Founded by Gavin McInnes as pro-Trump men’s drinking club in 2016, the Proud Boys transformed into the paramilitary vanguard of the MAGA movement in late 2020, providing security for campaign rallies and then playing an outsized role in the Capitol insurrection.
One thing hasn’t changed since Jan. 6: Members of the self-proclaimed “Western chauvinist” group whose professed values provide a soft cover for thinly veiled white supremacy, remain an intimidating presence in cities across the country, further polarizing local struggles around issues of race, sexual orientation and police accountability.
California’s Central Valley, where at least three active chapters feed members into flashpoints of conflict up and down the Highway 99 corridor, provides an example of how the Proud Boys remain a polarizing force in the culture wars that are rending the United States.
In early April, an estimated 50 or 60 Proud Boys and other far-right allies reportedly showed up in Fresno kitted out in ballistic vests and equipped with hunting knives and bear spray. Facing off against local residents demonstrating to preserve an iconic theater at the center of an LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood, one Proud Boy allegedly shoved a pregnant woman to the ground. Mark Mazzola, president of the Fresno chapter, confirmed to a local news outlet that his group received reinforcements from Modesto and Bakersfield.
Weekly protests against the pending sale of the Tower Theatre began in February. The owner is currently leasing the theater to the proposed purchaser, Adventure Church — part of the Foursquare denomination, an evangelical Pentecostal spinoff — for Sunday services. Local residents organized under the banner of Save the Tower Theatre Demonstration Committee oppose the sale on grounds that the church violates the commercial zoning for the property and that it represents the loss of an important facility in the heart of one of the Central Valley’s few LGBTQ-friendly areas. In the past, the theater has been used by an array of performing arts groups and has hosted Reel Pride, Fresno’s LGBTQ film festival.
Understanding the neighborhood anchored by the Tower Theatre is crucial to appreciating why residents are so strongly opposed to the sale to Adventure church, said Jaguar Bennett, a local comedian and community theater actor. He compared the Tower District to a small-scale Berkeley or Greenwich Village.
“Tolerant, inclusive — we believe in diversity,” he said. “We believe in art. We believe in living your own life. We are kind of a beacon, not just for Fresno, but the entire region. The Central Valley is the most conservative part of California. The Tower District is the most LGBTQ-affirming neighborhood. Between Sacramento and LA, this is it. We’re a safe space for LGBTQ youth. You can see a play. You can see a band. You can shop in a thrift store. You can have a nice meal. You can do it all in three blocks.”
Following the April 11 debacle, the police increased their presence at the weekly protests, and established a separation between the opposing groups. Since then, Bennett said, the Proud Boys haven’t been a problem.
“Unless there is an opportunity to assault us or incite violence, there is no purpose for them to be there,” he said. “They’re only there to try to cause violent trouble. If the opportunity to cause violent trouble is removed, they’re not interested.”
One of the Fresno members framed the Proud Boys’ opposition to the Save the Tower Theatre committee as a matter of preventing the progressive values of the Bay Area and Los Angeles from creeping into the Valley.
“Those places are cancer,” said Chongo, the nickname for the Fresno chapter’s sergeant at arms, during an April 1 interview with conservative podcaster Todd Cotta. “If we don’t protect the Central Valley, our farmland areas, that cancer’s gonna spread here. Then, next thing you know, California’s a disaster.
“We need to fight that fight,” he continued. “What I mean by that — it doesn’t have to be physical. It’s always going to be the last resort, but we’ve got to stop that before it hits here. And we’re doing something in the Tower District….”
Two months later, addressing Modesto City Council, Chongo used almost identical language to argue against improving police oversight in the wake of an officer fatally shooting a man experiencing a mental health crisis.
“If anything, we are defenders of this country,” Chongo said. “Somebody’s gonna stand up. Somebody has to stand up. Because if we don’t, this country’s gonna burn. The cancer is already spreading into this community. It’s gonna hit the rest of the Central Valley. You got LA and San Francisco in ruins.”
On the issue of the Tower Theatre, Chongo told Cotta the Proud Boys got involved as a matter of supporting religious freedom.
“Well, we’re just standing up for it because we believe it’s a freedom of religion, which is our right as American people,” he said. “Say the Tower Theatre loses, and they don’t get their church. Well, there’s a church just north of the Tower Theatre — they’re gonna go after that church? I have a Bible study on Fridays. Pretty soon, they’re going to come after where I have my Bible study, and I can’t have it.”
