When Proud Boys from the Maryland-DC chapter showed up at the anti-vaccine Defeat the Mandates rally in Washington, DC last month, about half of the dozen-plus members wore skull masks, an aesthetic associated more with accelerationist terror groups like Atomwaffen and The Base than the street brawler network that asserted itself as shock troops for the MAGA movement.
Two of the men wearing skull masks at the anti-vax rally had heckled antifascist counter-protesters on the sidelines of a march held by the avowedly fascist Patriot Front two days earlier. One of the men wore a helmet with a sticker depicting American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell and the slogan “White lives matter.” These were overtly white nationalist signals distinctly at odds with the Proud Boys’ claim to be a civic nationalist organization that welcomes men of all races.
In truth, since the Proud Boys were founded in 2016, only a thin membrane has separated rank-and-file members from hardcore neo-Nazis, providing a degree of plausible deniability while also maintaining enough elasticity to draw together a broad coalition of far-right extremists. But accelerationism — a posture that advocates hastening societal collapse — has become increasingly prominent among the Proud Boys’ membership.
A video posted on the Maryland-DC Telegram channel two days before the chapter’s appearance at the anti-vax rally dispenses with the filters that typically camouflage Proud Boys messaging. The video features images of Adolf Hitler and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet along with images of the World Trade Center attack juxtaposed with photos of prominent Jews like Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. The caption under the video openly declares, “Hate has built our nation.” Building through a tirade against public education and “celebrities, rappers and false gods,” it concludes, “We hate that the clock has begun for the [New World Order], and covid is just the beginning. Embrace the hate.”
Alongside Maryland-DC, the Telegram channels for the Mid-Missouri and Great Basin chapters are rife with the endorsements of white power ideology and antisemitism.
Samantha Kutner, who has interviewed numerous Proud Boys and is writing a book about the organization, said it doesn’t surprise her to hear “there are overtly neo-Nazi chapters,” but the national leadership would likely brush aside questions about such transgressions through a strategy of “deny, disavow, deny, disavow.”
Experts say the tension between a kind of inclusive patriotism that claims skin color is irrelevant and ethno-nationalism has been baked into the Proud Boys’ identity since the beginning. The Southern Poverty Law Center has described founder Gavin McInnes as playing “a duplicitous rhetorical game: claiming to reject white nationalism while espousing a laundered version of popular white nationalist tropes,” while noting that McInnes “has contributed to such hate sites as VDARE.com and American Renaissance, which publish the work of white supremacists and so-called race realists.”
A Jan. 28 post on the Mid-Missouri Proud Boys channel that was forwarded by the Maryland-DC chapter transparently displays the laundering. The Mid-Missouri chapter forwarded a post from White Lives Matter USA that promotes natalism, which read, “Love the Mothers. Make White Babies.” The Mid-Missouri chapter subtly tweaked the message by incorporating one of the Proud Boys’ doctrinal principles and substituting the word “Western” in place of “white”: “Venerate the housewife. Have Western babies.”
Another post from the Mid-Missouri chapter on Jan. 19 chillingly expresses opposition to mixed-race relationships while nostalgically suggesting the Allied forces should have appeased Adolf Hitler during World War II. It features a photo of a white woman standing beside a Black woman juxtaposed with a video depicting a white man looking at his cell phone and addressing the camera. “I just have a question,” he says. “I wonder if this image alone was enough, if shown to your great grandfather in a foxhole at the Battle of the Bulge to convince him: Maybe you should have at least heard the other side out.”
Experts say that accelerationism exists more on a continuum than as a distinct offshoot of the Proud Boys’ more mainstream conservative tendencies. Matthew Kriner, the managing director of the Accelerationism Research Consortium, told Raw Story that the Proud Boys as a whole are “mobilized around broader grievance narratives that are accelerationist in nature,” even if not every individual member is necessarily motivated by a desire for accelerationist violence.
But the Great Basin, Maryland-DC and Mid-Missouri chapters, which frequently share each other’s content, have self-consciously embraced accelerationism.
A Feb. 5 post by the Great Basin chapter most clearly articulates the underlying philosophy, using homophobic language.
“Stop looking back at 2019 with rose-tinted glasses,” the post reads. “Everything has been gay for a long time. The only way forward is with three feet on the gas pedal. Accelerate the world; decelerate your tribe.”
A screengrab of an anonymous post on 4chan that was circulated on Telegram on Feb. 2 by Maryland-DC and forwarded by Great Basin and Mid-Missouri appears to apply the concept to the trucker convoys that are currently crippling commerce in Canada. Also deploying homophobic language to imply inferiority on the part of their enemies, the author writes, “The honking is so incredibly effective at causing accelerated menticide in normalfags, it is tantamount to a miracle. There is no need to boil the frog or slow roll the honkening [sic]. These people have no principles or convections [sic], they will not fight for anything because they stand for nothing. Honking is literally the ACCELERATE meme applied in real-time. They are breaking down so fast that the narrative writers don’t know what to do.”
The tension between the classical liberal position that the Proud Boys attempt to project to outsiders and unrepentant ethno-nationalism continues to play out. In a post last November, the Cape Fear chapter in southeastern North Carolina articulated an exceptionalist view of the United States as uniquely color-blind.
