The Proud Boys want the public to believe that they’re a “drinking club” who only resort to violence to defend themselves from anti-fascist protesters during political rallies.
But in private, these extremists have discussed injuring and even killing their adversaries, plotting tactics and optics for months in order to assert a claim of self-defense should they face charges.
According to private chat logs obtained exclusively by HuffPost, the punch-happy, pro-Trump street gang was particularly excited for its “Resist Marxism” rally, scheduled for April 6 in Providence, Rhode Island. With the right plan of attack, members said, this one could put them back on the map.
The group had been floundering ever since 10 of its members were arrested for assaulting protesters outside a GOP event in New York City last year. Their leader, Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, reportedly arranged for his followers’ surrender.
In the chats, covering a time period between February and March of this year, members claimed they needed a conclusive “win” this time around, which they defined as a bloody battle against “antifa” in Providence. If this brawl were bigger and more violent than previous iterations, they might regain some of the street cred and followers they’d lost.
“We’ll grow this group of patriots and we’ll never back down,” wrote the event’s organizer, Proud Boys member Alan Swinney, in the private chat messages. “If we win, it will make more patriots come to the next rally. We just need to go there and we’ll beat them. We’ll have enough to crush them at some point.”
A source with direct knowledge of the exchanges confirmed to HuffPost that the logs were authentic. Swinney also responded to several screenshots. When asked about discussions of violence in the chat logs, he told HuffPost, “They’re warriors. … Choir boys don’t go up against people like that [anti-fascists]. It takes a person with a certain type of mindset.”
The logs contained a revolving door of up to 30 Proud Boys and their allies, including militia members and other “patriots,” as Swinney called them. Those named in this story either publicly identify as members of the Proud Boys or affiliated groups, or have been identified as such in national news stories or by the groups’ leaders.
Looking forward to Providence, members in the private channel were pumped for the opportunity to cause mayhem. One Proud Boy named Anthony Mastrostefano said:
“All I want to do is smash commies too. Actually I’m lying, I’m way past just hitting them. When the time comes I will stop at nothing to fully eradicate them all!”
The Proud Boys have a yearslong history of violence, and they’ve built an entire brand off of the fights they’ve helped organize in American streets, from spars in Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, to attacks in Providence and New York.
McInnes created a set of rules by which his gang members could gain clout in the organization, which include forgoing masturbation, getting a Proud Boy tattoo and fighting in the name of the gang.
Their leadership has always claimed that such violence is incidental, acts of self-defense necessitated by their anti-fascist opponents, who show up to each of their purported free-speech events in protest.
They’ve gone as far as to file lawsuits to maintain that facade ― on Monday, several of their members stood at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and announced that they were suing the Southern Poverty Law Center for labeling them as a hate group. McInnes himself filed a defamation lawsuit against the civil rights organization in February.
“We’re a drinking club that stands behind Donald Trump,” said Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio at the D.C. event. “That’s enough to earn hate of the left.”
But private chat logs leaked to HuffPost fly directly in the face of that sentiment, showing Proud Boys premeditating violence they hope to commit. They spent months before the April rally meticulously planning strategies for injuring protesters.
Members discuss what weapons they might use against the “commies” they’ll meet in the street, which police officers might be sympathetic to them, how they’ll raise funding to fly out their long-distance compatriots, and how they’ll “bait” protesters into throwing the first punch so that they can claim self-defense.
HuffPost has reviewed dozens of private messages shared among a small group of Proud Boys and their allies, mostly on the social app Telegram, in the months leading up to the “Resist Marxism” rally they had planned for April. The chat logs were leaked by a source who wished to remain anonymous out of fear for their safety.
The rally ultimately didn’t happen, but the logs provide an inside look into the extremist group’s strategy as well as evidence that such planning continues to this day.
“Group, meet Kindness,” wrote Proud Boy Jason Cardona on Telegram, above a selfie in which he’s holding his pet, an ax.
