“White Supremacy Is Not Just for White People”: Trumpism, the Proud Boys, and the Extremist Allure for People of Color

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Enrique Tarrio, a onetime political candidate and the Florida state director of Latinos for Trump, is something of a legend in Proud Boys lore. Not only is he the chairman of the group—a position he inherited from founder Gavin McInnes in 2018—he has also claimed to be the owner of the online retail store 1776, where buyers can purchase all types of far-right merchandise, including Latinos for Trump baby onesies (currently on sale for $22), and T-shirts emblazoned with the faces of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and the tagline “SAY NO! to China Joe and The Hoe.” He also helped organize the End Domestic Terrorism event held in Portland, Oregon, in August 2019, which brought together hundreds of protestors from various far-right groups and even more counterprotesters. Tarrio, who had traveled to D.C. after Donald Trump’s incendiary call to support his stolen-election conspiracy theories, was arrested January 4 on one misdemeanor charge of destruction of property and two felony charges for possession of firearm magazines, and was ordered to stay out of the city until his next court date. (He pleaded not guilty to the charges.)

Last week, Reuters reported that, in addition to leading the Proud Boys, Tarrio had been an informant for both local and federal law enforcement, “repeatedly working undercover for investigators after he was arrested in 2012.” (Tarrio denied to Reuters that he had worked undercover or cooperated in cases against others.) It’s an unexpected yet not altogether surprising turn of events from someone who’s spent the majority of his public career moving between the liminal spaces of identity and power. As Proud Boys chairman, he is the head of one of the most vocal anti-democratic groups in recent memory, and as an alleged former informant he would have joined the ranks of people of color coerced into working for the same systems that criminalize and surveil them. Despite the far-right extremist roots of the Proud Boys, Tarrio has consistently positioned the group as more benign, dedicated to so-called traditional family values and freedom of speech. “I get that we’re not everyone’s cup of tea,” he told Business Insider in September. “We’re a little rough around the edges, but we’re definitely not what they make us out to be. I denounce white supremacy, and I denounce fascism and communism.” Tarrio has leaned into identity politics to articulate the group’s inclusivity—a tactic the right has condemned when it comes from the left. “I’m pretty brown,” he said. “I am Cuban. There’s nothing white supremacist about me.”

Proud Boys at the Million MAGA March in Washington D.C. November 14 2020.nbsp
Proud Boys at the Million MAGA March in Washington D.C., November 14, 2020. By Mark Peterson/Redux.

The presence of people of color in far-right extremist groups is not a new phenomenon; in 2018 the Daily Beast conducted nearly a dozen interviews with Latino, Asian, and Black participants at far-right rallies on the West Coast, many of whom blamed Black people for the disproportionate police violence that befalls their communities. The far-right group Patriot Prayer, which is based in Vancouver, Washington, and has ties to the Proud Boys, was founded by Joey Gibson, who identifies as Japanese American. His “right-hand man,” according to the Daily Beast, is Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, a Samoan American who has been a fixture at right-wing rallies. (In October of last year, Toese was sentenced to six months in jail on a probation violation, having pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree assault charge that January.) Following 2020’s presidential election in which a high number of people of color voted for Trump to remain in office (in some cases in higher numbers than in 2016), questions have arisen about the ideologies of Trump’s nonwhite supporters, their political mindset—and whether their numbers could grow.

Cassie Miller, a researcher with the Southern Poverty Law Center, told me that, while there are no clear statistics on the number of people of color in the Proud Boys, “in 2019 we found 44 different chapters, and the [ethnic] makeup varies by location. Different chapters take on a different character.” She added, “I think joining a group like this shows the contradictory places people exist in society and how they look for different ways of achieving power. With this group it’s not just about white supremacy, but also perpetuating a patriarchal society.” Women are not allowed to join the Proud Boys, Miller noted, and neither are transgender men or gender-nonconforming people.

The Proud Boys, founded in September 2016, became increasingly mobilized and visible over the course of the Trump era. “When they first started, a lot of what we saw was online organizing, dominated by transgressive humor, coordinated trolling campaigns, and trying to shift the terms of political debate,” Miller said. The Proud Boys’ reliance on humor is arguably what led to them being seen as rowdy boys who needed to let off steam, even as their online attacks grew increasingly violent and direct. “They were about using intimidation against people they considered their political adversaries, which included leftists, anti-fascists, anti-capitalists, Democrats, journalists,” she said. “That’s something that I think has become more widely adopted in recent years.”

January’s attack on the Capitol and its fallout brought the threat of violence from right-wing groups to the forefront—so much so that the Biden administration has appointed an official to monitor white supremacists. Biden himself is being called on to address the threat head-on, while many of Trump’s supporters are continuing to stick by the former president, including the majority of Senate Republicans and numerous far-right organizations and militias. The Trump administration’s egregious 1776 report was a fitting coda to a presidency that emboldened not only white supremacist rhetoric, but also attracted those whose ideals are misogynistic and xenophobic.

Enrique Tarrio and Joe Biggs of the Proud Boys pose for a photo as Trump supporters gather in front of the Washington...
Enrique Tarrio and Joe Biggs of the Proud Boys pose for a photo as Trump supporters gather in front of the Washington Monument for the ‘Million MAGA March’ on December 12, 2020.by Amy Harris/Shutterstock.

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