Bennett said there’s no merit to any argument that the church losing the fight for Tower Theatre would be the first domino in a sustained assault on Christendom across the region.
“In a region as conservative as Central Valley, even our freaky people are not indisposed to religion,” Bennett said. “There are plenty of churches, and many of them are LGBTQ-affirming. I don’t even think anyone would care if this church would have even bought a building in our neighborhood that was properly zoned.”
It’s common to hear Proud Boys across the country ardently argue that they are not homophobic.
Addressing Modesto City Council on June 22, a Proud Boy who identified himself as “Eric” attempted to deflect criticism of the group by saying, “We love anybody of any sexual orientation.”
Apparently unaware that crossdressing is not a sexual orientation, he continued: “In my chapter alone, we had a transvestite, happily, loved him.”
The Proud Boy’s further comments undermined his initial proclamation of acceptance.
“We welcomed him openly,” he said. “We only removed him after we discovered he started using methamphetamine, because that’s something we don’t allow. Because as Proud Boys, we believe in upholding the Constitution, the American family, as well as the nucleus [sic] family, which the left is tearing apart.”
Beyond the fact that the Proud Boys were started as a drinking club, allegations of members’ drug use, including from one-time ally Omar Navarro, have proliferated for years, and Chairman Enrique Tarrio once said, “We’re pro-drugs.” Also, Eric’s claim that the left is “tearing apart” the nuclear family aligns with a view that heterosexuality should be regarded as normative rather than promoting inclusion.
“They want to build a society that is built on hierarchy, one that strengthens existing hierarchies and that perpetuates inequalities that we have,” said Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “They believe that men are superior to women, that cisgender people are superior to transgender people. Really, strengthening the social stratifications that exist — that underlies all the political projects that they pursue.”
Beyond counter-protesting the LGTBQ community and allies, Proud Boys in the Central Valley have forged an alliance with Don Grundmann, an anti-gay crusader from the Bay Area who is gearing up for his third annual Straight Pride rally outside of Planned Parenthood in Modesto in August. Although they distanced themselves from the first Straight Pride rally in 2019, the Central Valley Proud Boys showed up to support Grundmann in 2020. Another group calling itself the Central Valley Militia unfurled large banners reading “Patriots Against Pedophilia: One Solution Luke 17:2” alongside an image of an assault rifle. Whether intentional or not, the message could be read as a conflation of homosexuality with pedophilia, with a clear call for violence.
Grundmann came to the June 22 Modest City Council meeting to publicize his event and defend the Proud Boys, whom he credited with providing security at the 2020 event; the Proud Boys have been regularly attending city council meetings to express opposition to a city-sponsored effort to improve police accountability.
“These are Christian gentlemen who want to defend the foundations of our nation,” he said. “I believe that’s fantastically important.” Ironically, the Central Valley Proud Boys organizer quoted in the Modesto Bee‘s coverage of the 2020 event identified himself as “Odin,” which is the name of a Norse god that is revered in the modern religion Heathenry. Meanwhile, Grundmann’s National Straight Pride Coalition openly flaunts its homophobia, with a manifesto on its website describing the organization as “the frontline of the religious war between Christianity and its Satanism/Humanism opponent,” and as readying for a battle “to stop the Jihad of the LGBT War Machine upon the children of our nation.”
Although Grundmann denies being a white supremacist, “Caucasians” are singled out, along with “Western Civilization,” on the National Straight Pride Coalition website as being “under unprecedented, sustained and coordinated attack within our society, culture and nation.” Grundmann made national headlines when he made a gaffewhile addressing Modesto City Council in 2019. The audience erupted in laughter when Grundmann, evidently flustered by sustained booing, said, “We’re a totally peaceful racist group.”
Beyond the Central Valley, Proud Boys also showed up to protest a meeting of the Los Alamitos USD School Board in Orange County as it approved new social justice standards. The Orange County Register reported that Superintendent Andrew Pulver switched the meeting from in-person to virtual because of concerns about potential unrest. In previous weeks, a proposal to add an elective ethnic studies class — also ultimately approved — had drawn protesters. Chad Loder, an antifascist who monitors Proud Boys and other far-right actors in southern California, identified a member of the Bakersfield Proud Boys chapter at the May 11 protest, along with Marcus Kelly, who was previously arrested in Fresno for illegal possession of pepper spray while rallying alongside the Proud Boys.
