Members Only | June 2, 2021 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Canada has designated the Proud Boys a domestic terror group. Why hasn’t the US?
Doing so would raise hard questions, writes Richard Sudan.
The so-called Proud Boys are a white supremacist militia. They pose a clear and present danger to Black Americans and the security of the United States. They were part of the insurgency that stormed the United States Capitol on January 6 in an act that FBI Director Christopher Wray stated was clearly an act of domestic terror.
The Proud Boys fit the definition—political violence, motivated with the desire to take control of the Capitol building, believing they had God on their side. That surely meets any reasonable criteria. One Proud Boy, known as “Milkshake,” was recently arrested for his role in the insurrection, and allegedly shouted, “Let’s take the fucking Capitol,” while wearing a hat with the words “God, Guns and Trump” emblazoned on it.
Why then has the United States thus far failed to designate officially the Proud Boys as a domestic terror group? Canada did. But the US hasn’t. It’s surely a fair question.
An independent commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection might expose deep and politically uncomfortable links between the Proud Boys and the Republicans, says Editorial Board member Richard Sudan.
Firstly, it’s worth remembering it took until 2017 for the KKK to be designated domestic terrorists despite their reign of terror beginning in the 1860s. That’s a long stretch. Also worth noting are the Klan’s well-documented and deep historical links to law enforcement. In the civil-rights era, southern police officers and senior officials actually coordinated with the Klan while many cops were active members of it.
Since the early 2000s, the FBI and other federal agencies have issued a number of reports warning of the deep infiltration of local law enforcement by white supremacist groups. It isn’t limited to the American south. Police forces all over the country have members linked to the Proud Boys and other white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.
There’s even an unofficial database for Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies believed to be members. Indeed, in one case in 1991, it was revealed that a “neo-Nazi gang of deputies” actually operated using “terrorist-type tactics” in the knowledge of their colleagues and superiors. The problem is deep-rooted, long-standing and deadly.
When Capitol Police turned their attention away, and diverted resources from the 200 or so Proud Boys who were convening near the Capitol on January 6, one must wonder why. We’ve all seen the videos of police officers gesturing with the “OK” hand signal meant to symbolize white power to other white supremacists. But seeing Capitol Police appear to open the gates to allow the insurgents to swarm the buildings, and seeing one officer pose for a picture with one of the seditionists, was illuminating.
But the links go deeper. Many feel groups like the Proud Boys, and other groups like the Oath Keepers, have acted as unofficial paramilitary for members of the Republican Party. At the presidential debates, Trump telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” was pretty much akin to a military command. To what extent this played into the climate of violence that produced the riots themselves is an important question.
Trump’s long-time advisor Roger Stone has been investigated for connections to the Proud Boys and others, even pictured with a number of far-righters who acted as his bodyguards. He’s alleged to have been involved with or have had connections to people charged over the Capitol riots. (Also worth flagging is a notorious picture of Roger Stone believed to be taken with Proud Boys members.) If another adviser to another sitting president had been pictured with any extremists who were, say, Muslim or Black, or both, one can imagine how loud the outcry would be. Meanwhile, white supremacists also allegedly plotted to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Yet the Proud Boys are not officially designated as domestic terrorists. Why?
What’s also interesting is the Republicans blocking an independent commission into the events of January 6. What are they afraid of? What’s the big deal in acknowledging the Proud Boys for what they are, and examining fully, their role in January 6?
Acknowledging January 6 as an act of domestic terror might be one thing. But taking the next step of calling the Proud Boys domestic terrorists has wider implications. Law enforcement officials and politicians potentially being linked to a terror group might force a political reckoning and conversation in the US that some want to avoid. But much like accounting for the history and roots of white supremacy in the US, and the wider impact this has in 2021, it’s the Pandora’s Box that should be opened.
Journalist Richard Sudan is based in London. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, Independent and others. His reporting has taken him across Europe and to Palestine. He focuses on racism, police brutality and human rights. Find him @richardsudan.
Published in cooperation with Alternet.
Richard Sudan covers human rights and American foreign affairs for the Editorial Board. Based in London, his reporting has appeared in The Guardian, Independent and others. Find him @richardsudan.