TORONTO — The Canadian government designated the Proud Boys group as a terrorist entity on Wednesday, noting they played a pivotal role in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
The Proud Boys have faced increased scrutiny after seizing on the former Trump administration’s policies and was a major agitator during earlier protests and the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. The Proud Boys is a far-right, male chauvinist extremist group known for engaging in violent clashes at political rallies. Canada is the first country to designate them as a terrorist entity.
During a September presidential debate, Donald Trump had urged the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” when asked to condemn them by a moderator.
Senior officials speaking on a technical briefing said authorities had been monitoring and collecting evidence about the Proud Boys before the Capitol Hill insurrection, but confirmed that the event provided information that helped with the decision to list the organization.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said they revealed themselves.
“Their intent and their escalation toward violence became quite clear,” Blair said.
‘Infringement of Free Speech Rights’
Enrique Tarrio, the chairman of Proud Boys, called the terrorist designation “ridiculous.”
“There is no basis for it. It’s infringement of free speech rights. All the Canadian Proud Boys have ever done is go to rallies,” Tarrio said in a phone interview.
“They used what happened at the Capitol to push for this.”
Tarrio said the Canadian chapters are very quiet compared to their American counterparts. He estimated there are between 1,000 and 1,500 Proud Boys in Canada. He said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and opposition New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, who first proposed the designation, are virtue signaling.
Tarrio was arrested in Washington shortly before the Capitol riot. He was accused of vandalizing a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic Black church during an earlier protest in the nation’s capital.
U.S. Review of Domestic Extremism Is Underway
Asked whether the U.S. will follow Canada and designate Proud Boys as a terrorist entity, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. has a domestic extremism review underway. “We will wait for that review to conclude before we make any determinations,” Psaki said.
The terrorist designation in Canada means the group may have assets seized and face harsher terrorism-related criminal penalties. A government official said just because they are a member doesn’t mean they will be charged with a crime, but if they do engage in violent acts they could be charged with terrorist crimes.
Sending money to the organization or buying Proud Boys paraphernalia would also be a crime.
“The group and its members have openly encouraged, planned, and conducted violent activities against those they perceive to be opposed to their ideology and political beliefs,” the Canadian government said in briefing materials.
“The group regularly attends Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests as counter-protesters, often engaging in violence targeting BLM supporters. On January 6, 2021, the Proud Boys played a pivotal role in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.”
Group Becomes More Violent
The government calls the Proud Boys a neo-fascist organization with semiautonomous chapters located in the United States, Canada, and internationally. It said it engages in political violence and that members espouse misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, and white supremacist ideologies.
“Since 2018 we have seen an escalation towards violence for this group,” Blair said.
“In the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election, we have seen signals of escalation towards violence from a number of different groups including the Proud Boys.”
Blair said four right-wing groups are among 13 additions to the list, which include three groups linked to al-Qaida, four associated with the Islamic State group and one Kashmiri organization.
“Canada will not tolerate ideological, religious, or politically motivated acts of violence,” Blair said.
Canadian McInnes Founded Proud Boys
The Proud Boys were formed in 2016 by Canadian Gavin McInnes, who co-founded Vice Media.
In 2018, police arrested several Proud Boys members and associates who brawled with antifascists after McInnes delivered a speech at New York’s Metropolitan Republican Club.
McInnes has described the group as a politically incorrect men’s club for “Western chauvinists” and denies affiliations with far-right extremist groups that overtly espouse racist and anti-Semitic views. McInnes sued the Southern Poverty Law Center, claiming it defamed him when it designated the Proud Boys as a “hate group.”
In response to the federal suit, which is still pending in Alabama, the law center said McInnes has acknowledged an “overlap” between the Proud Boys and white nationalist groups.
“Indeed, Proud Boys members have posted social media pictures of themselves with prominent Holocaust deniers, white nationalists, and known neo-Nazis,” law center lawyers wrote in a court filing.
Political Move by Trudeau’s Liberal Government?
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Trudeau’s Liberal government is trying to attach their star to the anti-Trump sentiment prevalent in Canada.
“Since the Proud Boys are identified with Trump, they are an easy target. Had Trump won the election, I’m confident the Liberals would not have gone after the Proud Boys,” Wiseman said.
“There is right-wing extremism in Canada but much, much less than in the U.S.”