As It Happens

Gavin McInnes says he's quitting Proud Boys to protect members charged in NYC brawl

Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes says he's quitting the far-right group — but a Canadian professor who studies hate and extremism says he'll likely remain a "thought leader" for its members.

Extremism expert Barbara Perry says the far-right Canadian 'will remain a thought leader for the movement'

Vice Media co-founder and conservative speaker Gavin McInnes reads a speech written by Ann Coulter to a crowd during a conservative rally in Berkeley, Calif., on April 27, 2017. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)


Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes says he's quitting the far-right group — but a Canadian professor who studies hate and extremism says she's not buying it. 

The inflammatory Canadian far-right pundit made the announcement on Wednesday in a 36-minute YouTube video.

"I am officially disassociating myself from the Proud Boys in all capacities, forever. I quit," McInnes said, reading from a script. "I was never the leader, only the founder."

The move comes two days after the Guardian reported that the FBI dubbed the organization "an extremist group with ties to white nationalism," citing an internal affairs memo produced by Washington state law enforcement. The group has no such designation in Canada. 

The FBI said in a statement to CBC News that it does not classify groups as such, saying: "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."

But McInnes isn't taking a moral stance against the group's ideology, says Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

Rather, he states in his video that his goal is to protect members of the group from association with him.

"I thought that perhaps he had become disenchanted by the aggressive stance that the movement had been taking in recent years," Perry told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"But yeah, that's clearly not the case."

'I do all of this reluctantly'

Several Proud Boys members were among those arrested in New York City in connection with violent street brawls that erupted after McInnes gave a speech there in October.

"I'm told by my legal team and law enforcement that this gesture could help alleviate their sentencing. Fine. At the very least this will show jurors they're not dealing with a gang and there is no head of operations," McInnes said. 

"I do all of this reluctantly because I see it as the greatest fraternal organization in the world. But rumours and lies and terrible journalism has made its way to the court system."

Proud Boys debate with people observing an Indigenous protest ceremony on Canada Day in Halifax in 2017. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Perry sees the video more as a PR stunt than anything.

"I really feel that he will continue to be a thought leader for the movement regardless of whether he says he's part of it or not," she said.

"And that's what he's been. He talks about, 'I'm not a leader.' He's been a thought leader and will continue to be a thought leader for the movement."

'Western Chauvinists'

McInnes — the Vice Media co-founder who has made a career in right-wing media by denigrating Jews, women and people of colour — started the Proud Boys in 2016.

The group bills itself online as "a fraternal organization of Western Chauvinists who will no longer apologize for creating the modern world." 

They made headlines last year when several members disrupted an Indigenous ceremony at the statue of Edward Cornwallis, Halifax's founder, who established the policy of genocide against the Mi'kmaq people.

McInnes, centre, founder of the far-right group Proud Boys, is surrounded by supporters after speaking at a rally in Berkeley. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press)

Their members have also appeared at the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.

In October, a group of men who appeared to be Proud Boys were filmed attacking two antifascist protesters in Manhattan while yelling anti-gay slurs.

'Hatred and vitriol'

Still, McInnes and the group have repeatedly issued statements disavowing violence and distancing themselves from white nationalism. 

But Perry says they are, indeed, an extremist group "and they are certainly tied to white nationalists."

"He is very careful in speeches, his public statements to not incite to violence explicitly. It's more about riling up emotion, riling up hatred and vitriol directed towards particular groups that then is easily read as an invitation, or at least permission, to engage in violence against the others that they've identified — whether those are, you know, immigrants or women even," she said. 

"That's a standard trope and narrative of the far-right and the alt-right in this era is to say, 'We don't condone violence,' while at the same time, you know, being involved in violent interactions and being involved in violent assaults."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Barbara Perry produced by Ashley Mak.