliet. Kraemer was charged with misdemeanor counts of reckless conduct and disorderly conduct in that case, after police said he “aggressively” pulled his vehicle into a crowd of protesters, then pulled the knife and began yelling obscenities.
On a Proud Boys channel, Kraemer—who lives in Lenox, about 30 miles from Downers Grove—had urged other Telegram users to join him at the meeting. “I will be speaking against child porn in my kids [sic] school. The left is planning to show up strong,” he wrote.
One student told the Sun-Times that a man he identified as Kramer began harassing him after he addressed the board. He said Kraemer repeatedly told him, “You’re a pedophile. You promote pedophilia,” and threatened to call police. He said Kraemer later accosted him in the parking lot.
This is part of a repeated pattern manifesting the Proud Boys’ current strategy for recruitment and organizing. They already had marched and engaged in street violence in Los Angeles as part of an anti-transgender protest outside a local spa. Earlier this month in Beloit, Wisconsin, their plans to protest a local school masking policy led to the local district shutting down all schools that day out of “security concerns.”
Proud Boys also showed up at a meeting of the Portland Public School board in Oregon in late October at which a vaccine mandate was being discussed.
And in New Hanover County, North Carolina, a group of ten Proud Boys—all of them masked—turned up at a meeting to discuss mask mandates and stood threateningly in the back of the meeting room, arms crossed. One of them, who identified himself as “Johnny Ringo,” chastised the board for failing to open the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance.
Afterward, the Cape Fear Proud Boys who had attended the meeting explained that their presence was part of a larger strategy to “ramp up the pressure.”
“If our presence escalates that pressure and makes it to the point where we become a distraction to conducting business, and they just change the mask mandate so we go away, that’s a win,” said one of the members.