“There is no ‘American race,’” the chapter leaders wrote on Telegram. “Instead, America is an idea. This idea has been enshrined in our constitution. Anyone who was born here or comes to this country legally and believes in our constitution can be American.”
The Northern Nevada Proud Boys (now known as Great Basin) rebuked the Cape Fear chapter, responding on their channel with a position almost indistinguishable from Patriot Front.
“While we love you, Cape Fear, you guys are so unbelievably wrong,” they wrote. “We are not an idea. We are a people. Our ancestors fought and died to secure a nation for US. NOT FOREIGNERS.” The post concluded: “Get your head out of your ass and actually take pride in your heritage.”
Inextricably entwined with questions about white power ideology and accelerationism in the Proud Boys is internal controversy over the leadership of Enrique Tarrio. The Great Basin, Mid-Missouri and Maryland-DC chapters all posted mocking memes depicting Tarrio leaving jail after completing a prison sentence in January. Tarrio is a Cuban-American man who describes his skin color as “brown” and who by some accounts stepped down as chairman of the Proud Boys after completing a prison sentence last month.
“We disavow and have zero association with Enrique Tarrio,” the Mid-Missouri chapter posted. “He is not to be trusted.”
The Maryland-DC chapter derided Tarrio with the photo of him leaving jail modified that included a yellow arrow pointing towards an accordion folder stuffed with documents that reads, “Lists of new grifts and ways to f*ck over Proudboys.”
The post from the Great Basin chapter was equally derisive: “I really do wonder why anyone thought appointing this embarrassment as chairman of anything was a good idea.”
Kriner noted that Tarrio’s leadership has always been challenged, and the accelerationist faction has vied for primacy since the beginning of the organization.
“Throughout the history of the Proud Boys, one of the dissenting voices was also the faction leader of the accelerationist tendency,” Kriner said. “That was Kyle Chapman, the leader of the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knight, which was both the hyper-violent accelerationist faction and paramilitary faction.”
The Proud Boys’ history of overlap with accelerationist neo-fascists also includes the brief leadership of Jason Van Dyke, a lawyer who briefly led the organization after founder Gavin McInnes stepped down in 2018 and before Tarrio became chairman. After leading the Proud Boys, Van Dyke reportedly attempted to join The Base but was rejected because he was considered a “liability.”
Kutner said that regardless of his current status in the Proud Boys, Tarrio has utility for the group, noting that when she’s talked to him he has projected “a laissez faire approach” that provides plausible deniability and allows leaders to deploy a “no true Scotsman” argument to address almost any transgression.
“When an individual in this ‘rogue chapter’ commits a crime of violence or goes to a rally wearing a shirt saying ‘6 Million Wasn’t Enough,’ they can say, ‘Not one of our chapters. Rogue chapter. Not us.’” Kutner said. “Or, ‘He only made first degree. Not sure about him.’”
In the larger universe of the far right, Kriner said “groups like the Proud Boys” act “as a bridge between overtly extremist violence and obscure justified violence.”
There may be less contradiction between the mainstream faction of the Proud Boys that built inroads with the GOP in late 2020 and provided the backbone for the Jan. 6 attack, and accelerationist faction that is flirting with terrorism, Kutner said.
When she interviewed Tarrio before he served his prison sentence, Kutner said he told her that he would give every journalist a different story about his plans with regard to whether he intended to relinquish his role as national chairman.
“That serves the accelerationist function of eroding trust in the media,” Kutner said. Whether he is still the chairman or not might be beside the point.
“I would say that he’s incredibly valuable to the group at a national level because of the optics,” Kutner said. “Whether or not he remains the chairman or not, he is seeking political legitimacy by encouraging people from every chapter to run for office.” She added that running Proud Boys for office “serves an anti-establishment function” that aligns with former White House strategist Steve Bannon’s goal to achieve the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
“Whether it’s military training camps similar to The Base that are trying to hasten the collapse of society or using the remnants of the GOP to try to destroy the Republican Party from the inside, it’s the same agenda,” Kutner said.
Kutner said the Proud Boys can best be understood as “a radicalization vector,” noting that not every member will harbor explicitly neo-Nazi views.
“There are narratives that concern me,” Kutner said, “like Tarrio stating, ‘I used to be for God, family and country; now, I’m for God, family and tribe.’”
Kriner described the Proud Boys membership as a “tapestry” with a loose governance structure that “allows for a wide range of behaviors and viewpoints that can make it seem like people are at odds with each other.” Regardless, he said, “the goal is to move everyone towards a more antagonistic stance towards the liberal, democratic state.”
And the crisis in liberalism is ultimately the reason accelerationism is on the rise, he said.
“There is a growing dissatisfaction with the liberal democratic order among many individuals of many different ideological views,” Kriner said. “The unchecked proliferation of accelerationist narratives in spaces like Telegram and previously on the mainstream social-media platforms has allowed those views to take hold, where in the past they would have been more stymied by normal barriers to communication. The ease of communication of those views makes it more likely people will come across them.”