When members of the Proud Boys and another far-right group founded by a former Proud Boy member protested at the same Oregon LGBTQ Pride event this weekend, the two factions ended up brawling on a sidewalk.
The fight—which saw Proud Boys and members of the Rose City Nationalists exchange haymakers outside an Oregon City burger joint—was one of the frequent spats that populate the far-right social scene. But footage of the fight has gone viral as part of an ongoing effort to whitewash the far right, with conspiracy theorists and lawmakers describing some of the movement’s gangs, describing the Proud Boys as patriots and their opponents as federal agents.
“This is the BEST video on the internet right now,” conservative internet personality Benny Johnson tweeted, describing footage of the brawl as a “Pro-America Patriot rally” interrupted when “feds show up dressed as ‘Nazis,’” until “Patriots for Feds out of rally.”
The clip actually shows uniformed members of the Proud Boys yelling at a small contingent of Rose City Nationalists near a Pride event that both had showed up to oppose on Saturday.
RCN is part of a larger network of white nationalist “Active Clubs,” which promote violent beatdowns against enemies. The group and the Proud Boys (which also glorify street brawls) have crossed paths before. RCN’s founder, Casey Knuteson, has been affiliated with multiple far-right groups in the Pacific Northwest, including area Proud Boys, who yelled at him by name and called him homophobic slurs during the Saturday confrontation. (Knuteson did not return The Daily Beast’s request for comment.)
Activists have long documented both groups’ presence in Oregon. Nevertheless, lawmakers like Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) amplified Johnson’s allegation that RCN members were federal agents.
“Feds or not Feds?” Massie quote-tweeted Johnson’s post. David Livingson, a conservative state representative in Arizona, also retweeted posts calling the RCN federal officers, Arizona Right Wing Watch reported.
The allegations are the latest instance of elected officials describing white supremacist groups as a federal psy-op. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (who has, herself, spoken at a conference hosted by white nationalists) implied that recent demonstrations by fascist groups like Patriot Front “looks like a fed operation trying to create racism, white supremacy, and racial division where none exist.”
Proud Boys have also encouraged those conspiracy theories on Facebook. In the aftermath of the melee, Proud Boys celebrated, energized by their victory. Gavin McInnes, the group’s founder, who has since attempted to distance himself from the group, wrote on Telegram, “Masked Feds show up to Proud Boys event. PBs immediately call them out, tune them up, and demask them.” In a subsequent post, McInnes falsely identified a young California man whom right-wing activists accused of being among those unmasked, while right-wing social media celebs took to Twitter to ridicule the Active Club, calling them “feds.”
Subsequently, an Elon Musk supporter tweeted out the same California man’s name to his 1 million followers, to which Musk publicly replied, “always remove their masks.” (The falsely accused man later posted time-stamped receipts showing him in California on the day of the brawl, and made a video calling the allegations “just crazy,” adding that “my family and I are being harassed completely.”)
Kate Bitz, an organizer with the Oregon-based anti-hate group, Western States Center, said this messaging is meant to distract from the similarities between Proud Boys and overt white supremacist groups, as the Proud Boys attempt to make inroads with more mainstream conservatives.
These accusations “deflect from the consequences of the anti-LGBTQ+ narratives they’ve been pushing for years,” Bitz told The Daily Beast. “Obviously, it doesn’t help their standing in the community to show that white nationalists are showing up at the same event and protesting on the same side as the Proud Boys.”
Despite McInnes’s claims about federal agents, the Portland, Oregon Proud Boys chapter confirmed on Telegram that the fight had been personal in nature, with one of their former members.
“The incident that occurred was the result of a personal beef between a disavowed member and our chapter,” the group wrote in a statement. “For a period of time the disavowed member chose to skulk around, talk Shit and dox 2 current members. Unfortunately he decided to drag his new bros into his personal issues.”
The FBI also issued a statement denying involvement in the sidewalk scuffle. “We are appalled by recent online allegations that the FBI had personnel posing as protesters in Oregon City, OR this weekend,” Kieran Ramsey, special agent in charge of the Portland division said in a statement. “Any such claims are absolutely false.”
Following the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, which resulted in multiple Proud Boy leaders’ convictions on seditious conspiracy charges, the Proud Boys have refocused their efforts on targeting LGBTQ events. Their campaigns have forced restaurants to cancel drag shows, and brought them in line with more accepted right-wing organizations like Moms for Liberty.
“The Proud Boys are heavily involved in the Miami chapter of Moms for Liberty,” one former Moms for Liberty member told Vice this month. “Moms for Liberty want to push their agenda with fear, harassment, and intimidation, and they have the Vice City Proud Boys as their foot soldiers.”
Other extreme groups have previously attempted to break bread with the establishment GOP. White supremacist groups like Identity Evropa (now defunct) and its successor group American Identity Movement (also defunct) encouraged members to maintain a clean-cut image and run for local offices. Part of that image was an unofficial uniform of khaki trousers, which have since been adopted by white supremacist groups like Patriot Front and Active Club chapters.
That uniform style of dressing, reminiscent of a Capitol Hill intern, has only fueled conspiracy theories on the right, with Proud Boy apologists claiming that the outfits look like something a federal agent would wear.
The conspiracy theories don’t make communities any safer, researcher Jennefer Harper told The Daily Beast, noting the Proud Boys’ and the RCN’s deepening feud, which continued online after the Saturday fight.
“I think they are going to be on high alert when they come out looking for each other, so I think that could definitely lead to some spiraling violence,” she told The Daily Beast. “And just like the public has confused this Active Club cell as either feds, Patriot Front, or antifa, I think the greater public could misidentify people and groups and attack them as well.”
But the infighting between the Proud Boys and the RCN, instead of an attack on the Pride event, showcased local resilience against anti-LGBTQ groups, Bitz said—even in Oregon City, which was hosting its first-ever Pride Night on Saturday.
“More and more towns are holding their first, second, or third Pride events this year,” she said. “The Northwest Nationalists repeatedly targeted Pride events this year. They likely think Pride organizing originating for the first time and in contested territory for LGBTQ+ rights might be easier to intimidate. That’s not how it’s played out.”