Proud Boys Canada may have disbanded 'in name only,' researchers warn

The group was added to Canada’s official list of terrorist organizations in February. Now, it says it’s dissolving. But researchers warn its members still hold extreme views.

‘The real die-hards will continue,’ professor Barbara Perry says

Proud Boys members shout at a group of counter-protesters in Toronto in 2017. On Sunday, Proud Boys Canada — which Ottawa named as a terrorist entity earlier this year — announced that it has dissolved itself. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Canadian members of the Proud Boys may continue to organize and promote hateful views even though the national organization has disbanded, researchers say, and there's already one indication that the most devoted members will create new, more extreme groups.  

"My suspicion is that they'll morph into something different. They'll emerge with a slightly new identity and a new name," Barbara Perry, director of Ontario Tech University's Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism, told CBC News.

"Some will walk away … but the real die-hards will continue to 'fight the good fight' as they see it."

Canada says the neo-fascist group promotes misogynistic, white supremacist views and glorifies violence. It was banned from mainstream social media sites in 2018 and the federal government put the group on its official list of terrorist entities in February. 

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The terror designation made it illegal to knowingly deal with the group's assets and allowed financial institutions to freeze its assets, a spokesperson for the minister of public safety told CBC by email Monday.

On Sunday, Proud Boys Canada said it had dissolved

"Fighting [the terrorist designation] in court will prove to be expensive and time-consuming," said a Proud Boys statement posted on the messaging app Telegram and shared on Twitter Sunday

The dissolution may be "in name only," Perry said.

One Proud Boys chapter based in Hamilton is now using the name "Canada First" and shares blatantly pro-Nazi material on Telegram, according to Peter Smith, a reporter and researcher with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. 

"They've definitely shown how you can walk the path from the Proud Boys right down into much darker territory," Perry said.

She said "Canada First" could illustrate what some members will do now that Proud Boys Canada is no longer officially operating.

"The fact that they're expressing themselves in even more aggressive ways does suggest that it's the most extreme within the Proud Boys movement that have stayed on and [will] re-imagine themselves," she said. 

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump along with members of the far-right group Proud Boys attend a rally to protest the results of the American election, in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 12, 2020. (Jim Urquhart/The Canadian Press)

Smith said that it's their beliefs — not their trademark black and yellow polo shirts — that are a problem.

"It's that underpinning ideology that makes them dangerous," he said. "So you know, whether or not they're wearing those shirts is fairly immaterial if the ideology is still the same."

There are about 12 Proud Boys chapters in Canada, in most major cities, including Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon and Toronto, Perry said. It's unclear whether all the local chapters will stop organizing because they have some autonomy from the national group, she said.

Proud Boys was founded in 2016 by Canadian Gavin McInnes, one of the founders of Vice Media. 

When announcing the terror designation, Canada said the Proud Boys played a "pivotal role" in the violent attack on the United States Capitol on Jan. 6. More than two dozen people affiliated with the Proud Boys have been arrested for participating in or co-ordinating the violence.

Last year, former U.S. president Donald Trump told Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by," after he was asked to denounce them during a debate. 

"This is the best thing that could have happened to Proud Boys and the white supremacist movement in probably half a century," chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network Bernie Farber said at the time.