Who Are The 'Proud Boys' That Stormed Capitol Hill & What's Their Connection To Montreal?

Canada is considering labelling them a terrorist organization.
Associate Editor
Who Are The 'Proud Boys' That Stormed Capitol Hill & What's Their Connection To Montreal?

You've probably seen the term "Proud Boys" popping up in the news lately — either because of the group's involvement in storming Capitol Hill or because Canada is reportedly considering declaring the group a terrorist organization.

While it's all too easy to look down on bad actors down south, stop before you get too smug. The Proud Boys have ties to Montreal. Here's what you need to know about them.

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Who are the Proud Boys?

The Proud Boys, established in 2016, are a men's organization consisting of self-described "western chauvinist[s]" who "refuse to apologize for creating the modern world."

You can often identify Proud Boys by their MAGA hats and black-and-yellow Fred Perry polo shirts. There are chapters around the world. 

While they deny any connection to the alt-right, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says members "regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists." 

It also says they are "known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric," and that they appear alongside other hate groups at extremist gatherings.

[rebelmouse-image 26880838 photo_credit="Wirestock | Dreamstime" expand=1 original_size="6016x4000"] Wirestock | Dreamstime

In fact, a later disavowed member named Jason Kessler reportedly organized the deadly "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, which several Proud Boys were seen attending. 

The Proud Boys are considered a "hate group" by the SPLC and an "alt lite" group by the ADL (Anti-Defamation League)

In November 2018, it was reported that the FBI considered the Proud Boys an "extremist group with ties to white nationalism."

However, an FBI official later told media this was not accurate. Rather, according to Global News, it considers "individuals within the group to be extremists."

Why have Proud Boys been in the news lately? 

You might recall the first U.S. presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in September. Trump was asked to condemn white supremacist and militia groups.

"Proud Boys, stand back and stand by," Trump replied. 

This made headlines and led to some Proud Boys celebrating the remarks, responding via social media with comments like, "Standing by sir."

More recently, the Proud Boys were identified as one of the groups with members present at the violent riots that unfolded as Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on January 6. 

Jagmeet Singh called out Canada's federal government for failing to make a "firm commitment" to formally declare the Proud Boys a recognized terrorist organization.

He started a petition on the NDP website, aiming to get the Proud Boys banned and deemed a terrorist group.

There's no signature count but, according to The Independent, "Singh claimed it had received overwhelming support and that the site crashed due to heavy traffic."  

Now, Canada's federal government is actually considering declaring the Proud Boys a terrorist organization. It would join a list of organizations including Al Qaida and the Taliban.

What's the group's connection to Montreal?

The Proud Boys' connection to Montreal comes down to the group's founder, Gavin McInnes.

McInnes grew up in the Ottawa area, but moved to Montreal where he co-founded the government-subsidized magazine Voice of Montreal in 1994 — an outlet that later became VICE Media.  

In his book, How to Piss in Public, McInnes tells stories of living a sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle in Montreal. 

There are numerous accounts of him hanging out at [Bar] Bifteck on the Main, and getting into fights around town.  

During his time starting up VICE in Montreal, contributing to its content, McInnes honed his brand — a voice the New York Times described as "inflected with a crass, contrarian bigotry."

A Montreal newspaper also played a role in McInnes' rise to media fame and fortune

The story goes that one of McInnes' partners at VICE tricked a Montreal journalist — some sources say from La Presse, others say The Gazette — into reporting that Richard Szalwinski, a millionaire who'd recently acquired another media company, wanted to invest in VICE. 

This led to Szalwinski, who hadn't heard of VICE, becoming a partner and buying 25% for a reported $750,000, according to The Walrus.  

McInnes relocated from Montreal to New York City when VICE headquarters did, in 2001. 

By the end of 2008, VICE had cut ties with McInnes. But he had already made a name for himself.

He found new platforms among right-wing media outlets, going on to host The Gavin McInnes Show on Compound Media, appear on Fox News and contribute to The Rebel Media, building up a loyal following. 

McInnes quit the Proud Boys days after it was reported that the FBI had labelled the Proud Boys an extremist organization. 

But, as CBC News reported, he admitted on YouTube he did so "reluctantly."

"I'm told by my legal team and law enforcement that this gesture could help alleviate their sentencing. Fine. At the very least this will show jurors they're not dealing with a gang and there is no head of operations," said McInnes. 

"I see it as the greatest fraternal organization in the world. But rumours and lies and terrible journalism has made its way to the court system."

According to Global, the Proud Boys' Montreal chapter went offline on January 11 amid "mounting pressure in the wake of ... violence in the U.S. capital."

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