“Ahhh, Kindness,” crowed Proud Boy Peter Scott in response. Scott then posted a picture of himself holding a large knife. Another member, Jake Adkins, posted a short video depicting an unknown device, asking the group, “Think I can get this thru in a checked bag?”
On Telegram, the Proud Boys privately fantasized about the weapons they might like to use against anti-fascist protesters at the rally in Providence. But they were also cautious about what weapons they told others to bring, as they didn’t want to face more arrests.
Scott noted that mace is “100 percent legal for self-defense” and directed everyone else in the chat to “armor up boys!” Makeshift armor is a common sight among Proud Boys, militia groups and other far-right extremists at these rallies. Depending on where a gathering occurs, concealed guns are also a possibility.
“If you’re in a state that can show up with your guns that’s fine. Up here in New England you can’t but some of us still show up,” wrote Proud Boy member Kenny Lizardo. HuffPost reported on Lizardo last year after he showed up on the doorstep of a comedian to intimidate him over his tweets
“I carry but it seems like to [sic] much could go wrong with that,” wrote Proud Boy Jason Lewis. “Big patriot fists and boots will do just fine.”
The gun-measuring contest was interspersed with analysis of street-level warfare. They explored how to counter “black bloc” tactics used by anti-fascists, in which protesters wear all black to make it hard to distinguish individuals, and they shared stories about previous exploits, most of which included getting a solid punch in without getting caught.
In some chats, the Proud Boys claimed to have ties to local law enforcement, though it’s unclear how legitimate those relationships were. As reported by the Portland, Oregon, alt-weekly Willamette Week, the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer ― their close allies on the West Coast ― have had some success garnering police sympathy during their fights.
“Last year we had two different cops ‘admiring’ our work,” said John Stewart. “One told us ‘they don’t want to fight you guys again they are pussies.’ The other thanked us as we walked by him.”
But they would never learn if their apparent clout with police would help them stage their April 6 rally in Providence ― it fell apart before it began. The national Proud Boys “elders” announced at the time that the gathering was postponed while they focused on the trials of those 10 Proud Boys arrested and charged over last year’s attacks in New York City.
The Proud Boys repeatedly acknowledged that their plans could get them in trouble.
“I advise all of you to only speak in terms of self-defense and never speak of premeditated violence,” wrote a man who identified himself as Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman, an extremist who has previously been convicted of violent felonies and is known for his attacks at rallies and repeated parole violations, among other crimes.
He added: “I could be liable for what happens in Providence. So please stop making it easy for these people to prosecute us by putting threats of violence in writing that can be used against us later.”
Few seemed to listen, and leaders like Swinney had to attempt damage control on a regular basis.
For example, Proud Boy Shaun Hufton at one point made a direct threat to kill an anti-fascist activist who goes by the pseudonym Antifash Gordon on Twitter:
“This mother fucker needs to meet a 7mm [Magnum rifle] from about 500 yards,” he said, to which Scott responded, “Do not post any threats on here, the feds will use it against [us] in court.”
For his part, Swinney often repeated the “defense-only” deflection, demanding that other Proud Boys characterize their “rallies against communists” as acts of preservation and their presence as a security detail for rallygoers.
In an interview, Swinney corroborated the authenticity of chat screenshots HuffPost showed him and said he personally agreed with statements about “smashing commies” like Mastrostefano’s.
“He specifically said ‘when the time comes,’” Swinney told HuffPost, adding later: “When the time comes, and the order is given, I’ll do whatever it takes to stop these people. The constitution is the greatest document of freedom ever written. I’ll give my life to defend it if nessicary [sic].”
Swinney also confirmed that the Proud Boys had been planning another rally in Providence, which they hoped to hold June 1, but which now appears to be on the rocks if not canceled. He said he wouldn’t be going due to his personal monetary woes, which he blamed on “the left, SPLC and feds.”