‘The mask slips’: Proud Boys joining white supremacists in ‘White Lives Matter’ rallies across the US
White supremacists on Telegram are organizing a series of simultaneous rallies under the banner of “White Lives Matter” in major American cities scheduled for April 11, with active participation and promotion in some locales by members of the Proud Boys.
The rallies mark a rare instance of overt white nationalists openly mobilizing in the streets since the constituent organizations of the violent 2017 Unite the Right rally were severely hobbled the following year by sustained opposition in the streets from antifascist counter-protesters, litigation, infighting and organizational dysfunction. For the Proud Boys, whose members are facing serious federal charges for conspiracy to disrupt the transfer of executive power during the assault on the US Capitol, participation in the “White Lives Matter” rallies reflects a brazen determination to maintain a street presence and an apparent diminishing concern about being branded as racists.
The @whitelivesmattermarch channel that created the framework for local racists to organize dozens of spinoff rallies was launched on the social media platform Telegram on March 25. The rallying cause of the simultaneous demonstrations — “to raise awareness for whites being the victims of massive interracial crime” — is a false claim that lies at the heart of white supremacist propaganda. In a “Q&A” post, the anonymous user behind the @whitelivesmattermarch channel directs potential supporters interested in learning “more about anti-White hate” to another channel that is comprised solely of items relating homicides and other violent crimes with photos of white victims and Black perpetrators.
The specific rallies are organized by locals creating new Telegram channels using the initials of states or cities. In some cases, the channels for local rallies appear to be little more than trial balloons to gauge local interest. The creator of the @WLMSouthCarolina channel, launched on March 25, posted: “Lets [sic] get a count of where everyone is, comment your city.” As of Tuesday, the channel had picked up 24 subscribers, but no one had commented. Among the more active channels, Ohio and Oregon have attracted around eight unique users calling out their hometowns to try to settle on a central gathering place.
In a channel set up for the DC-Maryland-Virginia region, two self-identified Proud Boys users eagerly talked up the rally. Others in the chat openly identified as white nationalists through their words, usernames or catchphrases in their Telegram bios. “I am a Fascist,” wrote a user named “James Dagny,” who also shared a documentary about American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell in the chat. A user named “Blaine” chose the Nazi slogan “Blood & Soil” for their bio. Someone whose username celebrates the gas used by the Nazis to murder Jews in gas chambers during the Holocaust, wrote, “I’m in.”
In the chat, a Proud Boy account under the username “Joe Bonadio” responded to the self-identified fascist user by commenting, “I’m with ya!”
Another Proud Boy account under the username “HEFF” commented, “#fuckantifa proudboys will be the there in plain clothes or not.”
Hampton Russel Oulette, the president of the Northern Virginia chapter of the Proud Boys, posted in response to HEFF: “POYB.” The acronym stands for “Proud of your boy” and is used by the gang as a salute or signal of approval.
Oulette, whose Telegram handle is “GOV.HAM-OMLETTE,” told Raw Story in a Telegram message that he personally doesn’t think the “White Lives Matter” rallies are “a good look.”
“But I’ll do whatever my brothers decided to do,” he wrote. “I’ve voiced my opinion but loyal to my guys so its [sic] it’s up in the air. I personally don’t wanna March with any hate groups or be associated.”
He added, “There are other chapters going.”
Oulette claimed to not know who is organizing the rallies.
“Was just asked to monitor it… so we are not caught off guard to what’s going on in our state,” he wrote somewhat cryptically. “We like to know who’s doing what here… we have an event coming up just not 100% on the day.”
The DC-area Proud Boys are not the only ones interested in the rallies.
A user named “DIRT2º posted in the discussion hosted by “White Lives Matter – 04/11”: “Need someone from bama that I can help organize.”
User “BACONndEGGS,” whose avatar includes the initials W-L-M inside the Proud Boys’ traditional wreath, hailed a message from the host channel declaring that “white people will not bow down” with the Proud Boys salute: “Uhuru.”
Since their founding in 2016, Proud Boys leaders and rank-and-file members have strenuously objected to being described as “white supremacist” despite some members including Chairman Enrique Tarrio participating in the Unite the Right rally and rallying alongside neo-Confederate groups. But Megan Squire, a computer scientist at Elon University who monitors right-wing extremist groups, said it’s not all that surprising to see them now openly associating with white nationalists.
“To use one of their phrases, ‘The mask slips,'” Squire said. “Underneath, they are who they are, and this is who they are. The question is, were the Proud Boys always that way or did it happen halfway through? A lot of times these guys will say, ‘You pushed us to this, with all the de-platforming.’ That’s patently false. The history is the Proud Boys have been promoting very thinly veiled white supremacy. They called it ‘Western chauvinism.’ It’s white supremacy — shocker. Now, we can call it what it is, and they can call it what it is.”
The “Black-on-white crime” narrative promoted by the “White Lives Matter” rallies is a timeworn appeal by white power groups.
In a 2018 article for the Southern Poverty Law Center, Senior Research Analyst Cassie Miller called it “the biggest lie in the white supremacist propaganda playbook.” A large part of its staying power is that it’s deeply rooted in the American psyche. As Miller pointed out, false and harmful claims about Black people being inherently violent have formed the core justification for “slavery, lynching, Jim Crow and various forms of mass incarceration.”
In recent decades, the “Black-on-white crime” falsehood has received a signal boost from Jared Taylor, a Yale-educated academic who produced The Color of Crime: Race, Crime and Violence in America, a 1999 report that was updated in 2005 and again in 2016. Taylor drew his statistics from the “1994 Crime Victimization Survey released by the US Department of Justice, but Miller noted that Taylor’s claim that crime has a racial and biological basis overlooks the obvious culprit.
“On average, African Americans were — and remain — far poorer and more likely to live in disadvantaged neighborhoods than whites,” Miller wrote. “Concentrated poverty has a criminogenic effect: lack of access to jobs, increased idle time and poorer educational opportunities all increase one’s chances of engaging in criminal behavior, and the effect is the same for Black and white people. One study released three years before The Color of Crime, found that when sociologists controlled for structural disadvantages, there were significant differences between crime rates in Black and white communities.”
Another fallacy promoted by Taylor over the past several decades, which is being recycled through the “White Lives Matter” planning chats, is that crimes committed by Black perpetrators against white victims uniformly qualify as “hate crimes,” but Miller noted that “few would meet the FBI’s hate crime definition of an ‘offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
The slogan “White Lives Matter” was originally promoted in neo-Nazi circles in 2015 and 2016, as an obvious cooptation of Black Lives Matter. Although lacking originality, it simultaneously mocks Black people killed by the police and substitutes white people as supposed victims.
In a video circulated by the @whitelivesmattermarch host channel, a bearded white man dressed in a hunting jacket intones, “For far too long, the media has ignored some of the most heinous and grotesque crimes committed against our people.” After a standard recitation of white victims of violence by Black perpetrators, the narrators concludes, “These are a few names that most people’ve never heard of. Yet you’ll hear ‘George Floyd’ and all these other people who’re criminals. You know, everybody knows who Trayvon Martin was. Everybody knows who Breonna Taylor was. So why does the world know their names, but not the name of our victims?”