On Saturday, on opposite sides of the country, men in black and yellow uniforms took to the streets for various far-right causes. In Sandy, Oregon, they joined a church for an anti-gay event. In Raleigh, North Carolina, they joined supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory for a protest against COVID-19 prevention measures.
They were members of the Proud Boys, a far-right paramilitary group, many leaders of which have been charged with planning and taking part in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. (The group may face additional legal challenges, with a top prosecutor suggesting sedition charges for unnamed rioters.) Following the Capitol riot, and subsequent revelations that the Proud Boys’ chairman was a federal informant, some Proud Boys chapters splintered while others appeared less publicly active than in months past.
But in recent days, some Proud Boys chapters have resumed their public rallies, often attaching themselves to other right-wing groups, while their own leadership battles serious criminal charges.
“I think we saw a little bit of a lull right after Jan. 6 from the Proud Boys and many other anti-democratic groups across the country,” said Stephen Piggott, a program analyst at Western States Center, a nonprofit that monitors the far right. “But certainly there’s been an increase recently and in gatherings in the Pacific Northwest.”
The rally in Sandy, Oregon, on Saturday was among the group’s first post-Jan. 6 events in the state, where Proud Boys are infamously active, Willamette Week reported. During that rally, members of the Proud Boys joined an anti-LGBT event hosted by Rivers of Living Water United Pentecostal Church, which did not immediately return a request for comment. Its pastor, Russell Collier, told Willamette Week that it had not invited the Proud Boys but that he appreciated the group’s presence because someone had previously hung pro-LGBT banners on his church.
When counter-protesters hosted a “have a gay day” event across the street, Proud Boys reportedly shouted insults at them, accusing them of being communists. (Oregon Proud Boys have previously endorsed violence against communists, wearing T-shirts endorsing the murder of communists under the administration of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.)
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Piggott said many of the Proud Boys’ recent appearances have been at events organized by other groups on the far right. That was the case in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday.
Online, the Raleigh rally was advertised as part of a worldwide March 20 uprising against COVID-19 “lockdowns.” In reality, North Carolina is far from locked down, with indoor dining and sporting events allowed. About 100 people showed up for the event.
Among them was a motley assortment of Proud Boys and MAGA types, with at least one person flying a flag for a Three Percenter militia and another flying a large flag for the QAnon conspiracy theory, which falsely accuses former President Donald Trump’s foes of being involved in Satanic cannibalism and pedophilia.
The rally came during a bad week for North Carolina Proud Boys, and a bad year for the organization at large. Charles Donohoe, the leader of a North Carolina Proud Boys chapter, was arrested on Wednesday on conspiracy charges for allegedly planning to overpower police and enter the Capitol. Proud Boys leaders in three other states are listed as co-defendants in his case, with other Proud Boys across the country facing their own criminal charges stemming from the Capitol riot. And just last month, multiple Proud Boys chapters announced their separation from the national organization, after it was revealed that Proud Boys chair Enrique Tarrio has worked as a federal informant.
It’s enough for some Proud Boys to eye a rebrand when they attempt public events. The Patriot Party, a loosely affiliated pro-Trump movement, has hosted events attended by uniformed Proud Boys, CNN previously reported. One Patriot Party organizer, who is currently advertising upcoming events in Pennsylvania, has previously described himself on video as a Proud Boy. Nevertheless, he told CNN at a Patriot Party event that he had never heard of the group.
Even online, the Proud Boys appear to have taken measures to blend in with a broader pro-Trump crowd after the Capitol riot. One longtime Proud Boys channel on the messaging platform Telegram now describes itself as a safe haven for users of the conservative social media site Parler, which briefly went offline after the Capitol riot.
“This is a PUBLIC chat for Parler refugees and not affiliated with any group,” a pinned post in the channel reads. The channel currently has more than 12,700 members, many of them not Proud Boys.
Despite the channel’s insistence that it isn’t affiliated with any group, Tarrio appears to moderate the group and promotes his own content to the channel’s thousands of subscribers.
Piggott said Oregon was bracing for a far-right car rally this weekend. Like the Raleigh and Sandy events last weekend, the Proud Boys are not organizing the event, but are expected to attend.