After a statement began circulating among Proud Boys members last week, announcing the group had disbanded in Canada, some took to social media to reject it.
According to a private chat shared with Global News, members in Ontario denied the Proud Boys were finished, and said the statement’s author lacked the authority to tell them what to do.
Experts also warned the statement, claiming the Proud Boys Canada had “officially dissolved,” might not mean the end of the group.
Whether the regional chapters will accept the decision remains uncertain, and a researcher who studies the Proud Boys said even if the group was finished, its members could re-emerge under a new banner.
“Often when a group is proscribed, they might attempt to regroup under a new name in an attempt to evade the proscription,” said Blyth Crawford, a research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.
“So it remains to be seen whether this is what the Canada Proud Boys will do,” said Crawford, who co-authored a recent paper that called the Proud Boys a continued security threat.
Self-described “Western chauvinists,” the Proud Boys were formed in 2016 by Canadian Gavin McInnes. They depicted themselves as a fraternity, often wearing black and yellow polo shirts.
But at public rallies, they became known for what a Canadian Armed Forces report called “confrontational and at times violent tactics,” as well as misogyny and anti-Muslim sentiments.
Supporters of Donald Trump, U.S. Proud Boys members allegedly played a key role in the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
In the wake of the attack, MPs passed a motion urging the federal government to place the Proud Boys on Canada’s list of terrorist groups.
The Liberals did so on Feb. 3.
“The Proud Boys is a neo-fascist organization that engages in political violence,” read the listing, which said members espoused “misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, and/or white supremacist ideologies and associate with white supremacist groups.”
In particular, it said the Proud Boys had targeted Black Lives Matter supporters, and “played a pivotal role in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Leaders of the group planned their participation by setting out objectives, issuing instructions, and directing members during the insurrection.”
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The decision to place the Proud Boys on Canada’s terrorist list was a blow to the group, Crawford said, upsetting its efforts to become part of the right-wing mainstream.
Initially, the Proud Boys discussed appealing the terrorism designation. The statement, released publicly on Sunday, said the challenge was dropped because “we have no financial support, given we are not funded by the rich.”
But researcher Elizabeth Simons said the words lacked credibility since there was no denunciation of the Proud Boys’ worldview, or amends for the harm the group has caused.
“The statement itself is telling that the decision is a matter of self-preservation, and I’m absolutely positive that some members or associates disagree with the decision, due to its lack of leadership structure,” said Simons, deputy director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
She said there was no shortage of other groups that Proud Boys members could align themselves with.
“The focus needs to be on hate movements, and not hate groups,” said Simons.
Proud Boys supporters were defiant after the group was designated for terrorism, writing in a private chat group that they intended to carry on.
“If it takes going to prison, f__k, I don’t care, I’ll go to prison again,” one wrote in the chat, shared with Global News by a member. “I’m in here for life.”
“Stay the corse [Sic] brothers people are waking up all around us,” another wrote.
The statement announcing the end of Proud Boys Canada blamed a “tyrannical leftist government” it claimed had singled out the group “for purely political reasons.”
A related statement from the U.S. Proud Boys said the group was being used “by the ruling elite of the Canadian government to further their authoritarian agenda.”
The government has said the Proud Boys were listed as a terrorist group because they “openly encouraged, planned, and conducted violent activities against those they perceive to be opposed to their ideology and political beliefs.”
But Crawford said the Proud Boys statements were problematic because they promoted the notion that the political right was being unfairly targeted, which could further fuel extremism.
“Going forward it isn’t clear whether some semblance of the Canada Proud Boys might continue under a different name, but for now the fact that they have disbanded is being used to push the narrative that governments cannot be trusted to uphold the interests of the right,” she said.
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