Miller said two important things are at play in the Proud Boys’ increased engagement with local issues. Getting people involved in local politics has been a historical strength for the political right, providing opportunities for Proud Boys to build coalitions. And culture war issues offer a ripe opportunity for organizing.
“One of the things we saw as a flashpoint in the past was drag-queen story hours,” Miller said. “Drag queens would read to children in libraries. This became really a point of organization for the far right, with Proud Boys going to community meetings and pushing back against this kind of programming. They realize this is a real flashpoint for the culture war. This will bring them attention and recruits.”
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Rep. Tim Walberg Tells Uganda to ‘Stand Firm’ on ‘Kill The Gays’ Law Ted Cruz Called ‘Horrific’
Representative Tim Walberg (R-MI) delivered a speech in Uganda to defend the country’s President Yoweri Museveni and the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023, better known as the “Kill the Gays” law.
Walberg traveled to Uganda in October to attend a national prayer breakfast organized by the Fellowship Foundation, also known as The Family, which also covered the cost of his trip, according to TYT. In the speech, transcribed by the blog Take Care Tim, he told the attendees to “stand firm” in the face of criticism.
“Whose side do we want to be on? God’s side. Not the World Bank, not the United States of America necessarily, not the UN. God’s side,” Walberg said. “I think as we go on here, it says, ‘So I will deliver you from the hand of the wicked, And I will redeem you from the grasp of the violent.’ – Who’s gonna do that? God is gonna do that. Your esteemed President, his excellency, President Museveni needs a nation that stands with him and says, though the rest of the world is pushing back on you, though there are other major countries that are trying to get into you and ultimately change you, stand firm. Stand firm.”
Walberg made it clear he knew his view would be unpopular in the United States.
“Now, this will probably get back to the national media in the United States, and I expect some pushback, but I’m not gonna give in to them. … I know that your President is a warrior. I like that about him. We’re in a battle, folks. We are in a battle,” he said.
Though Uganda has had homophobia enshrined in its legal code since it was a British protectorate, the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023 is a drastic escalation. Previously, homosexuality was punished with life in prison, according to the Advocate. The new law allows the death penalty for those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality.” It also bans “promotion of homosexuality,” much like Russia bans queer “propaganda”.
The law is so draconian that Republican Senator Ted Cruz—no ally to the queer community—condemned it. In May, shortly after Museveni signed the law, Cruz called the law “horrific” on X, formerly Twitter.
“This Uganda law is horrific & wrong. Any law criminalizing homosexuality or imposing the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ is grotesque & an abomination. ALL civilized nations should join together in condemning this human rights abuse. #LGBTQ,” Cruz tweeted.
This Uganda law is horrific & wrong.
Any law criminalizing homosexuality or imposing the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” is grotesque & an abomination.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) May 29, 2023
Attempts to pass a similar bill to the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023 started in 2014, with a bill also called the “Kill the Gays” law. That form of the bill was built by anti-LGBTQ activist Scott Lively, who previously claimed then-President Barack Obama was secretly gay.
While it didn’t go into effect then, the bill and ones like it kept popping up on Uganda’s parliamentary agenda. Earlier this year, President Joe Biden threatened to cut nearly $1 billion in annual aid to Uganda if the bill passed.
A previous version of this story credited Salon with the initial reporting; Salon had republished the article from TYT. The sourcing has been corrected; NCRM regrets the error.
Federal Judge Issues Injunction on Idaho Anti-Trans Law Days Before It Takes Effect
A federal judge issued an injunction Tuesday against an Idaho anti-trans law that would bar prescribing puberty blockers to transgender youth.
The Idaho anti-trans law, House Bill 71, was signed into law by Republican Governor Brad Little last April, according to the Idaho Statesman. It was scheduled take effect on January 1, 2024. Providing gender-affirming care to minors, including puberty blockers, hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgeries would become a felony under the law. This is even though it is exceedingly rare for a person under 18 to be offered these type of surgeries, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday, stopping the Idaho anti-trans law from taking effect in less than a week. Winmill said that the pending lawsuit filed by two trans minors and their parents will most likely succeed, citing the 14th Amendment, according to the Statesman.
“Time and again, these cases illustrate that the 14th Amendment’s primary role is to protect disfavored minorities and preserve our fundamental rights from legislative overreach,” he wrote. “That was true for newly freed slaves following the Civil War. It was true in the 20th century for women, people of color, interracial couples and individuals seeking access to contraception. And it is no less true for transgender children and their parents in the 21st century.”
Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador told the paper he will appeal the injunction. Labrador claims “Winmill’s ruling places children at risk of irreversible harm.” The use of the phrase “irreversible harm” echoes the anti-trans book Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier. Shrier’s book endorses the since-debunked theory of “rapid-onset gender dysphoria.” The theory claims girls will declare themselves to be transgender as part of a “social contagion”—basically comparing transitioning to a fad.
Winmill, appointed to the Idaho district court in 1995 by President Bill Clinton, has recently ruled in other pivotal culture-war cases. This August, Winmill blocked Labrador from prosecuting doctors who send patients out-of-state for an abortion, KMVT-TV reported.
In August 2022, he also issued an injunction stopping Labrador from prosecuting ER doctors who provide an abortion in attempts to stabilize a patient, according to the Idaho Capital Sun, while a suit against the law.works its way through the court system. The injunction was overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in September of this year, according to the Capital Sun, though the lawsuit itself is still pending.
Mike Johnson Likens Himself to Moses, Tells Christian Nationalists God Charted His Path to Speaker
Mike Johnson, delivering the keynote address to a far-right Christian nationalist group Tuesday, likened himself to Moses and declared God had charted his path to become the Republican Speaker of the House, after telling him in his prayers to prepare.
Speaker Johnson, a Christian nationalist who falsely claims the Constitution’s separation of church and state is a “misnomer” and has declared the United States is not democracy but a “biblical” republic, is an attorney who once worked for a far-right organization that has since been designated an anti-LGBTQ extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Johnson was the lead sponsor last year of a federal “Don’t Say Gay” bill and has bragged that he and his teenaged son are accountability partners in a no-porn pledge that includes installation of monitoring software on all their devices.
“I’ll tell you a secret since the media is not here,” Speaker Johnson said at the National Association of Christian Lawmakers (NACL) Gala (video below), where he was honored with their American Patriot Award for Christian Honor and Courage, as Right Wing Watch reported.
“Thank you for not allowing the media in, I’ll tell you a secret because they wanted to come because they wanted to, you know, take my comments out of context as they’ve been doing with with great joy for the last few weeks,” Johnson charged, not specifying which of his remarks he believes have been taken out of context.
“The Lord impressed upon my heart a few weeks before this happened, that something was going to occur,” Johnson continued. “And the Lord very specifically told me in my prayers to prepare, but to wait. ‘Prepare for what?’ I said to the Lord. You know, I had this sense that we were going to come to a Red Sea moment in our Republican conference and the country at large.”
“And look, I’m a Southern Baptist, I don’t want to get too spooky on you. Okay, but you know, you know okay,” he continued. “All right. But you know, the Lord speaks to your heart. And He had been speaking to me about this and the Lord told me very clearly to prepare and be ready. Be ready for what? Okay, I don’t know. We’re coming to a Red Sea moment. ‘What does that mean, Lord?’ And then when the Speaker’s race happened.”
He said, “the Lord began to wake me up through this three-week process we’re in in the middle of night and to speak to me and to write things down plans and procedures and ideas on how we could pull the conference together.”
“Now at the time I assumed the Lord is going to choose a new Moses. And oh, thank you the Lord. Lord, you’re gonna allow me to be Aaron to Moses,” Johnson told the attendees.
Johnson reminded his audience of the Speaker’s debacle, going down the line of friends who he tried to help become Speaker, acknowledging that all of them failed.
He continued, explaining that “at the end, when it came to the end, the Lord said, ‘Now step forward.’ ‘Me? I’m supposed to be Aaron.’ Now the Lord said, ‘Step forward.’ Psalm 77 speaks of the Exodus in the 14th chapter of Exodus and it says, ‘Only God saw the path through the roiling sea, we could not see it, men could not see it.’ And I believe deep in my heart, is my core conviction, that God wants us to seek Him for the path through the roiling sea.”
As Right Wing Watch reports, after Johnson’s speech, “NACL founder Jason Rapert presented Johnson with the Honor and Courage award, along with a piece of a destroyed Ten Commandments monument that Rapert had placed in front of the Arkansas state capitol in 2017.”
“’It’s very obvious to see, you’re one of us,’ Rapert told Johnson.”
Rolling Stone adds that Johnson’s speech Tuesday is “just the latest evidence that the politician who is now second in line for the presidency views himself as on a divine mission.”
Watch the video of Speaker Johnson below or at this link.
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