A high-ranking FBI agent told reporters that the Western-chauvinist group Proud Boys, which has made headlines for its part in violent clashes in Portland, Ore., and New York, is not considered an extremist group, contradicting a report from a Washington state sheriff’s office that circulated in November.
According to the Oregonian, Special Agent in Charge Renn Cannon said during a discussion with Portland-area journalists that the FBI had not intended to designate the group as extremist during a slide show with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. That office later released a report that said the FBI considers the group to have ties to white nationalism, an assertion to which the Proud Boys objected.
The FBI says it assesses threats and investigates individuals with the potential to cause violence but does not go after people for being members of particular groups or exercising their free-speech rights.
“Our focus is not on membership in particular groups but on individuals who commit violence and criminal activity that constitutes a federal crime or poses a threat to national security,” a statement distributed by spokeswoman Kelsey Pietranton in November said. “When it comes to domestic terrorism, our investigations focus solely on criminal activity of individuals — regardless of group membership — which appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce the civilian population or influence the policy of the government by intimidation or coercion. The FBI does not and will not police ideology.”
The Proud Boys are one of many predominantly male right-wing groups to come to the fore since President Trump’s election. The Proud Boys describe themselves as a “Western chauvinist” fraternal group that believes in ending welfare, closing the borders and adhering to traditional gender roles.
But critics point to other statements and behavior to argue that these aims are a subterfuge for racist and hateful beliefs.
“Their disavowals of bigotry are belied by their actions: rank-and-file Proud Boys and leaders regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists,” the Southern Poverty Law Center, which considers the Proud Boys a hate group, wrote in a report. “They are known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric.”
The group captured national media attention for its involvement in a fight that broke out on the streets of New York after members were invited to a Republican club in town. Police charged nine people who were affiliated with the group after the incident.
Clarification: A previous version of this article referred to the Proud Boys as a “male-chauvinist group.” They identify as Western chauvinists.