THIS SPELLS TROUBLE
Proud Boys, the Infamous Right-Wing Brawlers, Head to the Heart of Antifa Country
A Portland rally set for early next month looks set for political violence as the street-brawling Proud Boys descend upon the city with counterprotests from antifa groups.
It was the punch heard round the pro-Trump internet. In a June melee in Portland between right-wing groups and “anti-fascist” counter-protesters, a black-clad antifa activist swung a baton at 28-year-old Ethan Nordean.
Dressed in the black-and-yellow polo shirt uniform of the Proud Boys, a group of self-described “Western chauvinists” who regularly engage in street brawls, Nordean responded by bringing his “antifa” attacker down with a single punch.
Thanks to video of the encounter, Nordean soon became the latest star of right-wing street brawlers. Online meme-makers made edits to the video of the punch to make it look like a scene from Mortal Kombat and declared Nordean the peak of masculinity: a “super chad.”
Under the alias “Rufio Panman,” a reference to the 1991 Peter Pan movie Hook, Nordean made the rounds among right-wing media, going on InfoWars and sitting for a shirtless interview with Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes. McInnes, also shirtless, likened the impact of the punch to the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which infamously triggered World War I. On a Proud Boy website, Nordean was dubbed the “Proud Boy of the Week” for his handling of the antifa activists.
“They fucked around,” the article read. “They found out.”
And now video clips of Nordean’s punch are helping to fuel right-wing interest in an August 4 Portland rally where Proud Boys and their allies are expected to once again face off with left-wing antifa demonstrators. The demonstration has already gained nation-wide attention in far-right circles, prompting InfoWars chief conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to say he might attend.
The “Freedom March” rally is ostensibly a campaign event for longshot Washington state GOP Senate candidate Joey Gibson, a right-wing personality whose “Patriot Prayer” group has held antifa-baiting events in Portland since last year.
Aside from vague notions of patriotism and religiosity, however, the actual political message of Gibson’s event is unclear. Notably, the Senate seat for which Gibson is running is not actually in Oregon—suggesting that winning over voters may not be his foremost goal.
Instead, in a Facebook video promoting the event, Gibson focuses on his dislike for liberal Portland, calling the city “disgusting.”
“We all know Portland is the laughing stock of the country,” Gibson said. “Everyone knows that, except for people within Portland itself.”
As such, the rally will likely devolve into another round of clashes between Gibson’s allies and Portland-area antifa activists.
Gibson claims that the Portland Police Bureau told him the rally would be treated as “mutual combat”—demonstrators facing off against one another, without police in the middle to separate them.
Asked about Gibson’s claim that the event will be considered “mutual combat,” Portland Police spokesman Sergeant Chris Burley explained in an email that police “are not able to immediately appear where a violent act may occur,” citing “the complexity of the crowd situations.”
Gibson, meanwhile, said he’s reached out to leaders of right-wing groups outside of the Pacific Northwest to bring more manpower to the rally. “There’s basically this underbelly of leaders across the country,” he said.
Several left-wing organizations, including prominent antifa groups, have announced their plans to face off with Gibson and his allies next month.
A spokesperson for Rose City Antifa, who would only identify himself with the pseudonym “David Rose,” called the idea that Gibson and his allies only attack people under self-defense “a straight-up lie.”
Instead, according to Rose, attendees at Gibson’s events come looking for a fight—and the chance at replicating Nordean’s viral fame on the right.
“They know that they can earn this notoriety,” Rose said. “They can fulfill this desire to see the left injured, persecuted, and pursued in the streets, and they’re all wanting to be that celebrity.”
The all-male Proud Boys, according to Gibson, will be on hand to act as security.
Named after a song from the Aladdin musical, Proud Boys abide by an escalating series of rules, including restrictions on how often they can masturbate. To achieve the top degree, McInnes declared in early 2017, Proud Boys must endure “a major fight for the cause”—although he’s since claimed that he only meant fighting in self-defense.
Other Proud Boys have boosted the group’s reputation for violent behavior, with one saying he would burn down a bookstore and another showing up at the house of a videographer who had been critical of McInnes.
While another August clash between right- and left-wing activists recalls 2017’s deadly “Unite the Right” white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, the Proud Boys aren’t as explicitly racist. But while the group includes non-white members, McInnes has frequently used racial slurs and made anti-Semitic remarks he later claimed were jokes.
The Proud Boys have also been a fertile recruiting ground for white supremacists, and even “Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler was a member of the Proud Boys before being kicked out of the group.
The Proud Boys’ clashes in the Pacific Northwest allegedly aren’t limited to political protests. Proud Boy members have also been accused in two incidents of assaulting people on the street, with two members of the group arrested for one of the alleged attacks.
Western States Center, a progressive Portland-based group, has been pressing prosecutors to investigate the alleged assaults.
“When you have street gangs like the Proud Boys openly brawling in the streets, that’s the situation where we need the institutions to step in,” said Lindsay Schubiner, a Western States program director.
“David Rose,” the Rose City Antifa spokesperson, sees those alleged attacks as proof that Gibson and his Proud Boy allies wouldn’t stop coming to Portland if their Antifa foes stopped showing up to their rallies.
“They go out looking for people to attack when there is no event,” Rose said.
Gibson concedes that his rally could draw people who are looking to cause violence.
“When you’re getting so much national attention, yeah, that’s going to be a problem,” he said.