On Thursday, four members of the extremist group the Proud Boys were found guilty of seditious conspiracy for their role in the January 6 Capitol attack. The decision, which includes a conviction for their former leader Enrique Tarrio, could be a major blow to the neo-fascist group. Still, they’ve already moved on to their next act.
After rising to prominence for their brawls mostly with anti-fascists, in the past two years the organization has altered its targets. The next frontier for the Proud Boys is patroling anti-LGBTQ drag queen brunches and story hour protests.
In the past year, even while other members of the group were on trial for their role in January 6, members of the group have shown up across the country at drag brunches and story hours—from Fall River, Massachusetts to Sanford, North Carolina. Along with the extremist groups Patriot Front, the Proud Boys disrupted an event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, leading to 31 arrests.
“We know the public doesn’t support Drag Queen Story Time,” the Rhode Island Proud Boys chapter said in a statement it made to a local NBC affiliate after protesting a drag queen story hour alongside a neo-Nazi group in Fall River, “we know they want it stopped but are afraid or don’t have the time.” The national Telegram account for the Proud Boys reposted it.
In November 2022, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project published data which found that anti-LGBTQ mobilization among far-right groups like the Proud Boys is up sevenfold since 2021, going from their harassing two events up to 14 the next year.
Violent far-right groups like the Proud Boys are taking an increasingly large role in anti-LGBT+ mobilization around the United States. pic.twitter.com/XsUBObwpsT— Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (@ACLEDINFO) November 21, 2022
Part of the motivation is obvious. The Proud Boys are following the direction of currents on the right. There has been a rise in anti-LGBTQ policies and rhetoric. The American Civil Liberties Union counts that 45 states have passed laws limiting gender-affirming care. Homophobic accounts like Libs of TikTok had added to general anti-drag and anti-trans sentiment.
The play also appears to be opportunistic. In an interview with NPR from June of last year, Kathleen Belew, a history professor at Northwestern, who has extensively studied the white power movement, described far-right groups showing up at LGBTQ events as “performative publicity.”
“What they want out of a confrontation,” she said “a piece of video footage that they can use to recruit people into their movement,”
In communication channels Mother Jones reviewed, the Proud Boys did mention showing up armed at drag brunches for the express purpose of PR. However, in a more general sense, demonstrations for recruitment and image-building are of high concern. “After each event, more and more men join our fraternity,” founder Gavin McInnes wrote in a 2020 Telegram post. (At the time the Proud Boys had just started showing up at anti-LGBTQ events, but not yet at the frequency they do now.) These events, he explained, would hopefully attract people who “want to be part of the solution.”