During the first presidential debate, when asked to denounce white nationalist hate groups, specifically the Proud Boys, President Trump chose to tell them to “stand back and standby.”
The Proud Boys are a far-right hate group with not only a national presence but also a direct connection to Florida.
The current leader of Proud Boys is Enrique Tarrio, a Cuban-American from Little Havana who also happens to be the state director of Latinos for Trump. Tarrio is also one of several South Florida residents that participated in the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville. He has also run for Florida’s 27th congressional district but dropped out before the Republican primary due to not raising enough funds.
Tarrio and the Proud Boys are far from the only ones in the state spreading hate and influencing both national and state politics within Florida.
The Southern Poverty Law Center tracked at least 67 hate groups in Florida as of 2019, including the Proud Boys who have five chapters across the state. While some are known and highly visible, others are harder to track or don’t get as much attention.
Each group has different sets of beliefs with some idolizing violence and others disguising their views behind political opinions and national security.
Some of these groups and members are active on Parler, an online social media platform aimed at conservatives who were tired of “censorship” on Facebook and Twitter.
As of July, Parler has 2.8 million users and just 200 volunteer moderators. While the many conservatives who use the platform enjoy its “lack of censorship,” there are still clear guidelines that don’t allow certain posts and there have been waves of bans on people who joined to troll Trump followers and Republican leaders on the platform.
The Proud Boys are a prominent group that’s active on Parler and in politics. The group tries to argue they don’t stand for racist ideals and only act as a fraternal group that is “anti-political correctness” and “anti-white guilt.” However, their Parler page is covered in racist imagery and content.
Their former chairman, Gavin McInnes, showed across multiple interviews his views towards transgenders believing everyone is naturally transphobic and the reason there weren’t older transgenders was because “they die of drug overdoses and suicides way before they’re 40” and that “they are mentally ill gays who need help.”
McInnes also claimed to learn that “women want to be downright abused by men” and mentioned that every guy he knew involved in a domestic incident was “the result of some [redacted] trying to ruin his life”.
Their group doesn’t turn away people based on color, but members of the Proud Boys must “recognize that white men are not the problem.”
Despite their attempts to claim they aren’t a racist group, they were among the many groups who took part in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Jason Kessler, a white nationalist and Proud Boy member, was one of the principal organizers of the rally.
A deleted tweet from Kessler shows he was far from the only member to attend that rally.
It was only after that rally where McInnes attempted to distance the Proud Boys name from involvement and kicked Kessler out claiming he wasn’t really a member.
McInnes left the Proud Boys in 2018. Tarrio became the group’s chairman shortly thereafter.
The group’s mention in the presidential debate isn’t the only time it has been involved in the eye of a political storm.
Laura Loomer, who has been banned from Twitter and Facebook for her racist views about Muslims, is currently running in Florida’s 21st Congressional District and has been endorsed by the Proud Boys multiple times. She has also been praised by President Trump.
The Proud Boys were recently at a rally in Milton, Florida where they acted as security and met with Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.
They’ve also appeared in photos with other Republican figures including Rick Scott and Mario Diaz-Balart from Florida, Ted Cruz from Texas and Devin Nunes from California.
After the recent emails sent out to Democratic voters, the Proud Boys and Tarrio jumped on Rep. Anna Eskamani for “spreading disinformation” about the origins of those emails. The FBI confirmed after-the-fact that the emails originated from Iran and Russia.
The Proud Boys are just a drop in the bucket of hate groups, but they represent a serious concern.
Loomer, who has a history of extreme and dangerous views, will give more attention to the Proud Boys’ outlandish beliefs. She provides credibility where none is deserved.
A trait that the Proud Boys share with multiple groups spread across Florida is their participation in that “Unite the Right” rally.
Not all of these groups are as prominent as the Proud Boys, but some are gaining attention and validity like the Proud Boys have and are getting involved in local and national politics.
Knowing who these groups are and what their goals are is crucial in spotting potential candidates who have connections with these hate groups.