Then the Proud Boys and a large police caravan went back to a Walmart parking lot, where Proud Boys shook an officer’s hand.
Footage obtained by The Daily Beast reveals police appearing to give an escort and a friendly send-off to the Proud Boys, a routinely violent group that has been flagged by other law enforcement agencies as extremists. Just three days later, Donald Trump told Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during a presidential debate in which he also explicitly encouraged his followers to show up at polling places and complained that “bad things happen in Philadelphia.”
Philadelphia Police dispute that the September meet-up amounted to an escort. Still, the footage shows that several police buses and vans went to the Walmart parking lot where Proud Boys were assembling after the rally, adding another data point to what some on the left describe as a weirdly cozy relationship between Proud Boys and law enforcement.
Activists aren’t the only ones calling foul: Philadelphia’s top law-enforcement official, District Attorney Larry Krasner, went so far as to tell The Daily Beast the scene was “extra-friendly.”
Prior to the march, which saw Proud Boys march through Philadelphia alongside bike-mounted police, Proud Boys gathered in the Walmart parking lot, where many left their cars. Footage from after the event shows a caravan of Philadelphia Police vehicles, which an observer characterized explicitly as an escort, driving into the same parking lot. Footage in the same parking lot shortly thereafter shows a police officer with a gun talking to and shaking hands with people in Proud Boys uniforms.
A Philadelphia Police spokesperson said escorts for protest participants are common, although she said Proud Boys did not receive one in this instance. “The police officers that were traveling to and were on location at the Walmart parking lot were on location to ensure that there were no issues between the Proud Boys and any other groups that may have be [sic] assembling in the area,” the spokesperson said, differentiating that act from an escort.
“Concerning police escorts for protest participants, it is protocol for our department to provide security for all individuals who are exercising their constitutional right to speak freely and peaceably assemble,” the spokesperson told The Daily Beast. “The officer in the footage you provided was shaking hands with (what appears to be) a member of the Proud Boys in the Walmart parking lot. As part of our service to protesters and the community, it is the responsibility of civil affairs officers, and other officers within the police department, to engage protesters in a respectful manner that fosters communication.”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a Democrat who has been a vocal critic of police misconduct in the city, agreed that civil affairs officers are supposed to de-escalate tense situations. But he argued this officer’s interactions were different from conduct he’d seen directed at protesters on the left.
Civil affairs officers “are going to be a little kinder and gentler and more personable, because the whole idea is to de-escalate and to avoid violence and conflict,” Krasner told The Daily Beast, before adding of the new video: “But that’s extra-friendly. That’s real, real friendly. And, you know, I’ve seen video of protests for more than two decades. I’ve been around a lot of different protests. That’s real, real friendly to a bunch of guys who are basically playing Nazis.”
Philadelphia Proud Boys have previously come under scrutiny for their relationship with police. Following a speech by Vice President Mike Pence in June, Proud Boys showed up at an afterparty at Philadelphia’s police union headquarters. Members of the group, dressed in their trademark black and yellow uniforms, reportedly spoke with police at the event. The head of the police union later disavowed the Proud Boys, stating that they would have been ejected from the union hall had anyone known they were there.
A Philadelphia Proud Boys representative told The Daily Beast at the time that the police union’s claims to ignorance of their presence were “pretty clearly” inaccurate.
Proud Boys have long styled themselves as allies of cops, in cities from Philadelphia to Portland. Early last year, some Philadelphia Proud Boys even established a channel on the messaging platform Telegram with the explicit purpose of compiling information on their enemies to send to the FBI, two people familiar with the channel told The Daily Beast.
“This [channel] is for info that we want to send to our FBI contact,” an introductory message in that channel from early January 2019 reads. “Specifically he wants things we can tie to criminal activity.” The FBI declined a request for comment.
Members of the channel discussed compiling information on a prominent anti-fascist Twitter personality. The channel has since been deleted, a person familiar with it told The Daily Beast.
Philadelphia Police have also been accused of giving preferential treatment to other right-wing vigilante types, allegedly allowing a group of bat-wielding men to target racial justice protesters and beat a journalist earlier this year. In another incident, a group of right-wing demonstrators beat a different journalist. A police officer on the scene then expelled the journalist from the protest, threatening to arrest him for inciting a riot, as that journalist previously told The Daily Beast.
The Proud Boys frequently glorify violence, especially against the left. When leftist protesters assembled for a teach-in this past weekend, Proud Boys arrived at the event and shouted at speakers. Video from Daryle Lamont Jenkins, director of the anti-racist organization One People’s Project, shows a Proud Boy shouting an anti-gay slur at him. Another shouts “fuck that bitch,” when Sen. Kamala Harris is mentioned.
Jenkins told The Daily Beast that he suspected the city’s Proud Boys had planned their Sept. 26 event in communication with police.
“The event on the 26th was basically a flash mob, and the police were still able to provide their little escort, so they must have been talking to them in the first place,” Jenkins said.
In cities like Portland, where Proud Boys and anti-fascists have frequently clashed, police have stood accused of playing favorites, giving relatively free reign to right-wing demonstrators while cracking down on their opponents. The Sept. 26 Proud Boys rally in Philadelphia actually took place the same day as a much-hyped Proud Boys rally in Portland, which Proud Boy leaders repeatedly described as an excuse to make police act against their rivals, Portland journalists reported. Later in the evening, after the Proud Boys had dispersed, Portland Police led a crackdown on leftist protesters that left the marchers bruised and bloody, according to the Portland Mercury.
Portland Police have also been accused of an unprofessionally close relationship with Patriot Prayer, a far-right group similar to—and with significant membership overlap with—the Proud Boys. In 2019, a Portland Police lieutenant was revealed to have sent texts to Patriot Prayer’s leader, informing him of anti-fascists’ movements during protests. The officer was cleared of wrongdoing late last year after an independent investigation. Portland’s then-police chief Danielle Outlaw said the officer had been acting within his role as a crowd control liaison when he sent the texts.
Outlaw left the Portland Police Bureau two months later and became head of the Philadelphia Police Department this February.
Krasner noted that the Philadelphia police caravan that went to the Walmart after the Sept. 26 event registered as particularly large to him.
“Having been DA for a minute and also having 25 years representing protesters, usually pro bono, that’s a big response, a big turnout,” he told The Daily Beast. “Could it be justified by the experience of the police department at times being overwhelmed or under-prepared in the wake of the George Floyd killing? Perhaps.”
He also noted the risk of Trump elevating the group ahead of the election.
“Whenever you take a bunch of basement-dwelling misfits who have odd ideas about the universe and you have a president of the United States lift them up when they actually are a pretty tiny little cult,” Krasner said, “that’s a bad idea.”
“I’m almost 60, I’ve never seen anything like a U.S. president say ‘stand back and stand by’ to a bunch of play-Nazis,” he said, adding, “It is troubling at a hundred different levels.”